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Preview: Attack elephants, helicopters and sprinting headbutts in Far Cry 4

For our first hands-on trip through Far Cry 4‘s open world of Kyrat, Ubisoft Montreal presented us with a choice that wasn’t really a choice at all. The demo, a playable runthrough of the same co-op Fortress takeover featured during Sony’s press conference, could be approached in one of three ways.

There was the stealthy route, a creeping advance with a heavy emphasis on neck stabs. There was the flight route, using the same mini-helicopter shown during the press conference demo. And finally, there was the “Ride” option, which involved storming the fortified gates from the back of a lumbering, weaponized elephant.

Related: Far Cry 4 review

Let’s say that again, just to drive the point home: In Far Cry 4, you get to ride a weaponized elephant.

Story/Concept

Mountains, man. Far Cry 4 puts players in the hiking boots of Ajay Ghale, returning to his Himalayan home of Kyrat to spread the ashes of his recently departed mother. It’s not long before he meets Pagan Min, a sharp-dressed sadist with a loyal army of  followers and an iron grip over his subjects.

Far Cry 4 preview

We’re not clear yet on exactly what connection Ajay and Pagan have to one another, but they’re eventually caught up in a struggle that tasks players with bringing down the dictator’s regime. You’ll explore four distinct regions, slowly chipping away at Min’s power as you topple outposts, fortresses, and key lieutenants, before taking on the man himself.

Gameplay

Same great taste. Functionally, Far Cry 4 is nearly identical to Far Cry 3. The controls and general rules of play are immediately familiar, the hunting-focused upgrade paths remain roughly the same, and the makeup of the open world — its self-sustaining ecosystem and its player-influenced spheres of control — work just like they did before.

In short, if you enjoyed Far Cry 3 then you’ll probably enjoy Far Cry 4 as well.

Wonderful toys. Ajay plays roughly the same as Jason Brody did, but he’s got some new toys to help him out as well. The mini helicopter featured in the Sony press conference demo is the first proper flying vehicle in Far Cry, and it’s there because Kyrat’s towering peaks require more upward mobility than the previous game’s hang glider could offer.

Far Cry 4 preview

The glider isn’t completely gone, but it’s reimagined in Ajay’s wingsuit. Our fortress runthrough didn’t afford any opportunities to make use of it, but we’re told you can deploy it much earlier than you could in Far Cry 3. There’s also a new grappling hook; like the wingsuit, we didn’t get to play around with it, but it’s an indispensable tool that Ajay can use to Spider-Man his way up mountains.

Junk in the trunk. Far Cry 4 features a whole new animal ecosystem for players to use to their advantage (or have their day ruined by). Our demo featured elephants, which can be stirred up from afar to attack enemies or — once the proper upgrade is unlocked — ridden like a 2-ton horse with a trunk capable of picking up and tossing enemies.

When you hop on the back of an elephant, controlling it becomes a natural extension of the game’s controls. Move and turn with the left/right analog sticks, run by clicking in the left stick, and perform a contextual melee attack by clicking the right stick. You can break through fortified doors (such as the one barring entrance to the fortress), decimate medium-distance enemies with a hefty foot stomp or a trunk toss, and even knock the crap out of jeeps with a powerful, sprinting headbutt.

Far Cry 4 preview

The elephant is vulnerable to enemy fire and won’t be an all-purpose weapon for rolling over every enemy position, but the thrill of riding one is undeniably fresh.

Friendly fire. Cooperative play comes to the story mode in Far Cry 4, with players able to call in for aid from a mercenary — an actual human on your friends list or an AI-controlled buddy — from virtually any point. For the PlayStation 4-exclusive feature that allows co-op friends to join even if they don’t own the game, the process involves downloading what amounts to a demo version of the full game that can only be played — for any length of time — when an invite is sent by another player.

The particulars of how this works have yet to be revealed (or finalized), but it appears to involve giving something called a “Key to Kyrat” to your friends. We’ll hear more on this as Far Cry 4‘s release approaches.

Presentation

Next-gen foliage. The tiny slice of Kyrat featured in the demo doesn’t really give a sense of the full world, which is said to feature several different types of environments (not all of them mountains). Still, the power of the new generation of gaming hardware is evident in a sharper execution that, even at a glance, exceeds that of Far Cry 3.

From the rippling water and swaying grass of a small pond to explosive blasts of fire and smoke, stepped-up visuals are evident in Far Cry 4‘s surroundings. We can only imagine at this point how lovely it look when you’re soaring past a mountain summit in your wingsuit as the sun sets on the horizon, but Far Cry 3‘s PC release is probably a decent barometer of what to expect.

Takeaway

There’s little doubt that Far Cry 4 will be dogged by accusations of being little more than Far Cry 3.5, and nothing we’ve seen so far dispels that notion. It’s hardly a bad thing given the design excellence at the heart of the previous game, but it’s something that fans of the series will no doubt keep an eye on as the November 18 release date creeps in closer.

And putting all of that aside, don’t forget what we said at the outset: there are attack elephants. Don’t forget it.

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