Hands-on preview: 'Far Cry 4' offers a trippy, twisted take on Shangri-La

"Far Cry 4."

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

MONTREAL – Blood-red rivers, fire-hurling demons and a magical white tiger that mauls enemies on command? This is a far cry from the usual vision of a heavenly paradise.

At the Gamescom video game trade fair in Germany this week, Ubisoft Montreal took the wraps off a surprising new element of their upcoming action-adventure title Far Cry 4, one that will send players into a trippy, twisted take on the mythical land of Shangri-La.

While Far Cry 4 will follow the present-day story of a man named Ajay Ghale who runs afoul of the charismatic but dangerous ruler of a fictional Himalayan country, the game will have a secondary component that lets players assume the role of a noble warrior named Kalinag, fighting to liberate Shangri-La from a demon’s grip.

Shifting from a gun-toting 21st-century freedom fighter to a mythical warrior trying to seize paradise back from a winged monster might seem a bit jarring, but the Far Cry series is nothing if not full of variety and surprises.

“It’s a fresh breath of air,” said Ubisoft Toronto creative director Maxime Beland, who led the 70-person Toronto-based team working on the game’s five Shangri-La chapters. “It’s been fun to work with Montreal, but also to have our own slice of the pie.”

The Shangri-La levels will be opened up as Ajay locates pieces of a lost painting and meditates on their meaning. I went hands-on with one of the chapters at a recent preview event in Montreal, sneaking around a surreal world presented in shades of orange and red and firing arrows at enemies with a bow that slows down time when drawn – very handy when taking on masked demons who can phase in out of existence, or a fire-flinging demon called a Scorcher.

The Shangri-La levels pair the player with the Protector, a white tiger who will attack enemies on command. But the true nature of the Protector, the demon Rakshasa and Shangri-La’s thematic connection to Ajay’s reality will be revealed over time.

Back in the real world – or at least Far Cry 4’s version of it – players will find themselves locked in a battle of wills with Pagan Min, the game’s chief villain. Or is he?

“Pagan Min is that friend that everybody has that’s bad for them,” said Far Cry 4 executive producer Dan Hay. “He’s that friend who says let’s go steal a car, who winks at your mom.”

But he’s also got a deadly side, and players will have to decide what to do when they eventually must cross him.

“Imagine that guy being in charge of a world, an entire civilization, where nobody says no to him,” said Hay. “What happens when you say no to him?”

In a hands-on demo of one of Far Cry 4’s mountainous environments, I used Ajay’s wingsuit to glide into a snowbound fortress, carefully eliminating enemies with gunfire (and with some help from a bear whose cage door I shot open) before tackling the lieutenant in charge of the place. Then it was another wild wingsuit ride around jagged mountain peaks to make my escape to a valley far below.

Far Cry 4 lands Nov. 18 on the current and last-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles as well as Windows PCs. But adventures in this world won’t end with the game’s release, said Hay.

“We have a lot of good plans, we have a lot of cool ideas,” he said. “It’s our obligation to do something you can’t see coming.”


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