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With Far Cry 4, French video game giant Ubisoft wants to capture the hearts of gamers who love first-person shooters set in open worlds. In the fourth installment of this travelogue shooter series, Ubisoft intends to do that by delivering a strong story, compelling characters, and a much larger and more vibrant setting to explore.
The newest game, set in the Himalaya mountains of a fictional country dubbed Kyrat, follows a familiar narrative involving a psychotic but charming villain who commands an army of followers in a beautiful but very dangerous tourist trap. This game has two or three times more quests than Far Cry 3, which debuted in 2012. In something that is uniquely Far Cry, you can set loose an enraged elephant to take out your enemies for you in this game. And in contrast to Far Cry 3, many of the open-world activities are directly tied to the story and introduce you to new characters, said game director Patrik Méthé in an interview with GamesBeat.
Méthé spoke with us at a recent preview event where we played a near final version of Far Cry 4. The team is in crunch mode, stamping out bugs ahead of the Nov. 18 release date that could get in the way of this formula. But it won’t be easy to match the great critical reception of Far Cry 3. On Metacritic, a review aggregator, Far Cry 3 at an average rating of 90 out of 100. We spoke with Méthé about the game as deadline for shipping nears for debut on the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4, the Xbox 360, the PS3, and PCs.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Méthé.
GamesBeat: How long have you been on the project?
Patrik Méthé: I’ve been there the whole time. We transitioned from FC3 and started discussing FC4 directly.
GamesBeat: Did you have a big role on the previous one as well?
Méthé: Yes, I was game director on FC3.
GamesBeat: What did you want to do that was different this time around?
Méthé: With the experience we had in FC3 — it’s the same in every project. Even as you ship, you know there are some areas where you could have been better, or some features that you need to cut for lack of time. In nearly every area, there were improvements to make.
Most important, players are spending more than 50 percent of their time in the open world — doing activities or outposts. We wanted to put a lot of focus on that area. We came up with two or three times as many quests as we did in FC3, and those quests are much more embedded in the fantasy of the world. Most of them will be introduced by a real character and you’ll understand where it fits in the ecosystem of the game.
Another good example is the guns for hire, the people who will come and fight alongside you. In FC3, we added this at the last minute, but then we had to cut it because we didn’t have enough time to work it out. It’s really a game-changer in FC4, creating all kinds of anecdotes on its own.
GamesBeat: I didn’t get to hire anybody yet when I played the demo. If you have a village to take over or something like that, you can call them in?
Méthé: Yeah, you have multiple ways to bring them in. It’s fun to experiment with. At the core, you have two options. One, you can tell them to go to a certain place, and if they see the enemy they’ll engage them. One of my favorite tactics is to find a vantage point, look over an outpost, and tell them, “Go there.” Then, while he’s fighting, I’m using a sniper rifle to take down enemies while they’re distracted. You can also ask them to follow you directly, which is cool, because wherever you go in the world, even if you jump in a vehicle, he’s going to go with you, and you can bring them to the place you want to go.
GamesBeat: I see you can also set loose this elephant.
Méthé: Exactly. That’s part of the game, finding ways to use the systems. We’re not a typical shooter, where your guns are your only options. We want to emphasize that there are multiple options, whether it’s the animals or the guns for hire. You can tackle a situation in multiple ways.
GamesBeat: I noticed that some of the animals would just attack me. The wildlife is a threat sometimes. The eagle tried to get me, some kind of weasel —
Méthé: Oh, yeah, the honey badger. The way I see it, it’s a double-edged sword. Either you’re able to use them so that they work for you, or they can be a challenge for you. We also have different tools in the game that might allow you to manipulate them, like the bait you can throw. If a tiger’s coming at you and you have bait, you can throw the bait and the tiger will go for that instead of attacking you. You can also craft and use a special syringe that will make the animals not notice you. With some of those you can actually walk among the wolves without getting attacked.
GamesBeat: How far along is Far Cry 4 at the moment?
Méthé: We’re shipping very soon, in November. The build on the floor today is one month old, so there are still a lot of bugs. If you were to play our current build, they’d be fixed. We’re very advanced. We have thousands of hours of playtesting in already. Everything’s on track.
GamesBeat: You’re still unlocking a lot of these towers. Is this system similar to how Far Cry 3 worked, with the changes being the discovery of more missions and quests in each section?
Méthé: There are different changes. At first, most of the towers could be seen as puzzles. The one you played is pretty early in the game, so it’s simpler. But as you progress in the game, you’ll find that some of the towers are pretty unique. It’s not just about finding a ladder. You’ll need to find more keys and other things to climb up them. We also put a lot of emphasis, when you get the camera reveal, instead of showing you a static place, it’s really to show you how the world is living while you’re not there. With the towers we kept the same basic systems, though. It gives you access to weapons and unlocks new types of quests.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about the better graphics here? In what ways is this a step up?
Méthé: We won some awards for art direction on FC3, and I’m confident it’ll be the same with this one. We’ve really pushed the envelope. One of the strengths of Far Cry, and in fact one of the taglines from our art director, he’s always saying, “We own the color.” We’re a shooter at the core, but we go very far into saturated colors. Our setting allows us to have a huge spectrum of colors, whether we’re talking about the almost tropical beginnings, or the mountains and the snow. Shangri-La, too, that we revealed a bit of, is this weird, mystical place. It’s all in red and yellow. I think players will be pleased by what they see.
GamesBeat: Your villain is a pretty strong one again. Is that something that’s now also a signature for Far Cry?
Méthé: Yeah, I think so. We like to call it a personality bond. When you meet our villains, or just the different characters in general, we want the player to be shocked every time, amazed and intrigued. We think we’ve succeeded. Pagan isn’t just an evil guy. When he’s talking to you, he’s almost charming.
GamesBeat: He’s witty and funny.
Méthé: Yeah. It’s almost enticing, to some extent. You start to think that maybe you could be on his side. That’s one of the strengths of the character.
GamesBeat: Did you want to depart from Vaas, Far Cry 3’s villain, in some way? How would you describe Pagan Min as different?
Méthé: Vaas was more raw, I would say. Pagan is more subtle, clever, intelligent. In some cases he’s going to have his outbursts of rage, where you’ll understand his real nature, but on the surface he’s much more charming than Vaas was.
GamesBeat: Far Cry has balanced story and open world for a while. How are you doing that in this game?
Méthé: We’ve done some different things. One of the first things we discussed early in the project — one of the strengths of Far Cry 3 was that if you and your friends were all playing the game, you’d start to get together and say, “Hey, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me yesterday.” We wanted the same type of water-cooler moments going on, so that’s why we introduced some more divergence to the story. There are points where you have to decide whether to follow one character or another, for example.
Another point, because the player spends so much time out in the open world, we spent a lot more energy on making sure that the open world is coherent. Everything you’re going to discover, whether it’s the collectibles or the treasures or the hidden areas, they all belong there. As you uncover them, you’ll be able to understand why these things are there and who put them there and for what reason.
GamesBeat: You have a nice variety of weapons again.
Méthé: Yep. We brought back all the weapons from FC3 and added a few new ones. Our designer in charge of weaponry is crazy. He’s always pushing for more. We already showed the automatic crossbow at E3. My favorite, though, even if it’s overpowered, is the automatic grenade launcher. It’s almost a win button, but that’s a late-game weapon.
Another one I really love, because I’m a stealth player, is the throwing knife. You can use it as a stealth kill when you’re sneaking up on someone, but also just as a reflex. When you’re infiltrating an area, you might turn a corner and get caught off guard. A quick tap on the right pad and whoosh, you’ve got them.
GamesBeat: How big is your team on this game, and where are you all located?
Méthé: The main campaign is being done in Montreal, but beyond that we have a lot of different studios helping us. I’ll try not to forget one. We have Toronto, who are working on different areas, but mostly on Shangri-La. Red Storm in North Carolina is working on PvP and all the backgrounds. Shanghai is helping with the animals and specific missions. Kiev is working on the PC version. Altogether, I don’t even know the real number, but it’s a fair number of people.
GamesBeat: I hope the guys in Kiev are doing alright.
Méthé: Yeah, it’s been tough. When it started, though, we got emails every day – “No, it’s under control, no problems.”
GamesBeat: Do you worry about shipping this at the same time as a new Assassin’s Creed?
Méthé: Well, Ubisoft is a huge company. Just in Montreal we have 2,500 people working there. Each brand has the right amount of people and partners to help out.
GamesBeat: If you look at the larger market, what would you say is the identity of Far Cry? What’s its unique place?
Méthé: The way I see it, the open world makes us different from the competition. A lot of other games bill themselves as open world, and in some cases that’s fair, but we put a lot of focus on making sure that our world is alive with or without you. It’s not scripted. Nothing is waiting for you before it happens. As I roam around in Far Cry 4, I never know what’s going to happen next. That’s our strength.
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