Pagan Min, the antagonist from Far Cry 4
Movie sequels suck, right? Apart from the obvious exceptions, of course: Terminator 2, The Godfather Part II and the second Airplane. But games aren't movies, and games learn from their mistakes – and most first entries in any series make a bunch of them. The first Far Cry certainly did, albeit not initially. On release for PC in 2004, the first-person shooter roused a chorus of critical acclaim: "You can see so many places where things could have gone wrong, but didn't," wrote IGN, slapping down a 9.2 and summarising the experience as "Jurassic Park meets Half-Life".
But then came the ports, where things did go wrong.
Specifically, then came Far Cry: Vengeance, a Wii-only remake of Far Cry Instincts: Evolution, a sequel to Far Cry Instincts, itself an Xbox remake of the PC original. Keeping up? Doesn't really matter: all you need to know is that the Far Cry series had its face forced down into the dirt until its legs stopped kicking. Vengeance took a proud game and painted it every shade of ugly, turned aggressive enemies into target-practice dummies and was about as much fun as an execution chamber showing Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie while you wait for the sweet release of 2,000 volts to the brain.
But Far Cry refused to die. It picked itself up. It evolved. Far Cry 2 was flawed, but bloody hell it was different: a Central African-set adventure of civil war, malaria and more guns than you could throw a Gears of War at. The breaking weapons and refilling enemy outposts were ball-aches, but the game felt alive. Plants would be razed, only to grow back in time, and the game's fire was unsettling in its realism, spreading with the wind to chase your shadow as you fled its lethal embrace.
Next up, 2012's Far Cry 3 was better still: a tropical paradise of nightmarish possibilities, which came unstuck a few times plot-wise but was a complete joy to actually play. Pirates, tigers, drugs, government agents, a whole bunch of mystical shit, some brotherly torture and fucking sharks – brilliant. Now, Far Cry 4 follows that series high with, basically, more of the same. And that is just perfect.
The trailer for Far Cry 4: Welcome to Kyrat
Dangerous animals, it's kept those. Rhinos, snow leopards, fish with pointy teeth, rampaging bull elephants, hungry dogs – plenty of the fauna here can and will kill you. All the guns: yeah, it's got bloody loads. Some big bad that's doing a bunch of big bad stuff in an exotic setting: a terrific tick right there. This time around the backdrop is the Himalayas and surrounding lowlands, specifically a fictional region of Nepal called Kyrat.
The guy leading another Far Cry civil war is Pagan Min, a blonde-locked alpha antagonist voiced by Troy Baker – who turned in an award-winning performance as Joel in 2013's The Last of Us. "You" are Ajay Ghale, a native of Kyrat who's returned home from overseas to find it all gone to shit. What are you gonna do about it? Well, that rocket launcher's just lying there, so...
I don't meet Min in the flesh during a decent preview of Far Cry 4's solo campaign, but I certainly do get acquainted with the game's wildlife – being charged by a rhino is, one assumes, only marginally less pants-wetting here than in real life. I also meet, and have a great deal of fun murdering, many of Min's soldiers, representing the Royal Army. Ajay sides with the rebel faction, the Golden Path. It's through them that he begins to restore order to his homeland, completing karma events to win favour with the locals. These micro-missions can be rescuing hostages, or assassinating a Royal Army lieutenant. Get the indigenous people on side, and weapons become cheaper – plus, Ajay can call in the Golden Path cavalry to assist with tougher assignments, like clearing out fortified strongholds.
For the most part, this is Far Cry 3 with an all-new coat of paint – the pad in your hands might be a new-gen model, but everything purrs as it did a game ago. And that familiarity is welcomed; developer Ubisoft is clearly confident that what made this title's predecessor so addictive will work again this time around. After all, tomorrow's crack is just as moreish as today's, so why go sniffing around other habits when this one's working out fine? You'll actually find the odd bag of class A while rifling through the pockets of fallen foes – Min keeps his troops in check with a steady supply of the stuff, which Ajay can sell to save for better bazookas.
The weapons trailer for Far Cry 4
I break off from the main campaign – shortly after progressing from the luscious lowlands to the snowy peaks, and the new threats they present (not least of all massive bears, who really don't appreciate you rambling through their caves) – to indulge in some of Far Cry 4's co-operative play. Here, Ajay is joined by Hurk, a stowaway from Far Cry 3's "Monkey Business" bonus pack. Alongside a writer from Digital Spy, I attempt to take a heavily guarded fortress.
The game warns us that this is stupid, that we're ill prepared for the mission. The place has towering walls, a door that won't budge and is surrounded by mines. But after a first death, downed by a combination of underfoot explosives and sniper shots, we take to the high ground, finding an access point to the west of the complex. Teamwork proves paramount: he silently snipes as I creep around the walls, taking out alarms and dropping a few grenades on snooping guards as I go. We're golden – until the helicopter shows up. Shooting at a chopper with the equivalent of a spud gun just isn't working, so I break cover for the mortar I spied on the way in. Rat-a-tat-tat. I don't make it.
Some of the stuff you'll see while playing Far Cry 4
Co-op's a blast, though, and Digital Spy and I, we try again. We nearly get there, only for the session to end as we're finishing off what feels like a final wave of enemies. I'm genuinely gutted. It's rare to step away from a preview event wanting to immediately dive back into the game in question, but that's how Far Cry 4 leaves me feeling – dammit, I need that same fix I had in 2012. So with or without a buddy, I'm going to be heading back to the mountains as soon as I can.
Sure, the activities on offer within this playground of hovercrafts and gyrocopters, deadly predators and grotesque power struggles are largely unchanged since Far Cry 3. But if it ain't broke, don't fuck about with it. Or you might end up with Caddyshack II.
Far Cry 4 is released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (tested), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows on the 18th of November. The game was previewed in Paris, with attendance covered by Ubisoft.