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Ubisoft hopes to reach new heights with ‘Far Cry 4’

Ubisoft has introduced new locales and a brand new cast of characters to its bestselling Far Cry franchise. Far Cry 4 brings the action to new heights by setting the open world game in the fictional Himalayan region of Kyrat. The game also introduces a menacing dictator, Pagan Min (played by Call of Duty actor Troy Baker).

Released in November 2012, Far Cry 3, which was set on a tropical island, rode a wave of critical acclaim to sell over 9 million copies worldwide. Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Securities, forecasts Far Cry 4 will sell 6 to 8 million copies and generate $300 to $400 million in its first year.

“The game is different and features better character development than most games with more interesting villains,” said Pachter. “I like it, but can’t really say why. It’s a good first-person shooter with interesting plot lines and despicable villains, which is different from almost all other games.”

Mike Schramm, video game analyst at EEDAR, believes the new game stands out from the crowded sequels on store shelves this year.

Far Cry 4 is a first-person shooter, which is relatively rare in Ubisoft’s arsenal these days, at least until Rainbow 6: Patriots is ready,” said Schramm. “Far Cry has definitely become known for its hunting and crafting systems as well. Titles like Assassin’s Creed have implemented some of this gameplay, but Far Cry definitely puts those complex systems more front and center than Ubisoft’s other franchises.”

The franchise, which was originally created by developer Crytek, has moved past the sci-fi elements of the original to become an open world exploration of memorable characters and challenging terrains. Life-to-date the franchise has sold 11 million copies worldwide, including 3.4 million copies through October 2014 in the U.S. according to the NPD Group. Unlike its Assassin’s Creed franchise, which received an annual update, Far Cry games are spread out every few years.

Dan Hay, executive producer of Far Cry 4, said the development team at Ubisoft Montreal focuses on three key elements when designing a new game. The ultimate goal is to make players feel like a fish out of water in exotic surroundings.

“We want players to take a digital year of their life and experience something they’ve never done before and flex muscles like they’ve never done before,” said Hay. “We create a cast of characters with elements of both good and bad, some of which exist outside the realm of your comfort zone.”

The new game introduces a complex story line that offers two very different allies that the player, Ajay Gale, can join up with to help Kyrat gain freedom from the sadistic rule of Pagan Min. The rebel faction, called The Golden Path, has a pair of leaders interested in taking very different approaches to freedom. Amita (played by True Blood actress Janina Gavankar) wants to freedom for women, while Sabal (played by Lost actor Naveen Andrews) wants to rid corruption but retain the culture of Kyrat. The player is constantly dealing with valid points from both of these performance-captured characters as the game unfolds.

Lucien Soulban, co-lead writer of Far Cry 4, said the game’s narrative also keeps players off balance by introducing Ajay Gale as a son returning home from the U.S. for the first time since he was three to bring his mother’s ashes to his family.

“He’s a stranger in a strange land, which is integral to the Far Cry fantasy,” said Soulban, who added that his writing team faced a challenge of crafting a story that still allowed the player to interact with the open world. Approximately half of the game has been designed to offer story missions while the other half lets gamers explore the mountains and lowlands inspired by Himalayan locales like Nepal.

Mark Thompson, narrative director on Far Cry 4, explained that Kyrat is located between India and China. The fictional land has its own history, religion, myths and legends, and a complete timeline of events that have shaped the country. All of this content has been embedded into the world for players to discover. Ubisoft used this history to fill the world with stories. Thompson said Kyrat is the most fleshed-out character in the game.

Thompson spent two weeks in Nepal with some of the development team and Vice to find inspiration for the game. The entire trip was filmed by Virtue, Vice’s in-house creative agency, and released as a documentary series to promote the game.

The game has been receiving positive reviews in the press with an aggregate score of 86 out of 25 reviews, which should help convince gamers to explore this sequel. Also, aside from Activision’s (ATVI) Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, there’s room this holiday season for another shooter to break through. Given its unique take on the genre — which includes the ability to ride (and shoot enemies) while atop an elephant and target enemies from above flying a one-man helicopter — Ubisoft’s franchise is a far cry from anything else out there.