'Far Cry 4' is out now on all major formats, including Xbox One and PS4.
In the last instalment of HuffPost Game Theory Review, Tech Editor Michael Rundle postulated that GTA 5 is literally set in hell. This time around he tackles the first-person anarchy sim Far Cry 4, and realises that something else is going on entirely.
American comedian John Hodgman has a throwaway joke in which he claims that the greatest Hollywood treatment of all time is yet to be made. And this movie, once it exists, he claims, will simply be titled All Animals Versus All Humans.
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Well, that movie now exists, in the form of a prequel video game.
For that is the only possible context in which Far Cry 4 makes sense.
Having played this game for hours now, I am fully convinced what's actually going on in this game is the first stages of a titanic, horrific war between all of humanity and all other living creatures on Earth.
It's not obvious at first. On the face of it this is an open world, first-person shooter very much in the style of its immediate predecessor. You are cast once more in a (largely anonymous) role as an American Johnny-come-lately amid a guerrilla war between a good-but-weak rebel militia, and an evil, red-suited army of minions controlled by a despotic madman. The setting has changed - tropical islands swapped for gorgeously rendered Kyrat, a mock-Nepalese valley of mountains and jungles. You're also fighting for the memory of your rebel leader parents, not just for the hell of it as in Far Cry 3. But the essential concept is the same. You endure a relatively sparse set of narrative missions, in order to spend most of your time travelling from outpost to outpost, liberating them virtually single-handed with a range of deadly weaponry, vehicles, explosive devices, and animals.
Ah, yes, the animals.
For this is the thing about Far Cry 4: not only is this game world absolutely packed solid with an insane variety of elephants, wildcats, wolves, bears, chickens and everything in between - again much like its predecessor - but all of those things now also have the strange quirk of wanting to kill you, and every other human, immediately.
In one recent session, for instance, I found myself silently creeping through the brush armed with a sniper rifle. Ahead of me I saw dark smoke indicating an enemy outpost waiting to be taken by the careful menace of my liberating zoom scope. It was dusk, the sunlight just reflecting the tops of the distant, beautiful mountains and haze silently shifting through the trees.
Then, from out of nowhere, an eagle the size of a pterosaur landed on my head and began to tear my face off. I struggled, desperately, until it left me alone for a few minutes and was forced - weeping, now, given this animal's perilous hold on existence - to shot it out of the sky.
Obviously, though, my shooting awoke the nearby guards who too began pouring bullets into my hiding spot. There was nothing for it. I took out a piece of bait - cut from the side of a bear that earlier that session had attempted to rip out my guts - and tossed it into the base.
Seconds later, two tigers attracted by the smell of the bait, followed by an elephant (an elephant!), smashed through the gates of the outpost and tore everyone to shreds -- ignoring, incidentally, the bait that had brought them there in the first place.
These beasts killed their human tormentors with such an obvious glee that it could only be the case that they enjoyed it. They enjoyed it. Killing humans was the only thing that these two naturally retiring tigers and the vegetarian, usually docile elephant were interested in. Death to the humans, the elephant's trumpet sang. Death to the humans.
This is not an isolated experience. At every moment in Far Cry 4 it is clear that some kind of animal is just waiting to emerge from the trees to rip out your teeth for no very good reason. Wild boars gore you. Bees and wasps sting you to death. Honey badgers - tiny cute little things - tear out of the grass and bite your knees off. Yaks trample, snow leopards stalk and eat your brains and wolves hunt in murderous packs from caves located just yards from human settlements, against all reason and science. They make the actual villain - a mindless despot with a purple suit and a mean streak the size of the Himalayas - look about as threatening as a Liberal Democrat in jeans.
The only possible explanation here is that the animals in this game have been subject to some force, chemical or process that means they now have no choice. They have turned on us, and they are coming to get us. Presumably this is happening worldwide, simultaneously. It's haunting when you think about it.
So what's going on?
Oddly enough, the game itself has some theories. Early in the campaign, while driving in your car from one gun fight to the next, a talk show radio host mentions over the air his own personal pet theory on why people in Kyrat are so horrible to animals. "We believe in reincarnation," he says, (to paraphrase). "So we hate them because we know they were assholes in life." Offensively reductive of Hinduism aside, he may have a point. If, in this game, the animals are literally dead humans, is it not possible that they hate humans so much because they remember us killing them in a previous life?
In this sense, Far Cry 4 is really just a zombie game with a more original plot. "The dead have risen to tear us back down to hell. And this time they're in the form of, I dunno, a rhino?"
None of this is to say Far Cry 4 is not an amazing game. It is, mostly. It has incredible visuals, a real variety of missions and content (including some excellently creative hallucinogenic scenes reminiscent of Blood Dragon), and a real sense of personality and verve. It's let down by bad writing, some disappointing plot moments and occasional glitches, and it really is very similar to Far Cry 3, but in the main it's hard to fault.
But it was difficult, when playing it, not to look forward to the sequel.
In Far Cry 5, the humans have put aside their petty squabbles. In their last hideout, high up in the mountains, we have stockpiled our weapons and wait, haunted, for that tell-tale stamp of heavy feet outside. Then it comes. Thump-thump. The gatekeeper peers through his slit to see what's there, and is immediately set upon by thousands of raging flies. They trip the door and the animals charge. Oragnutans swing into the bunker and unleash hell. The pigeons swarm, the housecats charge, the tortoises carry demented, hardened guinea pigs into battle atop their battle-painted shells.
The war has finally begun.
Far Cry 5: All Animals Versus All Humans. Coming, presumably, Fall 2015.