It would be easy to think of Far Cry 4 as little more than a shiny clone of the last game. It does after all, stick rather closely to the foundation Ubisoft cemented in Far Cry 3, with much of the same framework transplanted to a new locale. It would be easy to dismiss it as a new skin, draped over a worn and weathered skeleton – and you’d very probably be right. You would, however, miss out on one of the year’s best games.
The archipelago of the Rook Islands is displaced by a fictional world in the Himalayas; a vast expanse of rocky savannahs and snowy mountaintops called Kyrat. Our new Hero, Ajay Ghale, has returned to his homeland to return his mother’s ashes to her place of birth, unaware of his family’s local legacy. It’s a country at war with itself. The local despot, Pagan Min, not only knows who you are and who your family is, but also that you’ve returned to Kyrat. It thrusts Ghale into a conflict between his father’s resistance movement, the Golden Path and Min’s red army.
Yes, it’s another tale of down-trodden revolutionaries trying to overthrow a tyrannical dictatorship, but it wouldn’t quite be Far Cry without it. Pagan Min, the fabulously-dressed flamboyant bad guy from the cover, is a charismatic, erudite and eloquent villain who rules – as dictators do – with a supremely blood and sociopathic iron fist. He’s not quite as psychotic as Far Cry 3’s Vaas, but he’s most certainly certifiable – and played to absolute, more measured, perfection by Troy Baker (though he’s really only in the game for a few minutes).
Beyond the conflict, there’s not very much to the narrative. There are a few moral choices and branching paths – but mostly everything happens as a reason to get you shooting at things or exploring the great vertiginous expanses. Even the protagonist is a little more reserved, with Ghale uttering just a handful of words in the whole game. It’s a deliberate choice on Ubisoft’s part for Ajay to function much like a cipher, a nearly silent protagonist.
That, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. The very best thing about Ghale is that he’s not Jason Brody. It’s nice to have a hero who’s not a SoCal bro, with no friends to save and who hardly has to put up with some of the more puerile nonsense we saw in Far Cry 3. Some of that sort of twaddle remains; there are two unbearably annoying travelling stoners whose stereotypical “whoa, dude” jokes are about as endearing as a kick to the face.
You’re essentially a murderer for hire, helping the natives free themselves from tyranny and oppression. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, really. For whatever reason, the two leaders within the revolution have opposite viewpoints, and regularly squabble over the correct course of action – turning to you, a relative outsider, to determine the fate of the entire nation.
There’s also no explanation of why Ghale is so adept at shooting things, or how he’s able to ramp a vehicle over a ledge, fly a wingsuit from that to a plane and toss a grenade into its passenger seat and parachute to safety like some 80’s action hero. And honestly, that’s okay, because no matter what your actual mission is you’ll inevitably become distracted and go off hunting badgers instead.
That’s what Far Cry is, or at least what it has become – and it excels at that. It’s a great big sandbox that’s made for you to explore things, kill things, collect things and skin things. The fun comes from the emergent stories you create. It’s not mechanically very different from the last one at all, but it’s been refined and polished to a perfect shine. You’ll still run around, scaling and then hijacking radio towers, which unlock even more things for you to do. You’ll still take down every living thing within an outpost using a wealth of guns and other weapons and have a good time doing it.
New here is that the outposts you’ve claimed can be attacked and reclaimed by the enemy. You’ll have to take out one of the game’s Fortresses – essentially larger, tougher outposts – in each region to stop the attacks from happening. They’re considerable challenges, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you take one down. You’re able to approach each outpost and fortress as you see fit. My favoured approach is almost always the stealthy one; sneaking in, using a whisper silent recurve bow to take out each guard, one by one – but that all changed when I played it co-operatively.
Emboldened by the addition of a partner, I was positively liberated by having somebody there to have my back, and there are few greater thrills than utilising the tank-like powers of a weaponised elephant. Everything barring the actual campaign can be experienced in co-op, and its sandbox just screams for co-operative shenanigans. I kept throwing bits of bait at my partner’s feet, revelling in the joy of watching him being mauled by a great big Bengal tiger.
There’s a constant sense of progression, of levelling up – even when you’re not really doing anything to move the main story along. Ajay’s got two uninspired skill trees he can exploit to gain new abilities (though half the skills seem like a waste of time), but it’s the levelling up he can do with the locals through a new karma system that keeps things fresh. In return for helping villagers out, he’ll get better deals on items and weapons as well as better assistance from the the local peasantry.
I am the planet’s worst digital driver, and it’s a challenge that’s made all the worse in games where driving and shooting have to happen in tandem , but Far Cry 4 fixes that for me with the inclusion of an autodrive function that does the hard part for you so you can focus on putting bullets in to skulls. It’s wholly optional, so those who do like piloting Far Cry’s vehicles can continue to do so, while I continue to not drive off mountain roads.
Getting around on foot is made a little easier in the mountains of Kyrat thanks to the combination of the grappling hook and the wingsuit. Beyond the clear division of grassy bits, and the snowy bits, Kyrat’s regions all seem to blend into each other, lacking the charm and variety of the rook Islands – but the game feels a little more realistic as a result. Nothing really feels out of place, with every bit of spiritual or historical landmark seeming like it belongs.
Those who like the spiritual mumbo-jumbo can enter Shangri-La, a paradise corrupted by evil demons. By finding bits of an ancient painting, you’ll relive the life of mythical Hindu warrior Kalinag. Aided by an ethereal, spectral white tiger, it’ll be your job to rid the crimson-hued world of the evil that’s plaguing it. It’s a worthwhile sidequest, and just one of the innumerable things to do in Kyrat.
When you’re done dicking about in Kyrat proper, there’s a 5v5 multiplayer that pits the Golden Path against Pagin Min’s Rhakshasa in a set of objective-based modes. The rebels have access to powerful guns and weapons, while the Rhakshasa rely on bows and their control of animals as their instruments of murder. The multiplayer’s take-it-or-leave-it stuff for me, though it’s made up for by the inclusion of co-op.
It doesn’t stray from the template set by Far Cry 3, but improves upon it. I’ve spent over 20 hours in Kyrat, and I plan on spending at least 20 more. And that, I think, is what’s important. It may not blow your mind by reinventing the franchise, but it’s fun.
Last Updated: November 17, 2014