Have you ever had a bad vacation? You know the sort: lost luggage, the hotel can’t find your reservation, the taxi driver takes you on the “scenic route” and adds multiples of whatever the local currency is to the fare, the food is terrible, the tourist locations are too crowded to enjoy or the weather just refuses to cooperate. We’ve all had experience of a bad trip abroad — but in Far Cry 4, you’ll experience the worst trip of a lifetime. Which makes it all the more confusing that it’s one you’ll gladly take again and again.
Far Cry 4, a sequel of sorts to 2012’s Far Cry 3 and an almost carbon copy of that game’s gameplay and mechanics, drops players into the control of Ajay Ghale, who has returned to the fictional country of Kyrat — nestled between India and Tibet, apparently — to scatter his mother’s ashes. Kyrat is a nation in turmoil, run by Pagan Min, a despotic dictator who rules with an iron fist while projecting an image of peaceful democracy to the outside world. Opposing him are the Golden Path, a rebel group determined to overthrow Min and return Kyrat to actual, not falsified, peace. Not your ideal destination for a vacation, but Ajay feels duty-bound to return his mother’s ashes to her home country. Of course, he’s quickly drawn into the civil war tearing Kyrat apart, and learns that his parents roots in the nation were more than just bystanders in the war — his father founded and led the Golden Path. Well, it’d be a pretty dull game if Ajay got in and out with minimal fuss, wouldn’t it?
As it stands, my first few hours with Far Cry 4 were just that: pretty dull. And, by a few hours, I mean it was at least twenty before I actually started to get that “just one more mission” hook that so many of its open world peers instill from the start. It’s not something I can quantify, either, as all of the pieces of a great game are there from the moment you load up the disc.
For starters, Ubisoft Montreal has crafted a beautiful world. Though it’s not leaps and bounds better than its predecessor, the upgrade to current gen consoles hasn’t been wasted on Kyrat. Vast mountain ranges encircle the nation, glistening and shining in the sun, their snow-capped peaks walling in the terror and fear of Min’s rule. In the valleys and fields between mountain ranges, lush forests, vast lakes and foliage-dense hills cover the land. Interspersed among the natural beauty are ramshackle villages, crumbling bell towers, grand monasteries and mansions, centuries-old religious carvings and statues, and numerous other signs of the humans who call Kyrat home. Sharing their land are dozens of animals, including tigers, bears, wolves, tapirs, wild boars, eagles and even honey badgers. Ubisoft’s vision is grand, and the world you’re given to play in reflects that. It sounds great, too, with the crackle of gunfire, the depth of explosions, the shouts and dying words of enemies, the screams of villagers, the creaking of a rope as you grapple up a mountain, the calls of animals as you roam forests and disturb their grazing, the rumbling of trucks and cars and the booming speakers which distill Pagan Min’s propaganda to the Kyrati people.
Still, it just isn’t that much fun initially. It doesn’t help that Far Cry 4’s story is throwaway at best. Its greatest character, Pagan Min, is relegated to voiceover status after his bombastic entry at the start of the campaign. Even here, Troy Baker’s voice acting is gleefully insane, as Min calls Ajay to taunt him and talk to him between missions, checking in on his attempts to help the Golden Path and reminiscing on the days when he knew and loved Ajay’s mother. Min is a powerhouse of a character who sadly spends most of the game locked out of sight in the North of the country, which is firmly in the hands of Min’s soldiers. That means the majority of your interaction will be with Golden Path leaders and Kyrat’s various side characters. Golden Path missions, which form the main story, are interesting, as you help this struggling rebel alliance try to overthrow Min’s dictatorship. Within the group, a power struggle exists between Sabal and Amita. The former wants to return the country to its traditional roots, as he idolizes Ajay’s father and his original methods. The latter wants to take Kyrat into the modern era, using whatever resources are available — in this case, drug production — to fund the rebirth of Kyrat. Players are given the choice of hearing proposals from both Sabal and Amita before the start of major missions, with each having differing viewpoints on the best way to proceed. There’s a real variation here — Sabal may ask you to destroy an opium factory, while Amita will tell you to secure it for the Golden Path so the money can pay for supplies and medical facilities — and I frequently found myself balancing my own morals as I made my decision.
Unfortunately, other characters aren’t quite so memorable. From the former-warlord turned born-again Christian Longinus, who supplies Ajay and the Golden Path with weapons, to Noore, who is forced to run Kyrat’s fighting arena as Min has captured her family, to the drug-loving Yogi and Reggie, there’s a wealth of characters to offer side quests and missions, but none are standouts. Indeed, the story as a whole is somewhat neglected, almost an afterthought in favor of Far Cry 4’s main objective: content.
There is an almost incredible amount of things to see and do in Kyrat — almost to the point of oversaturation. In addition to the main story missions, there are the side missions I mentioned, tower missions which require you to climb abandoned bell towers to cut off Min’s radio signals and open up the game’s map, outpost takeovers which see you ousting government troops from key locations, fortress takeovers which permanently remove troops from specific regions, the aforementioned arena that pits Ajay against waves of enemies, there are races, protection missions, hunting missions, assassinations, bomb defusal missions, propoganda missions, hostage rescue, and even a series of missions based on the fictional utopia Shangri-La. Yeah, there’s a lot to do in Kyrat.
And actually, there’s more. There are also randomly-generated missions that could involve destroying cargo trucks, killing enemy couriers, fighting with Golden Path rebels against troops, small-scale hostage rescues and saving locals and rebels from animal attacks. That’s not including the vast array of collectibles in the game, including masks left by a serial killer, spirit bells that can be spun for karma, propaganda posters to tear down, lost journals to recover, letters to read and a ridiculous number of loot crates to open. Are you exhausted yet? Because I sure am. Far Cry 4 crams almost too much into its world, and that need for content is what makes its opening hours so comparatively dull.
It’s easy to breeze through the game’s campaign in fifteen hours or so, but you’ll be punished for not exploring the game’s world and doing side missions before tackling the story. Kyrat runs on money, naturally, and that currency is attained by killing and searching the bodies of enemies, opening chest and completing missions. In return, you’ll gain guns and ammo, which can be used to power through more (and tougher) missions. Of course, there’s also an XP system, with stylish kills and clean missions rewarding greater XP, which rewards skill points. Skill points are used to upgrade Ajay’s abilities, such as increased health, improved gun control and better melee abilities. In addition to that, there’s crafting, which rewards killing and skinning animals with upgrades to the amount of loot, money, ammo, explosives and other such items you can carry.
All of this RPG-lite upgrading means that, at first, Ajay is a flimsy wimp. The opening hours aren’t much fun as you’re restricted in the guns you can use and the abilities you have to take down enemies and complete missions. Hunting, especially, is a cruel joke. Too often the animals you require are nowhere to be found, and hunting itself feels punishingly unfair as certain animals have hyperactive senses and will run off after seeing you coming from what feels like a mile away. Too often I resorted to just throwing grenades at my prey rather than going for clean kill with the hunting bow, but of course I was then punished with a reduced number of animal skins for my lack of patience. This means that your first few hours will be spent with a limited amount of ammo, only one or two guns to hold at once (the maximum is four and makes missions much more flexible as you can plan for all occasions) and a massively restricted loot bag that limits the amount of bodies and crates you can plunder during missions. The game feels like it’s deliberately holding you back to force you to play the huge wealth of content available — something you might have done anyway, but enjoyed more with a large variety of skills from the start.
Regardless, once you get Ajay up to scratch — for me, around twenty hours into the game — things really come alive. There’s a reason Far Cry is so much like the third game, and that’s because everything in that title worked, and here it works just as well. Gunplay is punishing, with intelligent enemies and well-planned mission areas, but players are given a wide variety of options with each mission. Go in guns blazing, sneak through and stealth kill, or step back and snipe. Heck, take the game’s mini helicopter and drop grenades on everyone if you so choose. There’s a flexibility to the gameplay which rewards all styles. I’m not a stealthy player, but even I was able to navigate the game’s stealthier missions and feel like a covert-ops badass, thanks to the controls available. Vehicular control is less solid, but it’s something Ubisoft remedies with an autodrive function, which lets you set a waypoint and either soak in Kyrat’s beautiful surroundings or shoot at army vehicles through the windows. You’ll also get to enjoy the excellent radio soundtrack, which features some pretty biting insults against Western attitudes to foreign dictatorships and the media’s focus on pop culture instead of real news.
Far Cry turns things up further by adding multiplayer into the mix. It adds yet another option into the game for players, and it’s a thoroughly welcome addition. For certain missions, the game will recommend you call on a friend to help. Here, you simply invite a friend who will drop into your game — or a random stranger picked from the game’s online servers if no friends are available — and you’ll tackle the the objective together. Blasting through buildings and taking out troops is so much better with a friend, and opens up new gameplay possibilities such as one person laying C4 and blowing up ground troops as a distraction while the other picks off guards in towers with a sniper rifle. If missions aren’t your thing, you can also explore the entire map together — though story missions are single player only. If two player gaming isn’t enough, there’s a full multiplayer mode, offering 5v5 skirmishes and a variety of modes. It’s surprisingly effective, and shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re looking for something to do outside of the main game.
On top of all of this, Far Cry is rich with the moments that define a game — the sort you’ll talk about with friends or post about on the internet. Riding an elephant into an enemy compound and using his trunk to throw enemies and vehicles around feels as awesome as it sounds. Several missions see Ajay under the influence of drugs, and the way the game toys with light, color and sound, as well as Ajay’s own abilities, makes for fantastic experiences. Shangri-La is such a breathtaking area, pitting Ajay against tribal enemies who explode into blue mist when they die, with the utopian setting awash in rich reds and oranges, in stark contrast to the greens and blues of Kyrat. And you have a white tiger to help you kill people, which feels pretty great.
I had a shaky start with Far Cry 4. The initial powerlessness and restrictions the game places on you force you to stop what you’re doing and go out and explore Kyrat to earn money and XP. Once you’re there, though, there’s a fantastic amount of things to see and do. Kyrat is bursting at the seams with content for Ajay to participate in, and the fact that Ubisoft has given so much without asking for DLC purchases or microtransactions feels refreshing given the state of so many other similar open world games — Ubisoft’s other franchises included. Sure, the main story is a little disappointing and there are those who will succumb to fatigue long before they’ve seen everything Kyrat has to offer, but for what it is, Far Cry 4 is an astounding achievement in giving you your money’s worth.
Far Cry 4 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.