Far Cry 4 is here, and it’s been one of our most anticipated titles ever since we completed Jason’s story in Far Cry 3 and popped our last cap in our last ass in the deliriously entertaining Blood Dragon – two of our best video game experiences in recent memory.
No pressure, so…
For the latest entry in a series which has changed developer and tone regularly since its debut in 2004, you’re heading to the Himalayas to the isolated (and fabricated) region of Kyrat. Your name is Ajay Ghale and you’re there to scatter your mother’s ashes in the county she once called home. But things aren’t going to be that easy.
This minimal story set-up is fairly typical of the series and of a lot of open world games – basically its just as an excuse for you to do things and it points out one of the weakest aspects of Far Cry 4. You really won’t care at all who you are and what you’re up to for most of the game – Ajay rarely speaks and is almost entirely lacking in personality. And it literally takes him minutes to go from confused tourist to gun-toting maniac.
But forget about all that, and welcome to Kyrat.
The region is the real star of the game, cramming more charm and verve into a single isolated cabin than Ajay manages throughout the entire story. It’s more vertical aspect lacks the immediacy of the Rook Islands (the setting for Far Cry 3) and that means it takes a little longer to really see it in its best light.
But after 3-4 hours of play you’ll gain some new traversal abilities and watch as an incredible vista opens up in front of you. Unlike some open world titles, this entire map can be explored from the off and just travelling around offers up multiple moments of beauty and wonder.
Use the new gyrocopters to scout around – teeming smoke signals an enemy camp which can be taken down, clearing the air and also the smear of red from your map. Use your grapple to get a view from on high of the valleys and mountains stretching into the distance and find a high point, make sure your wing suit is strapped on and soar above one of the most visually impressive game worlds I’ve ever seen.
Playing on PS4, the game is frequently stunning but what’s just as impressive is how much STUFF Ubisoft has crammed into every nook and cranny. Undiscovered locations litter your map – begging you to go exploring – and when you get there you might find yourself destroying evil masks, tearing down propaganda or just looting crates with abandon.
There’s also the endless amounts of hunting you can do – returning from FC 3. Ripping the skins from newly deceased creatures gives you materials to craft new items, and you’ll spend way more time than you should tracking dangerous creatures to get a new wallet.
And that’s before we mention the main campaign missions, which give you more variety than ever before, and the countless side missions and tasks which often come with their own engaging mini-stories – like taking out propaganda for an irritating radio host, hanging around with a creepy priest-turned-arms-dealer or choosing which side of the Golden Path to support in its fight.
And through it all, you’ll get to experience first-hand some of the finest open world shooter mechanics in the business. There wasn’t much broken before so the gunplay will be instantly familiar to Far Cry enthusiasts – heavy on the running and gunning and with as many servings of stealth as you care to include.
If anything, the difficulty level is pitched a little higher this time, with death occurring in fights quite frequently in the first few hours. So some of the new mechanics are most welcome – like the ability to throw bait from hiding, bringing in a local creature to help in the fight. You can literally bring a bear to a gunfight, though it’s just as likely to turn on you.
For a little more help, you can also earn Karma points which can be spent to bring a member of the Golden Path to your aid. These little guys can also be levelled up to make them better in a brawl, and their AI at least matches the aggressive will to live of your enemies.
Speaking of levelling up, Far Cry 4 naturally includes a healthy skill tree. It’s all fairly familiar stuff, especially if you played the previous game, though it does include strains which err towards tiger or elephant. Don’t worry about that though as you can easily upgrade both sides with no penalties and you earn skill points with considerable ease – though some upgrades are locked until you progress in the story.
There’s more to play as well – you can get doped up and head into the world of Shangri-La for a different kind of shooting experience, leaning on bow work and with some help from a mystical tiger. The art on display in these levels is incredible, and offers a great palate cleanser before you head back into the world.
Race events, assassination missions and the chance to replay outposts also feature, as well as random Karma challenges which task you with taking on immediate challenges in the world. Or you could just ride an elephant into a melee, try to take on one of the hyper-difficult fortresses or just head out and liberate some bell towers, revealing even more of the wondrous map.
In case I haven’t been clear, there’s an incredible amount to do in Far Cry 4 – with Ubisoft getting to the point where their maps are all but obscured by shiny things to distract you from the main story. They’ve also added 5 v 5 multiplayer against mismatched forces (bows v automatic weapons basically) which is quite good fun, and the chance to jump into co-op in the main game world with a friend at any time – though you currently can’t tackle the story missions together.
If there are flaws to be found, the story and tone are the main culprits. While Troy Baker’s Pagan Min steals every scene he’s in, he disappears off screen for hours at a time, with no real personality to fill the void. And after the success of Blood Dragon, I was hoping some of that intense zaniness would seep into the main franchise, but Far Cry 4 is a weirdly serious affair at times, something which feels at odds with every over the top aspect of its moment to moment gameplay.
But for the most part these issues can be ignored (which would be easier if you could skip the sometimes dull cutscenes) in favour of the genuinely generous gameplay package on offer. Kyrat is a vast, beautiful and dangerous playground for you to run, swim and fly in – and it’s definitely the only game this year which lets you lob grenades while riding a seriously pissed off elephant into battle. Welcome to Kyrat.