In the pantheon of gaming the Far Cry series has slowly, but extremely steadily, become a big deal. It’s been a couple of years now since Far Cry 3 and in Far Cry 4 Ubisoft is delivering a title bigger and better than any in the series that has preceded it. Unlike previous games in the franchise Far Cry 4 isn’t exactly breaking new ground, it’s a revision of the Far Cry 3 formula but blown up to ridiculous proportions. No longer confined to an island paradise, you’re free to roam the slopes of the Himalayan mountains, from its low-lying woodland all the way to its snow-capped peaks.
It’s all about variety and choice. Insofar as what Ubisoft does with its open-world games, the Far Cry titles are the only ones that can truly be thought of as sandboxes. It’s like being plonked inside of the world’s greatest playpen, armed not with different coloured blocks and pop-up books but instead rocket launchers, elephants and wingsuits. It’s a testament to just how far gaming has come that something as outrageous as this even exists, but suck it up ladies and gents because Far Cry 4 is here.
Hello My Old Friend
First things first, Far Cry 4 is inherently pretty much the same game as its predecessor. It looks better, there’s more toys, and there’s more variety, but what you’re getting is that same core Far Cry experience. This time the tale centers around one Ajay Ghale, a Kyrati native travelling back to the mountainous region he grew up in to scatter his mother’s ashes. It takes all of about three seconds before the proverbial crap hits the fans, when Ajay’s bus is attacked by government forces and the Bond villain-esque antagonist Pagan Min invites him in for a spot of dinner. Pagan Min is a flamboyant psychopath, and he lights the touchpaper that gets this backpacking adventure going. If you’ve played Far Cry 3 you know the basic formula. Far Cry 4 isn’t exactly going to win any awards for narrative, which amounts to a civil war and arms dealers and the like, but it does at least serve to push things forward at a steady clip. Much like Far Cry 3’s Vaas, Pagan Min is unfortunately criminally underused, With Ubisoft focusing instead on the act of war rather than the driving forces behind it.
The campaign itself isn’t massive, comprising 30 or so missions which can be blasted through in around 15 hours or so, although you’re going to struggle a little without completing some of the side content first. There’s a few tricky decisions along the way but it’s a pretty straightforward campaign all told, one in which you’ll have to decide which sides your bread’s buttered, altering how missions play out slightly depending upon who you back out of the Golden Path’s two leaders, Amita and Sabal. These main missions are easily one of the weakest points in Far Cry 4, featuring generic tailing missions and the like, and it’s their rigidity that proves the major sticking point. By the end of a couple of missions you’ll be dying to get back out into Far Cry 4’s vast open-world.
The Anecdote Factory
Ultimately though the plot feels secondary to the main event - the anecdote factory, as Ubisoft Montreal so succinctly puts it. It’s the moment to moment tales and extraordinary events that make a modern Far Cry game what it is, and on this Far Cry 4 delivers in spades. Every person who picks it up will have different crazy tales to relate once they’ve seen it through, as Far Cry 4’s emergent gameplay ensures even the most meticulous plans can be up-ended by unpredictable events. Luring one of the ridiculously lethal honey badgers into an enemy outpost can in some cases see it liberate the entire place solo, while one particularly memorable moment had me creeping into a camp to rescue a hostage, taking out lone guards one by one, only for a rogue tiger to come leaping out of the bushes at the last moment and begin munching the poor sap’s face off.
The focal point though is the outpost takeovers, it’s here where Far Cry 4 really shines. There’s nothing better than thinking up ever more devious methods to conquer them, scouting around the edges and tagging enemies, picking them off one by with a silenced sniper rifle, or jumping out of a C4-loaded jeep at the last minute to cause devastation. It’s basically only limited by your patience and imagination; there will be many who just stroll on in with an AK to each and every one, but it’s the alternate methods that cause a great big grin to spread across your face. There’s more outposts than ever in this outing, and there’s even the option to reset them so you can recapture them once more, a major sticking point in Far Cry 3 at launch.
If you just can’t get enough of the outposts then Far Cry 4 also comes with its own map creator where you can build your own designs and, on the PC version at least, the sky really is the limit. They can be shared online and some intrepid designer has already managed to replicate Shadow Moses from the original Metal Gear Solid - you don’t need to tell me how incredible that news is, I actually choked on my cornflakes when I spotted it. Incidentally I also slipped on an actual banana skin a few years back, like a real-life Elmer Fudd.
Like much of Ubisoft’s roster Far Cry 4 is all about the content, however you may deem it. It succeeds where others fail by virtue of its engaging world, and the masses of stuff on offer never feels quite as overbearing as the likes of Assassin’s Creed Unity with its ridiculously congested map. Climbing towers once more reveals parts of the map, while hunting nets you skins for crafting wallets and bags, checkpoint races for cash, and there’s obviously a wealth of collectibles. It’s all basically identical to Far Cry 3 in this respect, and a lot of it will come down to how tired you are of Ubisoft’s collectathon formula. Off the back of Assassin’s Creed Unity it’s a bit of a slog, but the going is sure to reap dividends.
During the war that’s being waged between Pagan Min and the group of revolutionaries known as the Golden Path, you’ll have all sorts of tricks up your sleeve. Having grown up in America, Ajay’s a dab hand with all manner of weaponry, and it’s not long before he’s zip-lining, grapple-hooking, and unleashing tons of lead into shocked foes. He can even get in a flying gyrocopter loaded with a machine-gun, or ride elephants, or hijack a tuk tuk. The world of Kyrat is a gorgeous playground, featuring so much more variation than Far Cry 3’s island paradise. From the snow dusted highlands to the gigantic valleys and sprawling plains, covered by the golden rays of a setting sun or cloaked in a thick fog. The atmosphere and scenery changes dramatically from place to place, and creates a world that’s just begging to be explored. It helps that your variety of transport and movement is second only to the likes of Just Cause 2, allowing you to impulsively leap off a cliff-edge and wingsuit down at near terminal velocity.
As with the last outing all of his combat abilities can be upgraded provided you have enough experience, which can be gained from side-quests, campaign missions, kills and the like. This can provide all new abilities such as takedowns or elephant riding, while crafting is back with a bang. There’s a greater variety of wildlife than ever packed in Far Cry 4, and everything can be hunted, skinned, and turned into a larger wallet or a nice pair of shoes. Killer bees swarm, honey badgers are a sight to be truly feared, and rhinos and elephants are an awesome presence. Syringe crafting is also back in, giving you temporary performance boosts and health benefits, while you can also do that on-the-fly bone-setting and shrapnel digging to partially heal yourself again.
Far Cry 4 also comes with an easily overlooked multiplayer mode. The five vs five asymmetric multiplayer definitely isn’t a core reason to pick up the game, offering up some mildly distracting objective-based matches that might entertain for a short while, before inevitably moving on to a more competent online shooter. It’s joined by a co-operative component however that proves a far more enticing prospect. The entirety of Far Cry 4’s world can be enjoyed with a buddy, and there’s not many things in gaming capable of bringing a bigger grin to your face than strutting into an enemy outpost astride of a pair of elephants. Everything about the emergent scenarios works to twice as chaotic an effect as in single-player, and if you’ve got a mate willing to work through some stuff with you it’s a total joy.
Ultimately Far Cry 4 is a vast and glorified expansion pack to Far Cry 3. If you liked what the previous title offered or have yet to experience it at all, then this is definitely worth a go. That growing Ubisoft problem of over-familiarity rears its ugly head once again, but as it stands the Far Cry series hasn’t yet been thoroughly stamped into the ground by yearly iterations. Yet. At its best Far Cry 4 is a ridiculously entertaining prospect, and sometimes you’ll be sat there just thinking to yourself, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is gaming”, but the story aspect does let the side down a little, failing to draw on the open-world nature that makes the game such a success in the first place.