The ‘Far Cry’ series has always undergone significant change from one title to the next as it tried to find the best way to capitalize on a simple premise: enormous, wide open areas that gave you free rein in deciding how to approach a combat encounter. The series left behind the large, expansive, levels based progression of the first game in favor of a completely open world in the sequel. I admired ‘Far Cry 2’ for its willingness to embed the player in a lived-in world with its in-game maps, jamming guns and unique buddy system that changed and molded to your personal experience. Unfortunately the act of playing that game fell on the side of frustration more often than it did on enjoyment.
‘Far Cry 3’ is when the series finally felt like it had found its identity. The tropical setting was back, outposts were added, a character upgrade system was introduced as well as hunting and crafting and the story was populated by interesting, albeit despicable characters that were undeniably entertaining to watch. ‘Far Cry 4’ is the least different sequel in the series but that’s not to its detriment. Ubisoft has discovered a winning formula for ‘Far Cry’ and rather than dilute it with unnecessary changes for the sake of changing something they’ve instead opted to amplify everything that made ‘Far Cry 3’ so enjoyable while shedding the parts that slowed it down.
A series constant is its ‘fish out of water’ narrative and the same applies for ‘Far Cry 4’. However, this particular fish has been in this pond before, many years ago. Protagonist Ajay Ghale and his mother had fled Kyrat, a fictional Himalayan setting, during a civil war. Before her death years later she asked Ajay to return to their homeland so that he can spread her ashes in a place called Lakshmana. The circumstances which land Ajay in Kyrat are immediately nobler than those of previous protagonist Jason Brody. Much like Brody however, Ajay soon finds himself with a gun in his hands and an outpost full of generic bad guys to eliminate; and that’s fine, ‘Far Cry 4’ is a power fantasy, not a character study. This isn’t to say that the game is lacking in character.
Pagan Min is the series’ new villain and he has a big, Vaas shaped hole to fill. Thankfully Pagan Min (Troy Baker) brings his own brand of unhinged that feels right at home in a ‘Far Cry’ setting. Min has come out on top of the civil war that prompted Ajay and his mother to flee several years ago and now he reigns as the self-proclaimed king of Kyrat. The narrative in ‘Far Cry 4’ is still eccentric and strange but it feels more restrained, more aware of itself. In one mission I attempted to navigate my way through a heated butting of ideals as Amita and Sabal, leaders of The Golden Path (a rebel group that opposes Min), argued over the best course of action for their cause. In the next mission I was being pushed out a door by a fashion designer who had tasked me with killing a rare snow leopard while leaving me with parting words that insisted I “be fierce”.
Missions in ‘Far Cry 4’ are incredibly fun to play through. Getting from point A to point B in Kyrat is half the fun as you glide, drive, rock climb and swim through the gorgeously rendered environments. Enjoyment isn’t derived exclusively from the act of locomotion itself (although jumping off a cliff and deploying my wingsuit never got old in over twenty hours of playing); the fun comes from what you encounter in your journeys. Wildlife is even more prominent now than it has been in previous games. You can ride atop elephants, picking up people and flipping trucks over with its powerful trunk, occasionally be attacked by belligerent eagles and psychotic honey badgers and with the introduction of thrown bait you can more ably put the wildlife to work for you.
The missions themselves are surprisingly varied. I’ve searched bodies for pieces of intel while being stalked by silent, bow wielding hunters, I’ve travelled up to the Himalayan mountains silently dispatching foes and taking their oxygen tanks for myself and I’ve even flown into a moving plane with the use of my wingsuit. Missions in ‘Far Cry 4’ are more imaginative and entertaining than its predecessor where something like ‘Far Cry 3’s infamous weed plantation assault is more the norm rather than an outlier.
The characters that set you on these missions are also an improvement over the previous game. Sympathetic but flawed leaders of the Golden Path, Amita and Sabal give you conflicting objectives which affords the player some degree of agency over the progression of the story. Although these paths diverge and attitudes change because of your choice of who to support, the divergent strands still dovetail together to deliver the same story. While the story ultimately never changes, your role in it can change to some degree and that freedom of choice is appreciated. Other characters like previously mentioned fashion designer Mumu Chiffon and returning character Hurk are entertaining to listen to while others wear out their welcome very quickly. I avoided taking missions from warlord turned priest and fervent gun fanatic Longinus because I didn’t want to listen to another one of his speeches in one of the game’s unskippable cutscenes.
Radio towers are back and climbing atop one and destroying the propaganda spewing radio transmitter will reveal missions and collectibles on the map. Outposts have returned and the game now has the option of letting you reset the outposts once you’ve completed the game. You can even activate a mission which resets individual outposts as you try to clear it out again for a place on the leaderboards. Hunting is more varied with the inclusion of animals such as the elephant or rhino and some animals even have custom animations when they attack each other. I was in awe the first time I saw a leopard bite down onto the neck of a bear.
‘Far Cry 4’ includes competitive multiplayer where you can play as either Rakshasa warriors who can call upon animals for aid and use teleporting blink arrows or the well-armed Golden Path faction. Objectives are simple attack or defend where the thing you’re attacking or defending changes but the gameplay remains the same. It wasn’t really fun and matches felt kind of aimless and boring. Multiplayer really shines in the form of co-op. When starting a game you can choose to play online or offline and unless you immediately plan to play co-op I would suggest starting in offline mode. Being disconnected from Uplay at any time while in online mode will kick you back to the main menu even if you weren’t playing co-op at the time. Once you do get a co-op partner into your game then it’s time to reset the outposts and go to town. Coordinating bow and arrow takedowns and marking targets for your partner is incredibly rewarding and when things got overwhelming you and your buddy can get in a car while one drives and both shoot.
‘Far Cry 4’ isn’t a big departure from the last game in the series and that’s a good thing. There was potential in the earlier ‘Far Cry’ games and that potential had been realized in 3, now 4 seeks to wring every drop of enjoyment out of it and largely succeeds. I don’t know if this series can sustain this level of enjoyment if turned into a yearly franchise like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ but for now, I can’t wait to jump back into Kyrat. I’ve got outposts to reset and an idea involving a helicopter, a wingsuit and the liberal use of C4 to try out.