Sweeping Himalayan vistas pass beneath your character, Ajay Ghale, as he plummets through a narrow canyon, having just pulled off another daring enemy infiltration mission. Drawn into a Civil War in a mountainous environment modeled after that of Nepal, in Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4, Ajay will be recruited to reclaim his country from the foreign dictator, Pagan Min. The plot is drawn through interaction with aspects of your faction, Golden Dawn, with different outcomes depending on which character you support. Most refreshingly of all, any number of missions in Far Cry 4 are likely to draw in the use of various animal ecosystems, birds, fish, caribou, bears, or any number of huntable creatures, used to upgrade gear. Far Cry 4 succeeds wildly at presenting players with another open-form sandbox in which to create simulated mayhem.
Far Cry is a series with a world that expands and contracts as needed by the design of the entry. As open-world games, much of that fun derives from the impact that the player’s actions, as a locus for the narrative, have upon that world. This entry should be seen as a refinement to the Far Cry 3 template rather than a huge evolution. What Far Cry 4 does, and does very well, is present granules of fun, that collect up into an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling amount of enjoyment for the player.
Things feel even more tactile in this entry, with dozens of new animals that tend to interact with the environment and attack Ajay, bullets hit with a satisfying thump, and warp the land in a number of ways. Due to the expansive nature of the landscape, each equivalent area of land features a terrific new sense of three-dimensionality as Ajay is able to get around using hang-gliders, body suits, and the single-capacity gyrocoptor, as well as the very flexible new grappling hook. Additionally returning are a variety of cars, boats, jetskis, and the snowmobile. Much like Far Cry 3, the campaign experiences as though one is having a grandiose adventure, trading in tropical extreme sports for a more mountainous equivalent.
As Ajay Ghale, players will become the antithesis to the previous title’s Jason Brody, returning home to the Nepalese inspired Kyrat to spread his mother’s ashes, and instead drawn into an adventure to liberate his country from an outside invading force, lead by another colorful villain, Pagan Min. The narrative is far more palatable this time around, due to the change in focus, although no less problematic at points. Ajay quickly discovers that things are not peaceful in the land of Kyrat, as the crazed dictator, Pagan Min, has created a totalitarian empire, and civil war has erupted. Recruited by the Golden Path faction of freedom fighters, Ajay starts taking missions from another set of colorful characters.
Most of these characters are broadly drawn, although amusingly and thought provokingly written at times. The script is more thoughtful, based on a fairly heavy concept as a civil war which has drawn the land into an extended chaos. These characters range the devout gunsmuggler Longinus, Noore, the blackmailed former Doctor and arena leader, to the returning CIA Agent Willis, the “yogis” Reggie and Yogi for trippy drug-induced missions, the amazing Shangri-La subplot of missions, and most impactfully, missions that will tie Ajay’s loyalty to either his own traditionally-minded brother, Sabal, or the idealistic forward thinking Amita. Ajay will run against the villainous Pagan Min throughout who will intercede on radio broadcasts (think Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2), with his own eloquent musings, will run afoul of Durgesh Prison-warden and second in command Yuma Lau, kidnap a violent lieutenant and family-man, Paul Harmon, and do his level best to misbehave.
Whichever path, players take, the plot is sure to go through a number of twists and turns that will have players contemplating the consequences of even seemingly neutral actions. Missions have an incredible level of variety, but as in most open-world games, usually focus on traversing the land, attacking a convoy or fortress, and activating some greater scale action sequence before having to escape. It is clear that Ubisoft took inspiration from mountain peak adventure stories, such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so as to craft the new action beats in this sequel. Once again, players are definitely going to feel like badasses by game’s end.
Like most sequels, Ubisoft took great care to deliver more of the same, but bigger, or in this case, more mountainous, taking players from the bottom of the oceans to the highest mountain peaks. Verticality is the name of the game, this time around. Accordingly, Ajay’s moveset allows for a spectacular amount of mobility. It isn’t far-fetched to claim that at any moment Ajay can run off nearly any surface, activate his wingsuit for a stretch and then parachuting on to extend the traversal. Add onto this the ability to highjack vehicles from other vehicles, the grapple hook ability, gyrocopter, various perks that unlock upon completion of specific goals (much as before, players will easily pick up enough “karma” xp points to unlock all perks by game’s end), and you’re left with a game that encourages a wide variety of experimentation.
This entry is incredibly polished, reflecting a substantial amount of intelligent design decisions. Everything has been streamlined to reduce player headaches. Inventory items fold into intuitive packets (multiple plants or craft items for example), upgrading skills is no longer such a chore, and the UI is generally unobtrusive. Players are unlikely to get bored given the unpredictability of each new mission. Gun sets are unlocked as the game progresses as are new abilities. Such care extends into the number of endings players can encounter, including a joke ending achievable 10 minutes into the game. Another example of the overall level of improvement is the redesigned radio towers. Unlike Far Cry 3‘s relatively narrow towers, this time around they are massive structures that feature various different types of challenges, fully incorporating elements such as the grappling hook and wingsuit.
Although this entry runs on the same engine as Far Cry 4, given the new setting and overall larger scope of the entry, one would be hard-pressed to notice. Lighting, reflections, and shading effects make Kyrat glow with life, as do the wonderfully implemented wildlife, draw distances extend for hundreds of virtual miles in every direction, and vehicles, character models, and gun models carry a new level of photorealism that is at times unnerving. Distinctive frozen areas crackle with appropriate levels of frostiness, featuring realistic ice and snow effects, whereas other regions reflect various seasons. Graphics are very nicely detailed, featuring impressive new improvements to the aforementioned lighting systems, draw distance, to improved textures, and features as meticulous as fur rendering and tree detailing. The PC version is thankfully fairly well ported, and runs at reasonable rates even in the most stressful occasions.
Sound design is once again very well done, drawing players to identify with various weapons or vehicles. New radio Djs come flavored of the Grand Theft Auto series, and there is also catchy local music. The soundtrack by Cliff Martinez wonderfully complements the action, and, like so much of this design, focuses on staying out of the player’s way, mostly coming in strongly during climactic missions.
Weapon variety is tremendous, with various subcategories of guns, ranging from a dedicated sidearm slot (not to fear- one sidearm option is a single-shot grenade launcher; another a crossbow), the weapons tab from submachine guns, AK variants, rocket launchers, harpoon guns, machine guns, shotguns, throwing knives, remotely detonated C4, and seemingly everything in-between, to the even more out there “signature” weapons. These options while kept somewhat within the realm of plausibility allow for a great amount of variety in mission approaches. Players can even use “bait” to take advantage of the teaming fauna of Kyrat, from snakes, devil fish, warthogs, tapirs, to wildcats, Bengal Tigers Black Bears, and even Rhinos. And rideable elephants can essentially be used by Ajay as tanks to bring down enemy defenses.
Although players are given far more freedom this time in how they approach missions, or even in what order, the fact that missions are now more intimately tied to a strong central narrative (freeing a country from oppressive forces works way better than saving a bunch of whiny terrible friends as in FC3), means that Far Cry 4 rarely strays from its purpose. With each new mission, the player is made to feel as though they have made a clear step towards dethroning Pagan Min.
Multiplayer is better than expected, containing the usual Far Cry themed suite of gameplay options, CTF, deathmatch, capturing checkpoints. Players are split between the mercenary Golden Path armed with heavy artillery and perks, versus the native Kyrat, armed with animal allies and bows. Don’t expect to find a lot of available combatants given the plentiful alternatives this holiday season. However, there’s something to be said about playing capture the flag on top of elephants. There is even a map editor that is fairly intuitive and sure to produce entertaining results down the line.
There is a great drop-in co-op option that works very smoothly allowing another player to join in any event in your game except for campaign missions, including the arena, racing events, clearing outposts and fortresses, capturing radio towers, and the various specific submissions, ranging from saving hostages or helping rebels, to kidnapping cargo trucks. On Playstation 4, players can even invite people who don’t own the game to partake in a limited sampling of Far Cry 4, which is undoubtedly a nice feature.
As seems like the trend with their line of software, Ubisoft have delivered a product that is focused more on the player’s entertainment than necessarily on pushing the series forward in too many ways, delivering generational thrills over revolutionary new gameplay. Far Cry 4 arrives this winter on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, as well as for the previous generation of consoles, determined to make a big splash through its incremental approach to a sequel, surpassing even their loftiest claims. While not completely ground-breaking, Far Cry 4 delivers a superb amount of entertainment and is an adventure well worth having.