There's a good reason as to why this review has taken a while to get here. Kyrat is massive, there are simply so many things to do in Far Cry 4. As soon as the first introductory mission had passed, I ignored the story completely, jumped into Little Nellie and took to the skies, cackling and running down honey badgers from the air. hunting things is actually the best way to start Far Cry 4, to be honest. The ammo pouches and loot sacks you have to begin with are rubbish, and so skinning the various species of creatures roaming the Asian forests and mountains provides the only way to expand your arsenal. And believe me, you'll want to expand you're arsenal.
The other day I went for a swim in a serene lake. A glimmer caught my eye and I swam below to find a cornucopia of rare treasures and a shiny new gun. Then a pair of massive Demon Fish decided they wanted to eat me for lunch, and I panicked and mashed some buttons and fled the scene with the barest sliver of life left, retiring to dry land and a hut where a demonic mask sang foreboding songs at me. Then some Royalist punks came by in a red truck, and I set them on fire and stole their things. Truck included.
The things you can do with fire in this game...
There are moments in Far Cry 4, often when you've climbed your way above the skyline -- Kyrat is a mountainous places, far more so than the islands of FC3, and you have a grappling hook to help you traverse the undulating landscape in this game -- when the game takes your breathe away. It's a game still tethered to last-gen, using a last-gen engine and assets, but the development team have done a phenomenal job of making Kyrat look stunning. This is a world that's simply captivating to be in and explore, littered as it is with geographical and architectural wonders, not to mention collectibles that reveal more about the place. Kyrat is a fictional country, but it has elements of Kashmir and Nepal about it, with the Himalayas to the north and the notion of a beautiful, mystical country torn apart by war.
Ajay Ghale, the protagonist in this particular game, is thrown head-first into the middle of this war. His mother and father were both Kyrati, and Ajay has returned to the country to fulfil the dying wish of his mother -- that her ashes may be set free in her homeland. However, upon entering Kyrat, Ajay is waylaid by the country's dictator, the charismatic and completely crazy Pagan Min (Troy Baker is outstanding), and quickly becomes embroiled in a civil war between Min's Royalists, and the guerilla group fighting opposing him, known as the Golden Path.
Put simply, I haven't really had time to stop and shout about how good this game is because I've been too pre-occupied with playing the thing and simply revelling in its freedom and quality.
Calling the game Far Cry 3.5 might have been more honest when it came to this year's morally-questionable, FPS romp around a vast, lush landscape, chasing the tail of another charismatic baddie. I don't say that to rag on Far Cry 4 at all, mind. Its predecessor was a fantastic game, brimming with fantastic content, with a narrative spine that was cleverer and more reflective than most as it told the story of a young man slowly become more of a monster than those he's been hunting down.
Far Cry 4 still has radio towers for you to climb, replacing the propaganda machine of Pagan Min with the most obnoxious pirate disc jockey you ever did hear; outposts litter the map, providing opportunities for infiltration. Once again, you can approach these little enemy camps any way you like. You burst in all guns blazing, or look to leverage your silenced weapons or bow for some clandestine slaughter. There's always the option of tossing a chunk of animal carcass into the outpost and watching wild dogs rip guards apart for you, and there's much to be said for unlocking the ability to ride an elephant and going all kinds of Dumbo on people's arses. The first time I rode an elephant into battle, I didn't stop giggling like an idiot for a good hour at least.
You don't actually see much of Pagan Min throughout the main game, which works quite well, I think. Better to make him an effective, enigmatic character that sticks in the mind because he's used sparingly rather than to squander his impact through overuse. Unfortunately, the lieutenants governing Kyrat's provinces are less memorable and don't get anywhere near enough screen time or decent script work to really care about. They're rather lacking in personality, and you end up killing them before they ever have a chance to make much of an impact. Their fortresses, however, are lots of fun -- huge military compounds, stuffed with alarms and enemy combatants, that can be weakened by playing the main missions, or taken head on for a huge challenge that really requires a friend or the assistance of an AI chum (you can eventually unlock the ability to call in reinforcements in open play). Taking one over is enormously satisfying, and I love the fact that you can replay outpost and fortress captures to try out different approaches.
There are side missions, of course, plenty of things to see and do, people to help, errands to run. Some require you to hunt down rare and valuable beasts, others have you doing daredevil stunts and races for propaganda videos, or taking large quantities of hallucinogenic drugs and enduring a monster trip, or journeying to the mystical land of Shangri-La and murdering demons with a tiger. There's a joy to be had in simply stumbling across new things to do, but also in just leveraging the game's intricate systems for maximum fun, like planting sticky C4 on elephants and then organising a stampede into a nearby outpost before playing explosive elephant pinball and blowing the joint sky high. Don't tell PETA.
The fact that the world seems more populated with distractions -- in terms of wildlife, enemies, and things to see and do -- means that you're never bored. There's always a convoy to disrupt or a propaganda station to incinerate or a diary extract from Ajay's father's journal to find. And when you get tired of the fun things that Ubisoft has created (a point I have yet to reach), you can invite a friend to come and make some fun of your own. Thanks to the Keys To Kyrat initiative -- which sees you get ten demo keys to distribute to your friends -- even people who don't own the game can jump wit you and start tearing the place up. It's an enormous, gorgeous, brilliant, beautiful sandbox riddled with opportunities.
Sadly, though, it never quite comes alive. For all of the upping of the opportunities for murder and collection, there's little to be seen of Kyrat's people. Homesteads lie unpopulated, the couple of settlements in the game that are larger than one or two huts are few and far between. The only people you see on the roads are members of the Golden Path, red-truck Royalists, or wandering vendors to sell you things. Far Cry 4 is a great mechanical sandbox, but it's woefully oblivious to certain things too. It asks you to weigh moral decisions in terms of guiding the Golden Path to diverging ends -- side with the traditionalist leader or the progressive one -- and yet blithely ignores the uncomfortable nature of a returning American son setting fire to fields in South-East Asia. The self-reflection of Far Cry 3 is absent here, replaced with fingers-in-the-ears brutality that arrives with little context. You'll kill and kill and kill again, with only the barest smattering of context and little to care about (shoot reds, don't hit blues), and it's a real shame because the potential is here for something truly special, but there's a laziness in the framing of all of this violence that sells the experience short.
There is a PvP component,a bunch of 5v5 multiplayer modes that see you bombing or defending outposts, engaging in objective-driven activities, but we've had a hard time getting games because... well... it's sort of like the multiplayer in Tomb Raider. It's okay having it there, but no-one's taking any notice of it because the real fun is elsewhere. It's being created by hundreds of thousands of players in their own little versions of Kyrat, pitting Far Cry 4's systems against one another, and mucking about in a beautiful, verdant playground with friends.
I love the way that Far Cry 4 feels, the way Ajay handles, the sound and the feel of the guns, and the vast, open-ended opportunities for multiple approaches to your objectives, but the magical elements and levels are pretty awful, and Far Cry 4 is a game that suffers terribly when it tries to force things with heavy-handed stealth bits (basically any time the demons show up). In many ways, though, by biggest criticism is that I just wish it wasn't quite so lazy in terms of framing and story and content. It's a logical extension of the series from Far Cry 3, but it owes far, far too much to that game, without reappropriating many of that game's finest features in terms of narrative design. Missed opportunities with Min's lieutenants are particularly galling, especially when it comes to Noore's story. There are moments when Far Cry 4 threatens to become something truly special rather than just another packed open world game, but it sadly shies away from that at every opportunity.
Even so, there's enough about Far Cry 4 in terms of mechanics and design to provide hours and hours of systems-oriented entertainment. The weak story and the thoughtless framing don't really detract from things too much, if you're not there for that, and I say that as someone who loved the way Far Cry 3 turned a mirror on FPS conventions and murder game protagonists. I have to say that surprised me, but it just feels incredible to play, whether alone or with a friend. When it comes down to it, really, I've just been having too much fun to really care.
- Systems allow for vast creative scope
- Outposts and fortresses are great fun to take down
- So much to see and do
- Beautiful scenery, gorgeous vistas
- Cracking progression system that ties in nicely with the game's systems
- Co-op is a great fit, and the Keys to Kyrat system is excellent
- Weak story
- Under-populated world
- Not enough is made of Min's lieutenants
- Superfluous PvP
The Short Version: Though lazily framed and under-scripted, Far Cry 4 is a gorgeous, systems-oriented playground that provides endless hours of entertainment. And exploding elephants.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PC | PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One
Developers: Ubisoft Montreal