Far Cry 4
360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
Oh, Ajay, you monster. It’s not your fault, you understand – you seem a personable sort, and you’re a good son, returning to the country of your birth to grant your mother’s final wish and scatter her ashes. No, this one’s on us. It’s because of us that you ping an arrow into the first pig you see, cut it open with a hunting knife, scoop out the goo inside and pop it in a bag. It’s our fault that within a couple of hours of setting foot in the Himalayan nation of Kyrat you have hunted, killed and skinned more animals than we can count. You see, this is Far Cry, and you don’t know how it works, that the trick is to make yourself as powerful as possible as early as you can. That means crafting, and that means a rapid, indiscriminate cull. One NPC puts it best, after watching us fire a rocket at the feet of a placid rhinoceros, “What the hell are you doing?” Sorry, old chap, but we need a bigger bag for explosives. Within a couple of hours, we are frighteningly tooled up, the Kyrati landscape is an ecological disaster site, and Ajay Ghale has been cast as a psychopath. In fairness, he’s in pretty good company. While Far Cry 3 set out to explore the darker side of insanity, here Ubisoft is more interested in its brighter points. The cast is a carousel of almost-likeable headcases, pink-suited despot Pagan Min giving way to born-again arms dealer Longinus, camp fashion designer Mr Chiffon, and Yogi and Reggie, a pair of backpackers offering spiritual enlightenment for your Rizla money, and who just can’t resist sticking Ghale with syringes of a psychotropic concoction. Then there’s Hurk, a bearded ally whose form is borrowed by co-op partners as you wreak emergent havoc across this beautiful – until you got here, anyway – open world. As an ensemble, they help Far Cry 4 dodge the tonal disconnect of its predecessor, which surrounded its fist-bumping, thrill-seeking lead with a cast of darkly demented murderers.
Admittedly, Brody would have loved it here. Kyrat may lack the Rook Islands’ tropical splendour, but it’s more of an adventure playground. This is made clear when an early trader offers up a wingsuit, something Far Cry 3 held back for almost 30 missions. It’s a useful tool in this vertiginous landscape, where following winding roads to a waypoint might take you a kilometre out of your way. How Brody would have delighted in hopping off the nearest sheer drop, spreading his wings, then heading to his objective as the crow flies. A grappling hook caters for the reverse situation, offering routes up or around mountainsides via preordained mounting points. The Buzzer minicopter is a speedier alternative to both, but it’s a rare sight on Kyrat’s enormous map.
You start in the far southwest, and will likely stay there for hours, hunting to upgrade your holster and loadout capacity, and spending skill points to further bolster your options. From there, you spread east and north, climbing towers to uncover the map and
The studio has focused on flexibility even more, taking the outpost ethos and applying it to Kyrat as a whole
clearing out enemy outposts. These activities are, as before, the beating heart of the game, but outposts can now be cleared out on elephant back, or without lifting a finger by lobbing some bait over the walls and letting local predators do the wet work. Despite the additions, it’s all highly familiar, feeling not like a continuation of the Far Cry series but a straight sequel to Far Cry 3. That’s no bad thing, necessarily, but the game does a poor job of setting itself apart from its predecessor, at least initially. Its opening hits the same beats: you arrive, are captured by and introduced to the villain, then escape into the arms of the opposing faction. There is, however, one slight but instructive difference.
Far Cry 3’ s opening insisted that you sneak to freedom. Here, you dash to a truck and shoot your way out in seconds, and can then choose your approach as the world opens out before you.
After that, you can’t help but spend the opening hours identifying and appreciating other subtle changes. The studio has focused even more on flexibility, taking the ethos of the outposts and applying it to Kyrat as a whole. You now have a choice of multiple missions at once, for instance, doing away with wearying treks towards a single distant mission marker. As well as the 30-plus outposts, there are four fortresses, one each for Min and his lieutenants. They’re essentially outposts, but bigger, more fortified and better staffed, although you can still go in quiet or loud, grapple or fly over the walls, or ride an elephant right through the front door.
Flexibility is one word for it, but empowerment might be a better fit. When you first visit a trader, you immediately unlock a dozen guns, and while Ubisoft Montreal can’t quite keep that pace up, it has a pretty good go. Skill points come at a lick, and any weapon you pick up out in the field is yours to keep. One early side mission yields a grenade launcher, which we kept by our side right through to the endgame – an example of, in the context of a Ubisoft release, the game’s refreshing willingness to subvert its own systems. It even finds time to subvert other titles, too. Across seven years of Assassin’s Creed, the call of an eagle has been a warming pat on the back for successfully scaling a viewpoint. Here, it is a warning tap on the shoulder advising you that you’re about to have your eyeballs pecked out.
Eagles are the worst: tough to shoot down and attacking with a canned animation that tends to kick in just as you’ve finally got the thing lined up in your sights. There are other irritants, too, like the tiny, aggressive honey badgers. Keep your distance from a Bengal tiger, however, and it’ll let you pass; rhinos pay you no mind until you start firing rockets at their feet. The wildlife is more believable than in Far Cry 3, where it was impossible to look at a shark without seeing a wallet. You’ll feel guilty as you stoop, knife in hand,
over the furry corpse of a snow leopard. Min may be the marketing focus, but Far Cry 4’ s menagerie produces its real stars – wildlife is often a threat, sometimes an aid, but always helps give Kyrat a sense of place.
It’s a great boon, too, to Ubisoft’s well-defined approach to making open worlds. Where it might drop a trinket in another game, here it spawns a bear; instead of a guard patrol, you’ll face a pack of wild dogs. It gives the world room to breathe, and offers the impression that everything has been placed by a designer rather than an analyst. The elephant in a field half a kilometre from an outpost isn’t set dressing, it’s a suggestion: sure, it’ll slow the journey down, but you’ll capture the base in seconds. Side missions are carefully placed, and dynamic events are regular without being overbearing. It all hangs together with delightful coherence.
The campaign is, in places, a different matter. While a developer taking your toys away can be powerful when used sparingly, here it’s leant on a little too regularly, and a handful of more linear missions become trial-and-error exercises in working out what the studio wants you to do. It puts a slight dampener on the campaign’s main focus, dubbed Balance Of Power, in which you must choose between two very different perspectives on how Kyrat should be set free. Sabal wants a return to the nation’s traditional religious values, and to protect lives; Amita has a more radical take, and values the big picture over a few casualties.
These choices are no single-mission conceit. Sabal is furious when our decision to search one allied camp for intel instead of protecting another results in nine deaths, but our discovery yields plans of a much worse assault on a cherished monastery. It all builds to a genuinely uncomfortable final decision that saw us While this particular one arrives to escort you high up in the Himalayas on a mission for Longinus, Sherpas are a frequent sight in Kyrat. They’re travelling traders, saving you from lengthy detours when you need ammo switch a game-long allegiance, and while it still might not quite sit right with those upset by Brody’s role as enlightened white saviour, Ghale’s roots make his arbitration a little easier to stomach. As one western NPC puts it: “American on the inside, one of them on the outside. You’re perfect.” He isn’t. He’s worse than Brody in a way, who in his captured friends at least had motivation for his tropical rampage. Ghale keeps his mother’s ashes in his shoulder bag across 20-plus hours of slaughtering man, woman and beast. Like the cull for crafting materials at the start, however, it’s our doing, not his – something one of the endings makes clear in insightful fashion.
That, really, is this game’s greatest achievement; where its predecessor’s inconsistencies made you question the writing staff, Far Cry 4 makes you question yourself. Far Cry 3 asked for the definition of insanity, and its sequel answers it. Insanity is postponing your mother’s dying wish to skin dogs, to climb one side of a mountain then jump off the other, to spend hours in the Shanath arena working through wave-based survival challenges in front of a baying crowd, and doing a lot of it with a smile on your face. It’s an uncomfortable realisation, but also quite a wonderful one. Far Cry 4 smooths out its predecessor’s little kinks, expands its scale and scope, and gives you all the tools you could ever need to be the biggest psychopath on the planet. It is, in that sense, the ideal sequel. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a backpack full of rockets, and those poor rhinos aren’t going to kill themselves.