Far Cry, the critically acclaimed open world FPS series, comes back to our platforms of choice, this time taking us to the high altitude land of Kyrat nestled at the foot of the Himalayas. Ubisoft has taken the approach of iterating rather than innovating with this game, building on what they achieved with the last game and expanding the scope. Characterisation is the focus again with the villain of Pagan Min stealing the show, and the story of overthrowing his dictatorship taking centre stage. Given that we’ve experienced this type of scenario before, does Far Cry 4 still manage to engage and excite?
The game starts out with what must be my favourite intro sequence to any game yet. It’s a slow tense build bringing us to a crescendo of intrigue and promise before cutting to the titles and allowing us to take control of Ajay Ghale, a man simply returning to his long forgotten homeland to lay his mothers ashes to rest. It turns out that Ajay (pronounced RJ or AJ depending on who’s addressing you) is the son of a legendary freedom fighter, and his cadre of Golden Path followers want you to take up the family business and rid Kyrat of Pagan Min. Not a small task for someone who’s been in country for a few hours and never had any military training.
I loved Far Cry 3, it’s approach of casting the everyman as a hero was nicely crafted, with the story situation dictating why extreme violence was needed. Alright, a sense of urgency was slightly lacking at times because you were supposed to be getting your friends off Rook Island, but at least you knew why you were fighting. There’s not that hook here. Throwing your lot in with the Golden Path isn’t optional, and there’s really no reason for you helping them other than they’re supposed to be helping you find the place your mother wanted her ashes scattering. Fortunately, the motivation behind your actions isn’t where the fun is.
Far Cry 4 is all about freedom. Freedom for the people in Kyrat. Freedom of movement. Freedom to be a psychopathic killer. Freedom of combat approach. If you can imagine it with the tools you’ve got to hand, you can do it. Then the sandbox gives you unpredictability through the AI, environment and animals, meaning that no two situations are the same. Want to silently take out an entire outpost of guards using methodical stealth? You can. Want to sod the stealth, attach a block of C4 to a jeep, let it roll it into the compound, trigger the explosion then mop up with a machine gun? Done. Or what about chucking some bait over the wall and letting the local tigers rip the enemies apart? It’s yours. Safe to say that there’s no lack of ways to tackle most of the objectives.
If you like to get your hands dirty then the weaponry will be right up your alley. A huge choice of arsenal is at your disposal and as you progress more powerful versions of the standard guns arrive in the form of signature weapons. There’s everything from pistols to submachine guns to bows and rocket launchers. What you’ve come to expect from the series is present and correct, and if you’re new then you’ll be in for a treat. Getting hold of the weapons is as simple as buying them, and there’s no lack of cash available. Interestingly, the limit you have is the size of your wallet which can be increased by crafting animal skins into new and functional items. Ammo capacity, loot bag size, number of grenades that can be carried, and even the number of guns you can carry are all upgradeable. In fact, you feel very limited to begin with so are likely to spend a lot of time hunting for the beasts that can help you out.
As well as upgrading your kit, you can upgrade yourself by picking skills to improve which will give you more health (prioritise this!), more takedown abilities, and extra effects from your syringes – whether that’s health, damage increase or bullet dodging. These are pretty much all things that have been seen before, but we do get a couple of new things. For getting around the world because of the mountainous environment there’s a grappling hook for climbing, abseiling and swinging from ledge to ledge; much more fun though is the Buzzer, a small personal helicopter. Zipping from location to location makes traversal a breeze, and even takes some of the pain out of climbing radio towers that un-fog the map on completion. Add a wing suit for when you feel like jumping from high places and getting from A to B stops being a chore.
The map itself feels big and is split into two halves, one of which (North Kyrat) isn’t accessible until about 2/3rds of the way through the main story. There’s a lot to do with numerous quests and challenges to get sidetracked by, and this happens all too frequently which is a joy and a curse at the same time. It comes back to the freedom – travelling to a mission can take a long time if you decide to have a go at everything you come across. Especially if you pass a convoy and have the chance to hijack a truck Indiana Jones style. Unfortunately, whilst getting to the second half of the map is an achievement, it feels empty from a story and mission perspective because things rush along at that point with most of the action happening in the top half of the area. There’s wasted potential there… or room for DLC.
Speaking of wasted potential… I hate to say it but a main selling point of this game is the Keys to Kyrat on PS4 which allows you to give a friend the chance to play co-op with you for a couple of hours – it doesn’t work. You cannot direct connect to a friend on PS4 at the moment. We’ve even held the review back because the Codec Moments team wanted to tackle Kyrat together. It’s a massive disappointment though not too surprising given the high profile releases recently that don’t have fully functioning features. Note that connecting to random players for co-op does work, so it’s not the infrastructure. Multiplayer-wise the Battle for Kyrat takes an interesting approach in that opposing teams have very different abilities (think Zulu and soldiers vs. natives), and has players swap sides at half time. It’s pretty standard gameplay in fairness, though my biggest gripe is that each side only needs one levelled up player to make a difference. I was spawn killed from huge distance constantly in one game which really put me off.
All in all, Far Cry 4 doesn’t really do much different from Far Cry 3, except disconnect you from the character of Ajay instead of having you relate to him. There’s a few knowing nods during the game pointing out that Ajay is someone without training yet manages to take on entire army platoons because of the games he might have played, and this breaks the fourth wall somewhat. I think the game is trying to make a bigger point though, particularly through choices that you’re offered. There never seems to be a right or wrong choice, only how each one makes you feel and no choice feels comfortable after you’ve made it. Freedom of action is available in almost every other aspect, and the decision process is contrary to that. Is the illusion of free will raising its head here? I’m also thinking there’s a deeper meaning to the overall story in that the saviour is actually the aggressor, and the dictator isn’t all that bad – you are taking the word of rebels/terrorists that he’s evil whilst not getting his side of the story for his actions. It’s all dependent on your frame of reference. The setup at the beginning leans you heavily towards this, as does the widely publicised “easter egg” ending.
I’m disappointed in Far Cry 4 though. It wasn’t a satisfying ending because of the pace that picks up after a really good first two thirds; the increase in repetitive side missions can be off putting if they’re not your thing; but really it’s down to the failure to have working co-op after the boasts of support for PlayStation 4. That’s cost it big time in my book. The great things are Pagan Min and Hurk when you encounter the characters; the emergent behaviour of the system as a whole is impressive and creates water cooler moments with nearly every play session; and there are some nice twists to missions. Maybe I set the bar too high with what I expected from this game, and it is good, it just could be better.
A copy of Far Cry 4 on PlayStation 4 was provided by the Ubisoft PR team for this review, and the game is available now on PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One and PC now.