Far Cry 4 is a brilliant game. It doesn't transcend or innovate, it just does exactly what it says on the box. And in the summer of 2014, where every AAA title seemed to suffer from countless bugs, that's an achievement in itself. Far Cry 4 sets the bar for gorgeous, open-world shooters with an emphasis on fun and frivolity. At thirty-five hours in and seventy-nine percent down, I'm still engaged and hungry.
Look, it's slim at best. You play Ajay Ghale, who's returning to his ancestral home (the fictional Kyrat), to spread the ashes of his mother. Within seconds an ill-fated bus ride sees you plunged into the internal civil war that is ripping apart the gorgeous landscape and its people. Fighting on the side of the rebels, you set about a slow campaign of mass slaughter until you can claim victory.
Ajay is far less douchey than his franchise forefather Jason Brody from Far Cry 3, but he's the least interesting of a surprisingly compelling ensemble cast. Troy Baker predictably takes the cake as the fantastically flamboyant villain Pagn Min. Because of this, the game's story has stakes. I was surprised how invested I became in Kyrat. The rebels face their own internal power battles, and the most nose-wrinkly bits of the game are the times where you have to choose between one leader or another. These choices have the unmistakable veneer of truth around them. Do you destroy the cocaine fields, for example, stealing a key export for the fascistic government? Or do you attempt to simply take them over, ensuring the rebels have a strong financial (but ultimately unethical) backbone to keep their country afloat when they finally take over?
Another campaign mission, and by far the most uncomfortable, sees you sneaking into a slave trade operation in an attempt to rescue some hostages and de-throne a powerful military head. The cries of frightened young women surrounded by realistic slums makes the level more confronting than I was expecting. The darker and more 'realistic' angle here gives anchor to a game that almost at every other turn doesn't take itself too seriously.
Far Cry 4's huge open world allows for the kind of antics that simply make you giggle. The wildlife is astonishing. You can be walking in the forest calmly minding your own business when you spot a tiger doing battle with a bear. I consider myself an animal lover, but I hate to say I didn't feel a modicum of guilt setting several mines under the paths of bears, rhinos and leopards, only to see their cartoon rag-doll bodies catapult through the air and land crushingly on unsuspecting foes. Riding an elephant into battle is an experience that is wonderfully satisfying.
The shooting mechanics are fantastic. Although the sheer volume of controls on my PS4 has left me guessing at functions that I am only NOW figuring out. The touch pad is too sensitive here to be useful. They've tried to make it an easy swipe to access your weapon wheel, but I found it too inconsistent, and sadly resulted in too many instances of me drawing a bow and arrow when I really needed my grenade launcher.
The side missions range from genuinely difficult but satisfying stealth, to straight shoot 'em ups, to hunting (the honey badgers have gone rabid!). Each is well executed, and makes Far Cry 4 a seemingly effortless flexible game. Fans of the franchise will be pleased and unsurprised - there's essentially little difference in fundamentals from Far Cry 3. If you've never played, Far Cry 4 is a perfect time to jump in.
Kyrat is the star of the game. A fictional mash-up of India and Nepal, the beautifully rendered mountainous regions make for plenty of gasp aloud moments. There are endless tunnels to explore and ancient temples to uncover. Prayer flags wave in the wind as you pass through jungle, and incense smoke hangs at the feet of every grand Hindu statue.
The hilly landscape can make for an occasionally painful journey. There are many attempts to circumvent this, the main being a grapple hook that allows you to scale great heights. You can only grapple in very specific places, however, and these places are under-used. A short 400 metre trip can turn into several long minutes of walking along a cliff face trying to find a suitable grappling point when you realise your goal is on the other wide of an exceedingly wide ridge. The other and far more efficient form of transport is the 'buzzer', a one-man helicopter. Flying around on a buzzer is fun and easy, but they're too far apart to be relied upon.
So Far Cry 4 is a brilliant game. But...call me old-fashioned, I can't help but actually THINK about the game I'm playing...
Far Cry 4 narrowly avoids some difficult racial questions that have plagued the franchise before by placing themselves in a fictional space. While the inspiration is no doubt Indian, they never make this claim explicit in-game. The idea of a 'white' liberator is also skated over by the fact that Ajay is half Kyrat-ian and half American. But these decisions smell an awful lot like some fairly uncomfortable early development meetings. Is our white culture so xenophobic that we really wouldn't find a Kyrat-ian native accessible enough to play? Why was it important that Ajay had to have an American male accent? I simply can't support the idea that the game wouldn't have sold as well. The break away game of last year was Dragon Age: Inquisition in which players can choose to play a variety of fictional races. No one seems to worry if making a protagonist an elf will make the game inaccessible.
Far Cry 4 should be applauded for its female characters who stick out in my memory as important, fleshed out, and not particularly sexualised. It's just a shame that we couldn't have had the option to have a female protagonist, as Ajay's gender has no affect on the story whatsoever.
ike all brilliant video games, Far Cry 4 is worth your money and your brain.