It was somewhere between liberating the third and fourth outpost that I caught my first feelings of nostalgia: Carefully stalking down my pre-planned route; memorizing the patrol patterns to make stealthy kills without raising the alarm; readying the grenades in case things went south; being very happy I readied grenades because things inevitably went south from something I didn’t account for. Open world gaming is something of a forte for Ubisoft, and the Far Cry franchise their best example.
Far Cry 4, among many things, is perhaps the most standard evolution of the franchise, with definite roots and familiar mechanics seen in Far Cry 3. Boasting a rather convoluted narrative, but complimented by a love-to-hate-him villain, Far Cry 4 shines brightest the farther away from the story you get – literally.
Ajay Ghale, our hero, travels to Kyrat to spread his mother’s ashes. By a twist in the narrative, Ajay is enlisted by the Golden Path, an army of freedom fighters initially founded by Ajay’s late father. The tyrannic ruler Pagan Min, seeks to hold his grip on the people and stamp out any sense of resistance or even hope. Naturally, Ajay and Pagan don’t quite see eye-to-eye.
Pagan Min is a colorful villain and is one of the biggest highlights of the game. To hammer home the fact that he’s a deeply unpleasant character, an early scene involving Ajay’s urn cements Pagan’s sociopathic nature. But like any good villain, his charisma and eccentricity means you’re torn between wanting to defeat him and see more of him.
While Far Cry 3’s Rook Island was vividly bright and colorful, Kyrat’s palette is more gentle and autumnal. The Himalayan flora and fauna give it a more exotic feel, flanked by towering mountain peaks, and the atmosphere changes subtly as you travel from one region to another. Kyrat is full of sheer drops, rocky cliffs, and deep valleys. The terrain is remarkably varied and vertiginous, which lets you take full advantage of the wingsuit – the greatest addition to player transportation in recent video game history. The feeling of sprinting towards the edge of a mountain, leaping off, and floating down gracefully into a valley is both breathtaking and visually stunning to take part in.
Distraction is the game’s greatest strength, and those with video game ADD will find Far Cry 4 to be Mecca. You’ll begin a story mission, but on the way your attention will be grabbed by dozens of new things. An outpost, a tower, animals whose skin you need, a beautiful enemy vista, randomly generated missions like enemy convoys that can be ambushed, or just nature itself rendering a beautiful sunset or an encounter with one of the game’s many different beasts. It can be easy for some to find the amount of stuff vying for your attention overwhelming.
Unsurprisingly, the scripted missions are where Far Cry 4 stumbles the most. Despite the majority of gamers proclaiming their hatred of them, tailing missions very similar to those found in Assassin’s Creed occur far too frequently. While I can understand the desire to recycle material from other acclaimed games, it’s no secret that these types of missions were frustrating when they were first introduced, so it’s disappointing to see how little they’ve changed. The sheer existence of them goes against the open-ended philosophy that runs the rest of the experience, and the story would have done better without them.
Barring story missions, almost all of Far Cry 4 can be played with another person in co-op, and is easily one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experience in the past several years. Occupy a gyrocopter, and your friend can grapple onto it and hang from the bottom, letting you drop them on a roof or nearby Cliffside to provide covering fire or lob grenades into enemy outposts. Or, the two of you can climb onto a pair of elephants and crash into the base, giving way to a symphony of explosions, screaming, and trumpeting. Connectivity and lag issues were very minimal in my experience, but accounts of players being kicked are bound to appear over time.
Overflowing with content and opportunities to simply explore the map, Far Cry 4 can easily clock in over 150 hours of game time to see and do everything. There’s also a number of different endings you can end up with based on the nature of the story (including some rumored secret endings that are hard to get but worth the effort), adding even more incentive for replays and multiple save files.
It’s becoming more and more of a pattern with Ubisoft lately: to build a world that pulls the player in and encourages them to lose themselves to, yet fails to provide a compelling narrative to see us motivated through to the bitter end. This problem continues to be their Achilles’ heel, and with the current news surrounding their other major open-world franchise, it would seem the publisher isn’t just aware of the situation, but is choosing to ignore solving it and rely upon the games’ other entertainment factors to make up for lost ground.
While that scheme has worked in the past, it’s only a matter of time before such excuses show fatigue and players start to wane in their excitement for new installments. Assassin’s Creed has hit such a threshold, I worry if Far Cry 4 signals the franchise is about to do the same. Even so, it still looks so damn pretty.