Since 2008’s Far Cry 2, the series has established itself as a wide open, philosophical, political and moral experience that takes the player on a journey of immersion unlike so many other first person shooters of the last, and even this current, generation of video games. While 2012’s multi-award winning Far Cry 3 pushed those boundaries and expanded on the exploration and the world itself, the latest installment, Far Cry 4 expands even further on those well-crafted elements while never venturing too far from what makes the series gripping, explosive and exciting.
Stepping into the shoes of Ajay Ghale, the player enters the beautiful and volatile world of Kyrat, a fictional Himalayan country that is grasped in Civil War. Ajay’s intentions were to return to Kyrat and scatter his mother’s ashes in her hometown, but his mission is cut short when his bus is attacked by Loyalists and the self proclaimed “King of Kyrat”, Pagan Min (played by the remarkable Troy Baker). Taken to Min’s fortress, what follows are tense moments and glimpses into this unhinged “king’s” rule. Managing to escape, Ajay finds the leaders of the Golden Path rebellion and this is where the game truly begins.
As an open-world playground, Far Cry 4 is huge and there is always something to do. Story missions feature a wide range of colourful and ruthless characters and what and how you accomplish these missions is equally riveting. “Golden Path” missions allow you to side with different leaders of the rebellion thus changing the story, while unlocking bell towers will uncover regions of the map. Perhaps you’d like to liberate a few enemy held “outposts” (a staple mechanic of the series) to unlock the many side quests on offer including hunting, assassinations and racing missions. Or maybe you just want to scour parts of Kyrat to hunt various wildlife and craft better gear, or find many of Kyrat’s hidden treasures which range from masks that are left behind as a calling card of a vicious killer, propaganda posters of Min’s regime, journals penned by Ajay’s father, Mohan and various other odds and ends that open up Kyrat’s rich back story. There is always something fresh to do and each task rewards the player with new gear or experience points to unlock very useful skills. In fact, there is so much to do in Kyrat that oftentimes I found myself overwhelmed with what to do next.
Far Cry 4’s free roam is a marvel. I have loved every minute of just wandering the country and noticed vast differences in environs as well as encountering wildlife, as Kyrat harbors many deadly animals that are just aching to tear Ajay limb from limb. The first hostile animal I encountered was a massive eagle that swooped in from of my field of vision and attacked me. There are also other creatures including tigers, leopards, wolves, rhinos, bears and infamous honey badgers. The best thing about roaming Kyrat is that you always accomplish something, and it is always fulfilling.
The game features many modes of transportation as well, including jeeps, trucks, quad bikes and this cool little helicopter called a Buzzer. The wing suit and parachute and the hang glider also make a welcome return in this installment.
Visually, Far Cry 4 is absolutely stunning and fortunately isn’t one of those blockbusters that just boasts brilliant graphics and little else. As you are venturing this beautifully colourful world, you notice the shading and lighting and how everything feels. Ajay movies swiftly and the stealth mechanic is very well thought out (the addition of throwing knives is a marvel in stealth gameplay) and the games interactions stand it apart from almost every other first person shooter available. When Ajay heals himself you see him dig shrapnel out of his hand and bandage it up and when he abseils you see his body hanging from the face of the cliff. Even climbing, vaulting and swimming will show Ajay doing these motions and it all adds to the immersion.
The skill trees in the game are also extremely easy to navigate and are helpful in their simplicity. Split into two categories, the Tiger skills boast physical and combat abilities that allow Ajay to take down enemies stealthily, chain his take downs or throw knives from downed enemies to kill others, or use their pistol or even throw a grenade at his comrades. Unlocking skills from the Tiger tree also allows Ajay to handle his weapons better and to deal more damage with weapons. The other set of skills are the Elephant skills and are more for helping Ajay increase his health, better his crafting and create concoctions to help him hunt and deal more damage or even to breathe underwater longer. There is even a skill to allow Ajay to climb aboard an elephant and there has been nothing better in the game than riding an elephant, knocking over a car or lifting up enemies and crushing them while it trumpets in victory: I grew rather attached to my elephant buddy.
While Far Cry 4 yields rather exciting missions and a rather over used subplot of deception, betrayal and oppression, the story itself isn’t why it is a rather brilliant game. How you go about doing your quests (stealthily or all guns blazing) and what you do during the missions creates an amazing atmosphere and engages you to complete them and better yourself while you do it. Honestly though, while disjointed, I was always engaged by the game’s story missions and truthfully, Pagan Min is a very well crafted (and acted) villain in the same vein as Handsome Jack in the Borderlands series.
While I have been playing Far Cry 4 I have found it hard to criticise the game. Though some of the details on the minor characters are rather weak and some glitches managed to proliferate my play-through, I haven’t been frustrated or annoyed. I have been immersed in a fully interactive world that is both beautiful and exciting.
In conclusion, Far Cry 4 is probably the best shooter I have played on the PlayStation 4 and a plethora of side missions, weapons and a skill trees keep it from being stale. With only a few negatives, such as some of its writing, recycled missions and glitches, I can do nothing but boast about the game and express enjoyment. Could Far Cry 4 be the best game release of 2014? Maybe, because I haven’t enjoyed a game like I have while playing this for quite a long time.
For our full thoughts on Far Cry 4, listen to Episode 89 of the show here.