I hate November. It’s the very definition of a first-world problem but having my top most wanted games for the entire year turn up within a week of each other really makes me cross. I had to put Dragon Age: Inquisition on hold because Far Cry 4 demanded my full attention, and thanks to Ubisoft not sending out review code until the game came out in shops it left me somewhat pressed for time. With it only coming two years after the last Far Cry, let’s hope that Far Cry 4 doesn’t feel too rushed.
I am going to say right now at the beginning of the review that despite Ubisoft’s reluctance to send out the game to reviewers early Far Cry 4 is rarely buggy and is in fact a very polished experience. They did the same with Assassin’s Creed Unity and that turned up a glitchy, buggy mess, so I’m sure everyone was worried it would be the same case with Far Cry 4. No one’s more relieved than I that this isn’t the case. There’s some texture pop-in and a few dropped connections but otherwise I had no technical problems with the game at all. Hooray.
Now, on to the story. After Ajay Ghale’s mother’s death her last request was to have her ashes returned to their home, the (fictional) Himalayan country of Kyrat. Ajay returns to find Kyrat split by civil war between the despotic “King” Pagan Min and the rebels of the Golden Path. As Ajay is the son of the former King he’s something of a celebrity, and after they break him out of Pagan’s compound he (meaning you) join the Golden Path and fight to free Kyrat from Pagan Min’s tyranny. Oh, and your mother will need a good scattering at some point.
There are two big delights when it comes to the story. The first is Pagan Min. After Vaas stole Far Cry 3 to the point where no one can actually remember who the main villain in that game actually was Ubisoft had to pull out all the stops to make the lead bad guy in Far Cry 4 more interesting. I feel they’ve succeeded. He’s not quite as fun as Vaas (who was lightning in a bottle to be fair) but the best way to describe Pagan is The Joker from Batman: Arkham Asylum combined with Lord Farquaad from Shrek. He’s a bonkers dictator who likes getting his way at the expense of everyone else, then will pretend to be your best friend and will call you every now and again to offer his bizarre advice. He’s pretty damn great and frankly isn’t in the game enough. After the opening you won’t see him again for hours, which is a shame.
While it’s nice that Ajay Ghale isn’t as annoying as Jason Brody, the next big delight is actually how the story regularly offers a choice between different courses of action. Sadly there’s no option to side with Pagan Min (as I suspect everyone would take it) but the two leaders of the Golden Path are frequently in opposition and give you conflicting objectives that you have to choose between. Sabal is the more moral of the two, valuing people and goodness as the best way to save Kyrat. Amita is a realist who looks tactically and to the future but can be quite ruthless and dismissive of the lives under her command. Choosing one or the other, which you have to do, will put them higher up in command and give you different missions to play, so there’s definitely replay value here.
Of course just in terms of single-play value it’s jaw-dropping how much stuff is here. One of my problems with Far Cry 3 was that after a certain point, after you’d done the Radio Towers, liberated the Outposts, hunted a few animals and done a couple of side missions the island started to get boring to traverse. That’s never the case with Far Cry 4. I tried to be laser-focused on campaign missions and failed utterly. There’s all the same stuff that was in the previous game but now there’s a lot more side missions, Outposts can get attacked, a murderer to be tracked, trippy Shangri-La quests to go on, Convoys and Couriers to chase, random Royal Army skirmishes or animal attacks to intervene in… Far Cry 4 is a smorgasbord of amazing distractions.
Amita is the realist of the Golden Path but is a little ruthless. Young Bhadra is Kyrat's equivalent of the Dalai Lama
The most interesting by far are the Shangri-La missions, which you get after meeting two drug addicts/spiritually enlightened gurus squatting in your family home. I must admit my heart sank after they revealed that “pieces of the map to Shangri-La had been scattered over Kyrat”, but as they’re hidden in Indiana Jones-like temple locations clearly marked on your map (if you buy the appropriate maps, which I’d bought all of after only two hours of play) it’s not so bad. Plus they make a nice change of pace - hunting demons with a bow and knife alongside a magic tiger in levels straight out of Alice: Madness Returns? Enjoyable for sure, if a bit linear and brief.
The other missions are generally speaking pretty good, with even the basics like racing and hunting missions getting set up very well (as a Film Studio or Fashion Show in those respective cases). The campaign missions are all generally interesting and fun, often with some very neat surprises or twists that raise them above the “go here, attack this” description that they usually start with. Bell/radio towers are still fun and Outposts are still great to liberate, but the pièce de résistance are the Fortresses. Heavily defended, walled “boss” versions of Outposts, these have to be weakened by capturing Outposts around it and then carefully infiltrated - an all-out assault might be fun but it’ll bring half the army down on your head. Either way’s great. Nevertheless just counting missions alone there’s just so much here it’ll take you weeks to get through them all.
Then we have the main part of an FPS: the shooting. Far Cry’s never had a problem in this area and fortunately 4 doesn’t buck the trend. There are a wide range of weapons available, either to find around or purchase from Traders, and while it comes down to personal satisfaction every one is fun to use. I personally relied on the Recurve Bow, decent assault rifle, sidearm shotgun (for close encounters), and some form of big explosive gun, and I had a great time. In conflict the AI put up a great fight, and I noticed some great common sense moments from enemy soldiers like hiding behind a tree to stop me running them over - although it has to be said that ally AI is still pretty stupid, especially when driving as they’ve run me over more than once. New enemy type the Hunters are particularly cool, who can hide from your radar and turn animals against you. The game plays in general very well indeed, and that extends to the rather cool new ability to grapple up cliff faces (although only at certain locations) and the vehicles are fun too. You will end up leaning on the Buzzer personal helicopter a lot though, especially when you can unlock it at the Ghale homestead for use anytime.
So, it’s all good news then? Well, sadly not entirely. Firstly it’s a minor thing but I wish there was a way to buy animal skins like you could in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. You need them for crafting, and you have to craft equipment if you don’t want to be running around with just one weapon for the entire game. I’m not a prude, I’ve murdered a load of endangered animals in this game and others, but there’s something about hunting lifelike rhinos and skinning them to make a big wallet that presses my “distasteful” buzzer. Ajay’s not going mad or being possessed by the island like Far Cry 3’s Jason, he’s just murdering animals. Should be optional, that’s all I’m saying, and not just for taste reasons (I’ll get to the other one). Furthermore while Far Cry 4 looks very nice indeed it’s rarely stunning even in maximum graphics settings on PC (which I had it at), and there’s still regular texture and object pop-in and the occasional 2D tree. Oh, and the last minor point, there’s at least one terrible insta-fail stealth mission where you have to save three slaves without being noticed - but only a specific three slaves that are clearly waypointed, you just ignore the other dozens of slaves along the way begging for your help. While most of the missions are great, there’s the odd few stinkers like this in there. And there’s an Assassin’s Creed-style awful tailing mission too.
Faster wolf, kill kill!
My final problem, which you may feel I’m being extremely harsh about but it’s just how I feel, is that everything is just too similar to Far Cry 3. There are a lot of improvements, in fact in every area the game could use improvement Ubisoft have done so, but overall I just couldn’t shake this feeling I was replaying the last game but with a few more mountains around. Driving, shooting, hunting, skinning, turning rare animals into stylish ammo bags, climbing Radio Towers to uncover the map, reclaiming Outposts, racing, slowly taking the country back from the redshirted enemies a piece at a time, all of these I did in Far Cry 3 and I’m not sure why I have to do them again. The first three Far Cry games are all extremely different, not to mention having years between them. Now just two years later Far Cry 4 is here and it just plays like Far Cry 3 to the point where I was getting déjà vu. It’s the definitive version, hugely improved, but it’s just an excellent coat of paint and a few stylish mods on the same car.
A phrase you’ll never hear: “I can’t wait to play the new Far Cry’s multiplayer”. Every game has had multiplayer but it’s never really caught anyone’s attention despite being generally fun. I doubt Far Cry 4 will change this. The main PvP online side, ‘Battles of Kyrat Chronicles’, is 5v5 with Golden Path rebels versus Royal Army Hunters. The rebels have guns and the Hunters have bow and arrows and the ability to turn invisible when crouching. There are three general modes under different names - Domination, Base Capture, and a weird Mask Capture race-type thing. It’s a little Spies Vs Mercs, and I like how there’s a Bell Tower in each map that needs to be fought over to either show or don’t show the Hunter side on minimaps, which can be crucial. It can be fun, but it’s not that special. Then of course you can invite or join someone else in co-op with the main campaign, which is a lot of fun… when it works. Seriously, I tried to join someone else’s campaign a dozen times and not only did I not connect I also got kicked out of my own game. At least you can play the single-player offline if you want.
FAR CRY 4 VERDICT
Far Cry 4 is a terrific game, with a massive amount of fun content, satisfying gameplay, and unlike a certain other Ubisoft title out this month pretty damn polished. If you’re an FPS fan you won’t be disappointed and even if it’s your only game it’ll keep you occupied well past Christmas. On the flipside the multiplayer’s fun but forgettable, the graphics are good but not stunning, there are a couple of annoying missions, friendly AI is rubbish, and the forced hunting will put some people off. But the worst thing is that it just feels exactly like Far Cry 3. It’s improved, all the bad points have been brushed off, and more content has been added, but I feel like I’ve done it all before and often it didn’t excite me as much as it would’ve done if I hadn’t played the last title. A worthy purchase certainly, but only if you’re prepared to accept Far Cry 3.5 rather than Far Cry 4.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Taking down the Fortresses. Whether things go to plan or all hell breaks loose they’re lots of fun. Also, Honey Badgers.
Mountains of fun, entertaining content that'll keep you playing for months.
Satisfying and addictive FPS gameplay.
It just really feels far too much like Far Cry 3 rather than an exciting new title in the series.
The multiplayer's pretty forgettable, and the much-vaunted online co-op often won't work.