Can Ubisoft Montreal improve on last year's entry in the Far Cry series?
Whatever your flavour of Ubisoft game in 2014, you’ll likely encounter an open world centred around gunplay, map-revealing towers, collectibles, vehicles and infiltration.To say that Ubi is making the most of its worldwide studios is an understatement at this point, but where titles like Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs feel a little stale in their slavish adherence to those well-worn mechanics, Far Cry somehow feels completely unhinged. Whether it’s the first-person perspective or the full embrace given to the most ridiculous elements of their open-world template, this is a series that contains extremely familiar tropes but nevertheless manages to carve its own path.
This time round, that path takes us deep into a fictional mountainous Himalayan region named Kyrat: a vertiginous and colourful backdrop for a tale of civil war, psychopathic dictators, family duties, tigers, drugs and gyrocopters. The very same elements that turned Far Cry 3 into a game of the year contender are amped to the maximum in Far Cry 4, so that means a completely bonkers storyline loosely draped on top of systemic gameplay that frequently sees missions and activities descend into complete, utter, beautiful chaos.
Welcome to KryatThe setup for Far Cry 4 is straight out of a ropey action movie. You play the role of protagonist Ajay Ghale, a regular guy returning to Kyrat in order to scatter his mother’s ashes in her homeland. Before you know it, Ajay’s bus is attacked, his companion taken hostage and both of them led into the armed compound of president Pagan Min: the viscous despot at the centre of Kyrat’s tyranny.
After a somewhat uncomfortable lunch scene, Ajay finds himself swiftly rescued by a rebellious movement called the Golden Path, and this is where the game begins proper. Two different leaders are vying for control of the ragtag group of rebels, and it’s in Ajay’s hands to act as broker. Missions encompass the usual mix of capturing facilities and outposts, sneaking into enemy ranks to gain intel or destroying various landmarks, but every now and then the balance of power can be tipped between the two. The choice of which is up to you.
Somewhat weirdly, everybody in Kyrat already knows Ajay, but more pertinently, everybody also knows his now-deceased father. The massed ranks of rebels speak his name in hushed tones, and it’s clear that expectation is on Ghale junior to provide similar levels of inspiration and leadership. Ajay barely understands any of this, and happily drifts from one set piece to the next, occasionally discovering snippets of family history and drama. The detachment does feel a little odd when he’s thrown into military operations with barely any acknowledgement, but after the whining rich-kid protagonist of Far Cry 3, it’s also an understandable decision to have more of a cipher than a personality.
The plot, although entertaining enough, is absolutely all over the place. Missions for the two warring factions are intercut with side quests that take in **minor spoilers ahead** the mythical Shangri-La, the Himalayas and an underground fighting arena to face off against tigers, rhinos and wolves, while Ajay eventually finds work for the CIA, a bible-preaching arms dealer and two drug addicts that pitch up a tent on his dad’s property. It’s mostly unwoven nonsense, and as such can be a little hit-and-miss in terms of tone, but the storyline content is nothing if not superbly acted and motion-captured throughout.
Mission design is basic and objectives are culled from the usual sequences for the most part (tail this person, infiltrate a base stealthily, snipe this VIP from distance, etc), but a few sequences do manage to break away from the rest, fully encapsulating the variety of gameplay mechanics on offer. And towering above everything else, always, is Pagan Min. Much like Vaas in Far Cry 3, Pagan is the real star of the game, and it’s his quips and dramatic asides that serve as the primary draw to fulfill all of Ajay’s story missions. His flamboyant, completely maniacal personality is superbly voice-acted by an almost unrecognisable Troy Baker, again proving that this is a development team that produces memorable villains quite unlike any other.
Distraction satisfactionOf course, straying off the signposted path is so easy that it’s a wonder anybody remembers Ajay’s actual reasons for being in Kyrat. This is a beautifully rendered land by any standards (the PS4 version is jaw-droppingly stunning at times), full of intertwining systems and weird AI routines that combine to provide unique set pieces by the minute. I was stopping and simply gawking for a good period of my time with the game.
Animals still dominate the landscape, and are the source of many of the best moments of emergent silliness. Throwing a hunk of meat into a crowd of soldiers will attract any nearby predators to the area, and when you combine that ability with fire that spreads realistically through wood and grass, then simply sitting on a hillside and remotely decimating an outpost from afar becomes your own little private comedy. Scuffles break out everywhere, and the sound of distant gunfire combined with a tiger roar is almost irresistible; you know that something really, really dumb is likely just around the corner.
A lot of this stuff was in Far Cry 3, of course, but there’s simply more of it in 4. Honey Badgers, eagles, elephants, horrific fish; they all represent more than just a foe. Each is an opportunity for chaos.
Circling above a fortress is never less than entertaining.
The setting also helps. Although Far Cry 3’s Rook Island was teeming with life and gleeful sandbox destruction, Kyrat’s sheer cliffs and colossal mountains provide ample new chance to experiment with silly tactics and last-minute escapes. Purchasing the Wingsuit at the start of the game is key to unlocking their potential, but the newly-introduced gyrocopter also plays a huge part. Outposts can be scouted from up in the clouds, while throwing meat, grenades or firebombs while circling above a fortress is never less than entertaining.
And as with 3, Far Cry 4’s basic gunplay is solidly implemented with plenty of tactile feedback, while movement is crisp. Ajay is capable of sprinting at a decent clip, while the slide-into-cover and clambering mechanics are smooth and intuitive. There are moments when it falters, with plenty of scenery on which to get stuck or small falls that result in insta-death, but whether you’re firing an MP5, rocket launcher, bow, flamethrower or the knock-off Robocop gun from Blood Dragon, it all feels - and looks - great.
Castles in the skyOutposts and towers, as the lifeblood of the previous game, are also reinvigorated in Far Cry 4. A new hook and grapple system breathes life into the platforming challenges required to reach Kyrat’s highest vantage points, while enemy outposts are now bolstered by four huge fortresses that require careful planning, experimentation and preferably either a co-op or AI buddy to call upon for the siege. Playing with another real-life person through the Keys to Kryat free multiplayer system (PlayStation only) allows you two hours (per person) to take on as many towers or outposts as you like, so be sure to send those ten keys out wisely to those that might enjoy the challenge. It’s nothing if not brilliant marketing. Co-op play is smooth, while the physics-based destruction doesn't seem to suffer from playing online.
Recognising the popularity of their implementation in the previous game, outposts are also now home to their own dedicated multiplayer mode, which allows players to design their own maps and challenges, then upload, download and rate content from other users. It features a surprisingly robust little editor, with full access to the huge library of assets that make up the main game along with terrain tools that allow for a vast array of creation . The rapidly-expanding roster of user-created levels is as hit-and-miss as you’d imagine, but there are some gems, and a few amazingly bad designs, to uncover. Be sure to try the Airport Outpost, and bizarre rendition of Shadow Moses.
Traditional multiplayer on the other hand, continues to be a diversion to the series but little else. 5v5 battles are entertaining enough, but their structured nature is kind of at odds with what Far Cry does best. It's there if you need it, but certainly never feels crucial.
- Chaotic fun
- Smart gameplay additions
- Huge amount of content
- Occasional bad mission
- Dull PvP multiplayer
Far Cry 4: PlayStation 4 ReviewWhen all is said and done, Far Cry 4 really does feel like an iteration on Far Cry 3, which might disappoint some long-time fans of the series looking for their usual dose of innovation. For me however, it's not a problem in the slightest. There was ample room for another game carved from that chaotic template, and its mechanical additions are both smart and complementary to the rest of the toolset.
Far Cry 4's occasionally dull mission design is also more than made up for by uber-villain Pagan Min. His psychopathic nature breathes life into the storyline, while the band of bizarre secondary characters are also superbly acted. It's not always a completely cogent experience, but it is full of life.
So, much like its predecessor, Far Cry 4 is a game for fans of exploration, and fans of toying with gameplay systems that interact to produce their own unique and memorable moments. Whether you're skydiving off a cliff to avoid a crazed eagle, riding an elephant into battle or having a co-op buddy grapple onto the underside of your gyrocopter, this is a relentlessly enthusiastic experience. It turns out that does go a long way.
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