Far Cry 4
Being a stranger in a strange land has always been one of the core conceits of the Far Cry series. As a foreigner in an unfamiliar country, you explore the landscape and learn about its varying cultures just as the protagonist does, helping to ground you in their shoes, the world and its story with a first person viewpoint that remains a constant throughout. With Far Cry 3, a dollop of insanity was layered atop this concept, one which Far Cry 4 brashly continues with a villain Ubisoft desperately wants to brush with the “iconic” tag, elephants to be ridden and hallucinogenic drug trips to undertake. This is about as Far Cry as Far Cry gets.
Upon arriving in the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat, it doesn’t take long before you’re driving tuk-tuks off the sides of mountains, blasting rhinos with a grenade launcher from the safety of a bike-sized helicopter; liberating outposts with nothing but a bow & arrow, climbing to the top of bell towers and surviving an avalanche during a chaotic, opening gunfight. Backed by snow-capped mountaintops looming on the horizon, rolling hills of untamed jungle and ancient candle-lit temples, Kyrat is an astonishingly beautiful place; occasionally peaceful and serene but mostly incredibly perilous. The sound of gunfire stretches for miles across its enormous valleys, the rebellious Golden Path fighting back against the tyrannical rule of Pagan Min and his royal army.
“Kyrat is an astonishingly beautiful place; occasionally peaceful and serene but mostly incredibly perilous”As Ajay Ghale, you’ve come to Kyrat to scatter your mother’s ashes across her homeland. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, and being your father’s son – your father being the deceased founder of The Golden Path – it’s not long before you’re thrust to the forefront of this civil war and made the face of the rebellion, despite growing up soft in America. There’s some suspension of disbelief required here, especially when it comes to Ajay and his immediate proficiency in murdering people with all manner of firearms, knives and explosives, yet this is something the series is known for.
Far Cry 3 certainly handled things in a similar fashion, although the narrative here isn’t quite as “white knight saves the indigenous people” as that game’s story was. Ajay is profoundly more likeable than whoever Far Cry 3’s detestable cretin of a protagonist was, too, which is a welcome change of pace. Many critics took issue with the direction that game’s narrative took, myself included, and Far Cry 4 at least attempts to right those wrongs with a decidedly less abhorrent cast. It’s just a shame it ends up being as contrived as possible.
Sure, I didn’t hate everyone in Far Cry 4 like I did its predecessor, but that’s because most of them are barely characters. You only need to look at the obligatory instances of player choice to see that, as it asks you to choose between The Golden Path’s two budding leaders, Amita and Sabal.
Sabal is a traditionalist who values human life above all else and is keen to see Kyrat re-adopt its sacred heritage. Amita, for her part, wants no involvement with this traditionally misogynistic past, and wants Kyrat to have a sustainable future, even if that means taking over Min’s drug-running operations to fund hospitals and schools.
On paper, this sounds all well and good, but the conflict between the two is spun from whole cloth. There’s no real build to any of their disagreements and most of their arguments come across as extremely petty, butting heads for headbutting’s sake to create a difficult dilemma for the player. Their dialogue is so plainly written to set up a choice between the two that you can never shake the feeling this is just a videogame. That your choices alter what missions you do going forward is a nice touch, but when there are no consequences for what you choose it’s difficult to care. So what if you decide to peddle drugs instead of burning the poppy fields to a crisp? There’s no follow-up to this decision so the choice feels meaningless, making these “tough” decisions anything but.
At least Pagan Min holds up his end of the bargain, smoothly slotting into the charismatic psychopath role Vaas occupied so handily before. With his bleached-blonde hair and purple suit, Min is a cartoon character within a dire tale; flamboyant, charming and utterly unpredictable. He’s an incredibly fun antagonist to go up against, even if he feels like the result of some calculated algorithm to recreate what everyone loved so much about Vaas. It comes across as trying too hard, opting for imitation rather than allowing his affable nature to come across naturally. But he’s the best thing the narrative has going for it so it’s not too difficult to ignore some degree of forced evocativeness just to be in his presence – even if he’s used far too sparingly.
“Kyrat is a veritable theme park of emergent storytelling”Of course, as with any Far Cry game it’s relatively easy to brush this story under the rug, using the open-world to create your own tales of randomized chaos. Kyrat is a veritable theme park of emergent storytelling after all, its mixture of exotic wildlife and a brash enemy population creating many opportunities to experiment and mesh the two together in bloody anarchy. One of my favourite moments came during a side mission as I was tasked with killing a few waves of irate royal army soldiers. As the soldiers started arriving so too did an elephant and a rhino, who were none too pleased with all these men and their guns. Noticing this before anyone else, I took my place on a nearby hilltop and watched in unbridled glee as these two hulking brutes killed every single enemy in the area. It was ludicrous, majestic and completely random. Moments like this never grow stale.
Yet Far Cry 4 is keen to funnel you into the same gameplay loop as Far Cry 3 did. You’ll still hunt and skin the animal populace to craft bigger wallets and ammo pouches, climb bell towers to reveal more of the map and capture enemy outposts to clear the area of their presence. You can still scope out each encampment with binoculars, highlighting enemies for elimination as you pick them off from afar with a silenced sniper rifle, sneak in with a knife and bow & arrow, or just go in all guns blazing with an LMG and some Molotov cocktails. The added verticality of Kyrat’s mountain land helps spruce up these moments, too, with the addition of a grappling hook proving most useful as you swing across massive chasms like Tarzan, descend into the depths of murky caves in search of lost treasures or climb to Kyrat’s highest point to leap off and deploy the wingsuit to glide to safety. It’s a good time.
But it’s also incredibly tiring. Capturing enemy outposts is a blast for a good long while, but there’s just so, so many. There’s too much of everything. As with any Ubisoft open-world game the map is crammed full of nebulous activities, with mission markers atop mission markers atop mission markers. There are side-missions and then there are side-side-missions. Rescuing hostages, delivering supplies, protecting a truck; they’re all so generic and forgettable. And there’s all the collectables, too – hundreds and hundreds of them. Propaganda posters to destroy, treasure chests to find, diaries, letters, masks, the list goes on and on. Whether this is a bad thing or not is a matter of taste, but I felt overwhelmed each time I glanced at the map. It’s like one of those colourful, cartoon maps you get at a zoo, where the location of each animal is clearly displayed along with everything else you can do. There’s no sense of exploration when you already know where everything is.
Less is more, as the saying goes, and brevity can often be a positive. By the time I was nearing the story’s end I just wanted to get it over and done with. Not because the quality had declined in any meaningful way, but because it had overstayed its welcome and wore me out. Sure, you can look at it and say there’s value for money here, but your time is more valuable than anything else, and do you really want to waste it with dull busywork?
It’s a shame because the world of Far Cry 4 already creates organic diversions without the need for it to be artificially inserted with an overflowing world map. The wildlife and its people make the world feel alive, and the ways in which you can interact with them create moments that far excel any of its common side-activities, especially if you bring a friend along for the ride. There’s something inherently wonderful about two people riding elephants into battle that there’s no real reason to even engage with anything else.
Far Cry 4 is is a game of outrageous highs and disappointing lows. The critical path is strong, even if the story is hodgepodge and some of the missions are a little too derivative of Far Cry 3; it’s an oftentimes weird but generally enjoyable experience, if you can ignore the thematic flaws of its narrative. It’s just so cluttered by other stuff that it ends up being a slog to get through once you’re nearing the home stretch. That its thrills outweigh the exacerbation it conjures is enough to recommend it to anyone who had a blast with its predecessor. I only wish my time in Kyrat wasn’t quite so drawn out.