The Far Cry series is a peculiar franchise. What started off with stories of mutants and malaria quickly turned into an over-the-top shooter with fantastic stealth elements, a breathtaking open world filled with a myriad of activities and included some of the best baddies we've seen in video games for a long time. The series, for the lack of a better word, rebooted itself with Far Cry 3, and it was one of the best decisions Ubisoft Montreal could have made. To this day, I have no problem admitting that Far Cry 3 was my game of the year of 2012, story be damned. Suffice it to say, Far Cry 4 had a lot to live up to.
At its core, Far Cry 4 doesn't stray too far from the formula that made the third game so damn fun, though the set up is slightly different and more believable. You're Ajay Ghale, a son tasked with returning your mother's ashes to her homeland of Kyrat as per her dying wishes. You're also the son of famed and now deceased Mohan Ghale, a revolutionary during a Civil War in Kyrat. Upon your arrival, sh*t hits the fan as they say and you're thrust into the Civil War yourself, aligning yourself with the Golden Path, revolutionaries once led by your father, in a fight to take back Kyrat from the wonderfully sadistic Pagan Min. The premise is still ridiculous, but has weight to it this time around, since your character is directly tied to what's going on in Kyrat.
While your map starts out fairly barren, it won't be long until it fills up with tons of quest icons, locations to discover, bell towers to climb, outposts to liberate and animals to hunt in order to upgrade your equipment. As is standard for Ubisoft, it can all get quite overwhelming if you're the type to get easily distracted. However, the diverse variety in activities ensures that you're never repeating the same tasks ad nauseam. Even missions like races have variety, as some task you to switch vehicles mid race for an added bonus. Side missions are also plenty and equally as zany. Don't be surprised if an NPC asks you to kill a horde of Honey Badgers as revenge for his wife's death.
Who do you choose?
The mission structure is fairly straightforward, you'll always have some sort of main NPC to report to, however, Far Cry 4 adds a system of choice for specific Golden Path missions. Siblings Amita and Sabal are both unified in the thought of freeing Kyrat from its oppressive shackles, however they both want to go about it in drastically different ways. Amita wants Kyrat to adapt to the times, become more militaristic to be able to defend itself from threats. Sabal on the other hand wants to preserve the culture and nature of Kyrat, and return it to its former glory.
You'll be forced to align yourself with one of them during these missions, and based on who you pick, will then decide what kind of mission you'll undertake. For instance, you could side with Sabal and choose to save some freedom fighters from execution but losing out on enemy intel. On another occasion, you could side with Amita and preserve a poppy field instead of destroying it, and give Kyrat a chance to support itself economically through drug trade. The choices are never black and white, and I usually ended up feeling bad for not siding with the other character. It's rare that a game can make you question your decisions, but Far Cry 4 does it masterfully.
Taking over outposts is still easily the most fun you'll have, as you can once again approach them with caution, taking out enemies silently. Or you can go in guns blazing, riding on top of an elephant and crushing your enemies to death. The decision is yours, though the game does award you bonus XP for being stealthy. Outposts get gradually harder, introducing new enemies, such as the Hunter who has the ability to charm animals to fight for him, more alarms, and larger compounds. Outpost battles are essentially super sized versions of outposts. While they're possible to play through solo, given that Ajay is leveled up enough, tackling them with a buddy is a lot more fun. Having someone distract enemies while you stealthily take them from behind is something you just can't replicate when playing by yourself. Even going in guns blazing with a buddy by your side is immensely satisfying.
These guys will mess you up
Far Cry 4's slogan is 'Every second is a story' might be stretching it, but it's not all that far from the truth. You could be on your way to take over an outpost, and then run into Min's men holding Golden Path soldiers hostage. Immediately after you spot a Bengal tiger, knowing that you only need one more skin to craft that next loot bag upgrade. Upon following him, you can stumble onto a cave that holds a few chests inside with valuables to sell. As you exit, you notice a grappling hook spot, leading you up to a hang glider, which you can then use to get to your original objective faster. However, on your way gliding, you spot on of Pagan Min's convoys, so you engage your wing suit, drop down right behind it, and blast it with your rocket launcher.
Pagan Min is a fantastic character. While never really living up to Vaas' insanity, Min is somewhat more collected. He's insane, but doesn't always come across that way. Troy Baker's performance as Min is absolutely fantastic, and once again proves that Baker has the range to play wildly diverse characters. I never really hated Min from the beginning of the game, and that's really a testament to his writing, since he's clearly the antagonist. It's a shame that Min isn't really featured all that much in the story, outside of a few phone calls while you're running around and defeating his lieutenants. Also, don't mistake Min's fashion for his sexual preference. I'm not sure whether it was a line that Ubisoft added after multiple sites questioned whether he was a gay villain, but he distinctly calls this out, and it's hilarious.
Far Cry 4 also features a fully functional map editor, that allows players to create various challenges such as outposts, hunts or straight up killing enemies. For instance, a map called World War 2 had me stationed on the beach with a mini-gun, defending it from oncoming enemies. I absolutely love this feature, and I hope players embrace it, as it will infinitely increase Far Cry 4's replayability.
You don't mess with Honey Badgers…
If competitive multiplayer is more of your thing, you can participate in Battles of Kyrat, a 5v5 PvP mode with three different match types. However, the unique feature here isn't the modes, it's the factions. The two teams are divided into the Rakshasa and the Golden Path. Rakshasa only wield bows but are able to mount elephants and summon wild animals to their aid. They're also able to blend into their environment, making them nearly invisible. The Golden Path on the other hand have nothing but modern weaponry at their disposal. Even though the modern technology outclasses the Rakshasa, they stand a chance with all their secondary abilities. It's a great give and take that works wonders in matches. Even elements from the single player mode, such as Bell Towers, make an appearance, granting the team that takes it the ability to see the position of their enemies on the mini-map. The multiplayer is a wonderful surprise.
It's almost surreal that just a week after Ubisoft released the buggy and glitchy Assassin's Creed Unity that I still enjoyed despite this, Far Cry 4 manages to quell any fears by being a rock solid experience. The framerate is always consistent and through my experience, I've never once had a bug or glitch occur. Sure, it's a cross-gen title, but the game still looks absolutely fantastic on current-gen systems. Small touches to the environment make Kyrat feel alive. Even the loading times aren't atrocious, despite the game's giant size.
It's a good thing that Ubisoft Montreal didn't really shake things up too much when it comes to Far Cry 4, and what we're left with is a fantastic follow-up with some great new additions, a much more satisfying storyline and a wonderful world to explore and cause chaos in. Bring a buddy!