(Please note: This review does contain some spoilers but it is important to relate exactly what aspects of the game are directly responsible for the score.)
If there needed to be a summary for Far Cry 4, it will be a mixture of manically detailing the fun of cooperatively fighting enemies with a friend, being dumbstruck by the beauty of the landscape as bursts of color engulf the player, and ranting about how weak so many parts of the title are that it takes away from the first two enjoyable elements.
In Far Cry 4 you play as Ajay Ghale, the son of the founder of the Golden Path who was taken away by his mother to be raised in the United States. Ajay is returning to Kyrat mostly to spread the ashes of his recently-deceased mother, and partly to learn about his family’s involvement in the civil war. In the opening scene the player meets Pagan Min, the despotic King ruling over Kyrat and the primary antagonist of the game. He is opposed by the Golden Path, a faction of rebels that were once aligned with Min but were betrayed during a coup d'état of the former monarch. A Golden Path loyalist was helping Ajay enter the country in secret, but after his kidnapping and torture the mission to overthrow Min’s regime begins. Ajay is rescued and recruited by Sabal, one of two major figures in the Golden Path vying for control prior to overthrowing Pagan Min. Sabal is a strict traditionalist and believes that returning Kyrat back to a more religious, monocratic form will benefit a long-exploited population. His rival in the Golden Path is Amita. She believes quite the opposite in that tradition has suppressed the potential of Kyrat as a Third World nation and that returning to a religiously inspired monarchy will only benefit a small group of men rather than the majority of the people.
The infighting of the Golden Path is one of the two major storylines in Far Cry 4 that will be determined by the choices of the player. Sabal and Amita will call upon the player to assist them in handling a slew of issues in the region but the primary difference between the two leaders mostly relates to the manufacture of narcotics in Kyrat. Sabal believes that the drug trade is morally wrong and exists as a constant embarrassment to Kyrati tradition. Amita takes a more pragmatic approach to the sale of narcotics as a Western vice issue and believes that keeping the trade will help build national infrastructure. The larger issue that exists with Far Cry 4 is that it comes with a fair share of baggage and expectations. The Far Cry franchise reached a new peak with Far Cry 3 by adjusting a multitude of deeply flawed gameplay and narrative elements from the previous game. The title was not wholly beloved by all but it did set a new standard for open world combat and narrative structure for the franchise. Stealth mechanics became an important part of the series with melee combat turning from impractical in Far Cry 2 to the heavily rewarded and stylized executions found in Far Cry 3. The impacting story, engaging characters and memorable moments that composed the Far Cry 3 experience are sparse in the sequel.
The story of Kyrat, the civil war between the Golden Path and the Royal Army, is enjoyable but ultimately falls short of the more personal story of Jason Brody found in Far Cry 3. Pagan Min is by far the most interesting person in Kyrat and while some characters will attempt to be quirky or relatable to the player, the end result cannot be more disappointing. Far Cry 4 relies so heavily on Pagan Min bridging the gap of the plot that some of the most exciting moments in the game are underscored by a clearly weak story. Sabal and Amita are in part responsible for this, as neither character does much more than complain about the other or attempt to guilt the player into sympathizing with them. The unique characters in Kyrat are not all that engaged with the player but seem to expect compliance despite no meaningful relationship existing between the two. What is asked of Ajay - a person with no military training or general combat experience - is extreme, and yet he is more than willing to slaughter hundreds of Min’s men to accomplish any mission put in his path. Unlike Jason Brody’s storyline and evolution as a character, Ajay is the same boring, pseudo-stoic character from beginning to end. This aspect by itself does not make the game any less enjoyable, but it does nonetheless disappoint when considering the engaging relationships that existed in the previous game.
Visually speaking Far Cry 3 was beautiful and had a very stark color scheme, but for some playing on PC it could be rather unstable at times. Immersive graphics are one of the many advantages of playing on PC rather than on a console, but it requires the developer to properly configure the game to run smoothly. Optimization and compatibility issues are a very frequent reminder of the costs of playing on PC as developers can sometimes seem feckless towards a core of the gaming demographic. Far Cry 3 was a graphically demanding game and had issues running at the higher settings along with nVidia Surround, an application for running games on multiple monitors. Thanks to a recent upgrade to the latest nVidia series I was able to run Far Cry 4 at the highest graphical settings, including nVidia Surround and faced no graphical hiccups during my playthrough. This upgrade was worth every penny as Far Cry 4 may qualify as one of the most visually stunning games that I have ever played. It is a challenge to find a title in the last few years that comes even close to the level of graphical supremacy offered. Every town, shrine and enemy outpost is filled with detail. The country of Kyrat feels like a living, breathing place with a history and people that make it a wondrous but deadly place. The environment is rich and appealing from the very beginning to the second before the credits roll.
The visuals of Far Cry 3 was a high point of the title, allowing players to travel unrestricted in a stunning, captivating tropical island that felt foreign but was immersive enough for traveling to feel worth the time. Immersion is not an easy element for a game to capture but the jungles of the Rook Islands were dense and visually effective enough to keep the player engaged even when running from place to place. Kyrat stumbles to be immersive at times, but that is not the fault of the incredibly beautiful setting. Far Cry 4 clearly outpaces its predecessor when it comes to the scope of color as even the most mundane shacks are draped in bright cloth and glossy metal. Everything in Kyrat is alluring to the eye: from clothing to vehicles, everything “pops”. The mistake made in the previous title was the idea that weathering a building or person required them to be bleak, faded but in Far Cry 4 everything and everybody is highlighted with a splash of color. The amount of time invested by the creative team when crafting the textures of Kyrat much have been very demanding as the finished product is without question award worthy.
The forests of Kyrat are also colorful and could have felt quite immersive, but one of Far Cry 4 most glaring flaws is the wildlife inhabiting every square inch of the map. Everything in Kyrat wants to kill the player. There are vicious, razor toothed fish in every pond, tigers hiding in every bush and hawks that will swoop down to take half of your health away with a few pecks. The issue is not the tension - after all, running through the brush should feel dangerous - but it is the sheer number of animals on a suicidal quest to end your life that breaks the experience. The danger that animals posed in Far Cry 3 has been ramped up to such a level of absurdity that just sticking to the road can prove just as dangerous as cutting through the deepest brush. This flaw, whether it is the spawning locations or the number of animals allowed in one zone at any given time, is most evident in the lowlands. Packs of wild dogs roam the lowlands to such an extreme that it is unimaginable to not shoot, punch or drive over at least a few dozen within the first few hours. This infestation of dogs is unquestionably capable of wiping out entire enemy settlements if you guide them in. These animals are bullet sponges, shooting them with anything other than a shotgun blast or a full clip of assault rifle rounds to the face will result in being pounced. The only thing more potent in Far Cry 4 than explosives is the wildlife. Some may see this as petty criticism, but it truly does affect the ability for the player to enjoy the environment. The creative team built a beautiful world that cannot be enjoyed when bees, birds and everything in between is attacking all of the time.
Far Cry 4 is a game with many fun aspects that work perfectly well together, but it has enough problems as a whole that it becomes glaringly obvious that something might have gone wrong in the developmental process. One of the immediate greatest strengths of Far Cry 4 is unlocking Hurk in the first hour of the game, teaming up with a friend and raising hell in Kyrat. The cooperative feature offered is great, offering fast-paced action and memorable laughs. There is plenty of fun to be had with mortars, choppers and explosive weapons. Joining a friend using Uplay is harder than it should be, but once the cooperative fun begins it can be hard to go back to playing alone. Taking outposts is simplified by a huge margin and missions become more challenging but also frantic when faced with a time limit. Overall the inclusion of cooperative gameplay is one of Far Cry 4’s distinguishable achievements. The stealth mechanics and role-playing abilities were clearly sacrificed in the development of the game but the pure enjoyment that comes from the gunplay involved is hard to scold. The player will use the melee mechanics less as the game goes on but the larger the battle gets the more frantic and fun Far Cry 4 becomes. Side missions are entertaining with a friend, although the small amount that are offered can become repetitive over time as taking outposts only unlocks one of a few styled tasks. The missions involving explosives are typically the best, but having a friend by your side makes the majority of the content even more enjoyable.
The random occurrences in Kyrat such as outpost attacks or truck convoys are frequent and can happen at random points so long as the player has not taken control of the region. Other reviewers have taken this aspect to an extreme and said that the events will clash with one another and overwhelm the player, but from my own experience that only occurs when one does not conquer the stronghold in the area. This is a task that the player is reminded of frequently as the game will state that the region is still at risk so long as Min’s men retain a foothold. Removing the local stronghold will cut down on the number of convoys in the area and halt all attacks on controlled outposts. The game will even remind the player that in the future it is best to tackle the forts with a friend in order to control the region and continue with the story. These reminders are in a sense more overwhelming than any karma event or optional convoy mission. The multiplayer option in the game is meaningless and should not be seen in any way as a selling point of the game. It is hardly fun at all, imbalanced and too random to be considered even competitive. Wins or losses feel more like sporadic outcomes of two teams unaware of what is even happening than an actual competition. There are limited modes and the objective based types are not well crafted. Multiplayer is a waste of time and should only be played if the consumer considered it prior to purchasing the game. The cooperative mode is far more fun, less ridiculous and does not limit the player to specific play styles.
One of the major criticisms that I had of Far Cry 3 was feeling swept up in hunting for animal pelts and ancient idols. I understand that the point of such secondary content was to complement the exploration and main campaign, but I could not help but feel as though the implementation was not as perfect as it could have been. Hunting animals and exploring ruins was certainly an improvement over the tedious looting of conflict diamonds found in Far Cry 2, but in my opinion there is room for more effective side content. Far Cry 4 fails to advance that aspect of the series. Hunting remains a chore to be accomplished and never bothered with again. What is more disappointing is that while hunting in Far Cry 3 was new and somewhat immersive, it returns to the sequel as just existing without much explanation. It comes across as laziness by the developers and a matter-of-fact element of the game as opposed to being explored to the point that it needed to be.
Where the player will begin to notice the drop in the campaign is after unlocking the northern portion of the nation. This area is reminiscent of the new island in Far Cry 3, but in the north everyone is looking out for Ajay and backup will be called in quickly in order to kill Kyrat’s most wanted man. The north is Pagan Min’s stronghold territory and it is well-protected. There are numerous highly reinforced settlements, checkpoints and patrols. Guards in the north are hardened, well-armed and armor clad veterans. Heavies and hunter units and everywhere, even the average guardsman is protected well enough to kill the player in a single encounter. All of this sounds decent enough on paper, but the story shifts to what appears to be a downward spiral where victory seems just a few battles away. Nothing in the north feels like a challenge with the exception of stealth. By this point Ajay is so overpowered that even on the hardest difficulty death comes across as the consequence of the player making a stupid mistake. Every bell tower broadcast and phone call from the king makes it feel as if the player is absolutely unstoppable. The Royal Army units will comment on the player frequently and considering your existing popularity across Kyrat it is clear that, unlike Jason Brody, Ajay is the dominate force now.
The problem in the north is after taking several outposts mission creep begins to set in. It is hard not to look at the numerous towers and forts remaining in the region and not feel the strong sense of inevitability. It is so apparent that it will take only a few more hours to conquer the last remnants of the positions held by the Royal Army and it will be of no consequence. The player can hold the entire nation and it will still require a prefabricated mission set in stone with the current leader of the Golden Path to take down the king. There is no longer any challenge to the game. This fact could not have been made clearer than in the final mission involving Pagan’s second-in-command, Yuma Lau. The game will inform the player in many ways how potent of an enemy she is but nothing comes of it. This was an opportunity for a twist, a double cross or at the very minimum something to retain the challenge of overthrowing a tyrant, but nothing happens in the end. Ajay comes out of the situation looking even that much more unstoppable. Pagan calls the player following the encounter to more or less accept the fact that his time as king is limited. Perhaps this setup is supposed to make the player feel empowered, but it just comes across as doing what is required to be reunited with the king as by this point we all know it is going to happen. Nothing can stop Ajay and by the time the credits roll, it makes you wonder what the developers were thinking when they designed the last portion of the game.
It is possible to write a series of articles on the power dynamic that exists in games on how to retain the challenge as a character fighting against the odds and empowering the player so that they feel that special feeling that comes with escapism. Far Cry 4 is a failure in that regard, as the game makes it clear too early on that nothing can stand in the way of the player and that conquering an entire nation is simply a fact of the story. The player will win, the antagonist will lose and the game itself describes this in either a bad attempt at meta humor or a total lack of consideration during the development. If this is done it should be a means to an end: an unseen scenario, an unexpected spin of events or anything to further the story. That does not happen in Far Cry 4 and it suffers badly for it by squandering such potential.
To end this review I will tack on a quick piece of commentary. One of the mistakes I made following the completion of Far Cry 4 was viewing other reviews of it. There is apparently a fair bit of myth making surrounding the content and characters of Far Cry 4. The phrase “problematic” is becoming an increasingly common criticism from reviewers who seem more interested in seeing a bias confirmed rather than enjoying a title. This is quickly becoming a loaded pejorative, slighting a game for lacking something I find incomprehensible to understand. If a reviewer believes that there is something missing from a title or they personally have a bone to pick with a particular character, it would rather nice for their readers to know exactly what they are addressing. Reviewers should be explicit when addressing a specific flaw as the critique comes across as far more genuine. Even as a reviewer I find it hard to distinguish what, if anything, is being specifically leveled against a game when it is deemed “problematic”.
(Please note: The author purchased the copy used to write this review.)
A disappointing sequel in many ways but a game of such stark beauty and manic fun it is hard to write off entirely.