I can’t say that I’ve ever truly wanted to ride an elephant in a video game. It’s never really been a major selling point for me. So when Far Cry 4‘s marketing revolved heavily around the ability to do just that, I was highly sceptical. Surely there’s more to FC4 than just riding elephants? Well, after playing the fourth installment in possibly Ubisoft’s last respected franchise, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is much more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Despite never really releasing a “classic” game in its previous 3 releases, the Far Cry franchise has maintained a level of fan support that many AAA titles would be incredibly envious of. There’s very little cynicism and disillusionment that has plagued other large franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed; this could possibly be attributed to the fact that Far Cry has not fallen into the annual release pattern that the other franchises follow. The first three Far Cry games were each separated by four years of development time, and each saw its fair share of praise from fans and critics alike.
That pattern has altered with Far Cry 4, which was released only two years after its predecessor. That was the second reason I was sceptical. The main marketing focus was elephant riding, and it’s only been in development for a maximum of two years? I was a bit worried that the last beloved franchise was going the way of too many before it.
In the end, Far Cry 4 really could have been titled Far Cry 3 1/2. It probably would have been more effective at communicating exactly what the game is–a huge standalone expansion pack for Far Cry 3. Maybe I’m being ignorant in claiming that and there’s actually a huge amount behind the scenes that has evolved and I completely didn’t notice, but it really doesn’t seem like that. To be fair, Far Cry 4 is no step backwards for the series–it’s a far superior game to its predecessor in almost every way–but it’s not enough of a step forward to warrant much excitement.
Far Cry 4 opens with your character Ajay Ghale as a passenger in a convoy. He has just returned to Kyrat (see: Nepal), the country of his birth, on his way to fulfil his mother’s dying wish and lay her ashes to rest in a mysterious place called Lakshmana. Almost immediately, shit hits the fan, and Ajay is abducted by the eccentric dictator Pagan Min. Pagan invites Ajay to dinner, they have the crab rangoon, and the protagonist escapes with the insurgent group known as the Golden Path, which was founded by Ajay’s father. If there’s one thing that the Far Cry series always does exceptionally well, it’s the narrative, and Far Cry 4 is no exception–its story is consistently engaging, very relevant, and drives the game forward–almost to a fault. I had trouble with motivation to do the sidequests simply because of how much I wanted to play through the main story missions. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for the series as a whole, following the classic Far Cry greyscale morality, but it remains leaps and bounds ahead of the stories in 99% of big-budget AAA games (surpassed only by Far Cry 2).
While we’re on the subject of story, I thought I’d mention the secret ending that everyone has been talking about. Towards the start of the game, as Ajay is sitting down to eat with Pagan Min, the latter will excuse himself and ask Ajay to just wait for ten minutes. This, of course, is when the player character gets up and escapes from Pagan’s clutches. But it’s entirely possible to just sit there and wait–in about fifteen minutes, Pagan Min will return, he takes Ajay to Lakshmana to lay his mother’s ashes, and the credits roll. While I think this is a brilliantly creative response to the rising cynicism levels of the average gamer, I’d recommend players against it until they’ve already finished the game. This is because Pagan Min pretty much gives away the entire plot of the main campaign in the secret ending, and you really don’t want it to be ruined for you. On a side note, Pagan Min is an infinitely better crafted and more interesting character than Vaas from Far Cry 3–he’s really one of the most fascinating, human and yet terrifying antagonists I’ve experienced for quite some time.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the pronunciation of Ajay Ghale’s name. Being raised in the United States, he calls himself A. J. Gail; in contrast, everyone he meets in Kyrat calls him Arjay Gharli. It was the little details like that, which aren’t forced in front of the player but rather are just subtly used to further the realism of Kyrat, which really displayed just how much care was taken into crafting the world itself and the characters within it. Pagan Min speaks with a broad English accent–this might seem out of place, until you realise that he was born and raised in Hong Kong, which was at the time a British colony, to one Hongkonger parent and one British parent. This explains his accent and East Asian appearance, and its inclusion in the story is not at all hamfisted or over the top.
Environment-wise, Far Cry 4 is essentially Far Cry 3, but set in Nepal rather than an unspecified tropical island in the Pacific. Just like Far Cry 3, it manages to maintain the perfect balance of pleasantness and unforgiving. Graphically, it can be beautiful, but wander around in the wilderness for too long and you’re bound to meet up with a tiger, or spotted leopard, or even a vicious flock of honey badgers–let’s just say you’ll probably end up dead. Radio towers and outposts operate pretty much exactly the same as they did in the predecessor, which I’m not really complaining about as taking down the outposts was one of the most enjoyable things about Far Cry 3. One major new feature is the gyrocopter, which allows for unprecedented freedom and movement around the world. Suddenly, with the copter and the boats scattered along the river that bisects Kyrat, I found myself actively avoiding fast travel as simply manually travelling was so much fun.
Throughout his campaign to take down Pagan Min, Ajay finds himself undertaking a bunch of covert missions further up the Himalayas, an environment which is brilliantly created to be claustrophobic, intimidating, and yet still beautiful to just gaze out at. There are also a handful of missions in the mystical realm of Shangri-La, which has been overrun with demons… or something? I have to be honest, while the environments of Shangri-La were absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the sequences were possibly my least favourite aspect of the game. I never quite wrapped my head around what exactly was going on in those missions, or why they were included in the game at all.
Far Cry 4 improves on its tropical predecessor in every respect. The protagonist isn’t a dudebro cunt who you can’t relate to at all (he’s just a blank slate, which isn’t amazing, but it’s better), the antagonist is a multi-faceted character and more than just a crazy, Kyrat is much more interesting and rewarding to explore than the Rook Islands and the gyrocopter is a more than welcome addition to the line-up of vehicles. That said, Far Cry 4 doesn’t really provide much that is more than just improvements on Far Cry 3–there’s no overwhelming or interesting new features to discuss. The co-op–which really should be the revolution from FC3–is undercooked, not fully functional, and can only be used in side-quests, which is a real shame. I thoroughly enjoyed everything that Far Cry 4 had to offer, it’s definitely not the beginning of a downward spiral for the series. And yet, I can’t help but feel like there’s much more to come from the franchise, and that this entry is simply a (very fun) stopgap to tide fans over while they wait for the next serious installment. If I have one final thing to add, it’s that eagles are right cunts.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Far Cry 4 by Ubisoft.