Far Cry 4, the fourth entry in Ubisoft’s popular open-world shooter series has been one of 2014’s most highly-anticipated games. That has largely been thanks to preview videos showing off its super-crazy villain Pagan Min, its gorgeous locales and unsurprisingly, the opportunity to wreak havoc with elephants. So how does it stack up in the final analysis? Read on to find out.
Where Far Cry 3 played out on a tropical island between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the fourth game shifts things a bit inland, placing you in the middle of a dictator’s personal playground somewhere between India and Nepal at the foot of the Himalayas.
The dictator in question is the pink-suited Pagan Min, who looks like he walked out of the barber shop in the middle of getting his hair cut. But don’t let that bedraggled look fool you, as King Pagan (as he prefers to be called) is one brutal character and not someone to let comments about his ‘do go unpunished.
To put it another way, the man is an unpredictable – and incredibly weird – psychopath, and the perfect antagonist for a game whose previous title featured the creatively-insane Vaas, who left some pretty big shoes to fill. And boy, does Pagan Min fill them well, stealing the show in every scene he’s in, even if its just in a radio conversation.
Where to from here?
Far Cry 4 puts you in the shoes of Ajay Ghale, the son of the founder of the Golden Path, a rebel group that has been fighting Pagan Min for years. With the passing of Ajay’s mother, Ajay has returned to the country of his birth to scatter her ashes, as per her dying wish. As it turns out, she wished for more than just that as she knew Ajay would be drawn into the conflict and help liberate the people of Kyrat from the salmon-clad king.
Naturally there are a number of twists to the story as well as plenty of side missions, but before you actually get to take on Pagan you have to battle three of his lieutenants – each one hiding out in their very own fortress. Taking these down is delightfully satisfying, as how to do it is left entirely up to you – do you charge in atop an elephant, do you set fire to everything and let the flames do the work, do you take out soldiers silently with your sniper rifle or do you rain down death from the heavens as you swoop in riding a miniature helicopter?
The beauty of Far Cry 4 is every strategy is viable, it’s just up to you to pull them off without dying, and therein lies the fun.
Run to the hills
Although the action is fast, furious and fun, one of the biggest stars in the game isn’t actually a person, but rather the world in which everything takes place: the fictional land of Kyrat.
The country is divided into a southern and northern territory, each with its own distinct foliage and geographical features. Southern Kyrat, being further away from the foothills of the Himalayas, is lush with green trees and sunny skies. As you cross the river and go further north, the top part of the map begins to steadily turn into a winter landscape, with trees covered in orange and red leaves, with the odd bit of snow for show.
Any beautifully-crafted world rich in detail only works as well as the graphics engine, and here Ubisoft Montreal doesn’t disappoint. Things could have gone seriously pear-shaped with Far Cry, but even the smallest of objects are intricately detailed thanks to some really high-quality texture work and meticulous 3D models that looked amazing on our Xbox One.
Indian/Nepalese culture, which the game’s environments and themes take inspiration from, is stacked to the brim with colourful imageries and fanciful tales of folklore, all wonderfully recreated in Ubisoft’s heavily-modified Dunia Engine 2. It’s hard to believe that Kyrat doesn’t actually exist, because if it did, it’s somewhere I’d really like to visit (and not come back from). It’s really that pretty.
Life in the wild
But no living world would be complete if it wasn’t populated with wildlife, and Kyrat’s animals make it a dangerous place to wander around on your own. Depending on where you are, you could very well become lunch for a bear, tiger or leopard. Luckily they are pretty easy to hear coming, but that usually just signals that you better start running.
Predators aside, the game has a number of other less deadly animals as well like antelopes, Asian rhino, monkeys and goats. My favourite by far has to be the Asian elephant, which you can also mount and ride on through Kyrat if you have the right skill unlocked. Oh, and no matter what anybody says, an elk still makes the creepiest sound ever.
Skills from the hills
Speaking of skills, the game has the same upgrade system as number three. To increase your wallet size, carry more weapons or store more loot, you have to hunt (and skin) animals in order to do so. To unlock ability skills, such as riding elephants, you have to use skill points, which you earn once you level up, which is done by accumulating experience by shooting enemies, exploring and completing objectives.
Good deeds are also rewarded with Karma points, which are used to unlock things like extra guns and abilities.
In terms of how it plays, think “Far Cry 3”. It’s a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so Ubisoft didn’t, which means you’ll climb bell towers to reveal more of the map, take out enemy strongholds and install your own soldiers there, hijack vehicles and do fun side-quests while unlocking skills and getting access to new weapons along the way.
There are new additions, of course, but for the most part Far Cry 4 builds on what made Far Cry 3 so good, so if you loved that game you’ll find plenty to like in this one.
I’ll make it my mission
To progress the story if you feel like you’ve had enough side-questing/bell tower climbing/hunting/exploring, you must assist a number of eccentric characters in achieving their goals.
Amita or Sabal are the two self-styled leaders of the Golden Path. Each wants to lead the Golden Path and eventually rule Kyrat in their own way, so when you are confronted with a Balance of Power missions, you have to remember that your actions will have consequences which could affect the outcome of the game.
Take missions from British slackers Yogi and Reggie, and you will be in for some of the trippiest quests ever. The pair need a test subject for their experimental drugs, and guess who just volunteered? You.
All of the characters in Far Cry 4 are tied to Pagan Min in some way, but we don’t want to spoil everything for you so we won’t. There are also topless girls in a gladiator arena, a returning CIA agent and a man-child who wants to blow up stuff 24/7.
With a little help from my friends
One of the many fun things about Far Cry 4 is its massively-improved multiplayer compared to Far Cry 3’s. This time around, there are two different options: a 5-vs-5 deathmatch style game and some co-op.
While the PvP is rather forgettable, the ability to play co-operatively is a lot of fun. Once a player has joined your game, you will be able to do pretty much everything except for the main quests and missions. It’s great to have a friend help you take over difficult high-level bandit outposts or track down a pesky bear for one of your upgrades, but the highlight for me was having a friend ride along while I took a buzzer – a small helicopter-like flying vehicle – for a spin. I flew, he shot, it was great.
Kyrat, we have a problem…
As much work as Ubisoft has done on Far Cry 4, it’s not without its issues. The single most annoying thing in Far Cry 4 is the eagles. Yip, the game has eagles that will swoop down and attack you for no reason. You would think that a guy walking around with two assault rifles, a grenade launcher and a pretty powerful recurve bow would be immune to eagles – but no. Oh, and there is nothing you can do once the eagle swoops in.
The driving mechanic could have done with a little less oversteering; unless, that is, that’s how Kyrati people like to drive: by slipping and sliding around bends, narrowly missing cliffs at every turn and generally stressing themselves half to death just to get to the next village. They may like that but it’s no fun for a gamer.
There are a number of small glitches in the game as well, but luckily Far Cry 4 hasn’t needed a major patch to “fix” them like other titles have.
But one part that isn’t broken and that I just didn’t like, was the Shangri-La missions. Shangri-La is a trippy netherworld where you go search for a mystical Thangka (a painting on cotton depicting a Buddhist deity), but there is just something about the enemies in that area that creep me out – even if you have a pretty sweet white tiger to aide you. As a result I really didn’t enjoy these sequences, but thankfully, apart from the very first Shangri-La mission, they’re optional.
When all is said and done
At the end of the day you have to ask yourself “Is the game fun?”, and the answer is an overwhelming ‘yes’. I wouldn’t have played over 25 hours if I hadn’t been enjoying myself.
From the opening cut scene it is quickly established that Pagan Min is an awesomely funny, flamboyant yet oh-so-evil character. He has some of the most memorable lines in the game that you can’t help but smile at since they paint such a strange picture of the man, something that adds to the story quite a bit as you know you will have to square off with him at some point. Knowing that he’s not predictable and more than a bit crazy adds a bit of pleasurable anticipation to thoughts of the inevitable final showdown.
Players returning to the franchise will feel at home right off the bat, and the learning curve is so gentle that new players will be chasing armed bandits down the hillside in no time.
In short, the graphics are really nice to look at, controls are easy to master and the missions are varied. Without rushing through the game and doing a good number of side quests, it should take you about 20 to 30 hours to finish, which is pretty good for the R799 asking price.
Far Cry 4 is out now and is available on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It sells for a recommended retail price of R799.