The previous Far Cry game was a terrific game mechanically-speaking, but its douche-bro protagonist and “satirical” storyline silliness slightly curdled what was otherwise straight-up creamy goodness. With Far Cry 4, Ubisoft takes steps to address these and other concerns, so although the gameplay isn’t as fresh this time around, the end result is a confection that proves equally tough to resist.
As was the case with its predecessor, Far Cry 4 gives you a tonne of things to do, mainly in the categories of crafting, collecting, and conquering. ‘Skyrim with guns’ is the oft-quoted, somewhat accurate shorthand for both games, but only if you believe Skyrim has peerless gameplay, which it most certainly does not. The wildlife here is as amusingly aggressive as ever, all NPCs drive like drunkards with lead feet, and firefights are often punctuated by the comically unpredictable effects of Far Cry’s fantastic systems colliding. At its best, it’s improvised slapstick comedy crossed with a big dumb action movie. What’s not to like?
Stealth is again the focus and it works well, but there are also the new and well-publicised options of riding an elephant into battle, or buzzing around in one-man heli-scooters that feel like flying lawnmowers. Other mechanical changes are also overwhelmingly positive. Protagonist Ajay can grapple to or from set points in the landscape, and even swing between grapple points like a militarized version of Tarzan.
Outpost liberation is again a focus, but in a nice twist, these can be re-taken by groups of invading NPCs who only desist when nearby fortresses – much tougher bases – are similarly subjugated. There are tweaks on other existing systems too: the skinning of animals rewards you with bait with which to bring predators into the fray, and plants can be blended into syringes that grant temporary boosts, like the ability to see all nearby animals and wildlife, or greater resistance to bullets. Elsewhere, an autodrive switch allows you to take your eyes off the road and focus on the massacre of baddies – a smart decision that only encourages greater risk-taking while facilitating even more “Did you see that?” moments.
Things are more social this time out, too. The completion of certain side missions allows you to summon friendly NPCs to your side, and another player can join your game to help out on non-mission tasks. The latter is only working reliably on PlayStation 4 as of today, but it’s a total blast. Nothing is unlocked in your game if you join someone else’s, but the sheer thrill of going double-Rambo with a mate while trying to wingsuit under the nearest low overhang makes shared time completely worthwhile. Watching a fellow player fail to fight off a pack of wolves while I circled in a chopper had me crying with laughter. The only downside is that you can’t get further than about 150m from one another without the guest dropping from the game.
Story-wise, things are still somewhat mixed. That the player is cast as a westernised Nepalese man returning to his homeland is a step forward from Far Cry 3’s white saviour/helpless native trope, but Ajay is more of a quiet cipher than Jason Brody, and character development suffers as a result. There’s also a clueless racist sidekick called Hurk, whose satirical edge is somewhat dulled by his position as the comic relief. However, all NPCs are well-voiced and memorable at the very least – particularly the politely psychotic Pagan Min (Troy Baker).
The most depth is given to a pair of warriors battling for control of the good-guy revolutionary army, The Golden Path. Sabal craves a return to the days of old Kyrat before the deliciously villainous Min took over, while Amita is a more progressive voice. At various points during the game’s campaign you choose whose plans to back, and this choice results in some different missions and outcomes until the game’s next ‘Balance of Power’ mission. These are agonising decisions, although it’s unclear why others can’t be dispatched to do the mission you don’t, as elsewhere the Golden Path seem more than capable of taking the fight to Min’s troops. Still, it’s a cool new mechanic that lends extra weight to the game's '80s action-comedy blockbuster vibes.
The PvP mode this time around is a five-on-five ruckus that pits a team of stealth-oriented, animal-summoning Rakshasa warriors against gun-toting vehicle-wrangling Golden Path soldiers. The Rakshasa – who possess powers akin to cloaking and teleportation – are easily the more interesting faction to play, although manning the 50 cal. on a Golden Path jeep being driven by a teammate is also a rush.
The mode does a better job at bringing the chaos of singleplayer into the multiplayer realm than the last attempt, but the maps are bland affairs, and the progression system doesn’t feel hooky enough to tear anyone but the most competitive-minded away from the outstanding – and infinitely more interesting – open world of the campaign.
The map editor doesn’t support the PvP modes which is a shame, as it’s a comprehensive and intuitive offering that minimises the limitations of controller-based input. There are already some great user-made maps to play too, with outpost ransacking and hostage extraction the best of the four modes.
Far Cry 4 isn’t worlds away from its predecessor in many respects, but for most that won’t be an issue as the franchise hasn’t been milked to death just yet. Its busy yet lush open world will have players pinballing from over-the-top event to over-the-top event, the new setting and skill tree are great, and it all ramps up much quicker than Far Cry 3. It's less likely to top Reader's Choice polls the way that game did two years ago, but it's nonetheless an offering of equal merit whose only sin is emulating what's probably the best open world action game of the past few years.