Far Cry 4 is almost exactly what you’d expect, yet somehow it still manages to surprise you. It excels at placing a plethora of shenanigans and shenanigan-inducing items at your feet just as it dangles bombast and pyrotechnics right in front of your face. For all the games that manage to tell a heartbreaking tale or slather beauty on your eyeballs like gravy on a plate of biscuits, Far Cry 4 accomplishes the singularly incredible feat of never letting you be bored.
Once again in an open world of first person shooting, wild animals, and a semi-mystical and superstitious culture dealing with a maniacal bad guy, Far Cry 4 puts you smack dab in the middle of a Himalayan civil war between bat-shit crazy and moderately self-appointed Pagan Min and the local resistance called the Golden Path. You play as Ajay Ghale, the son of the late Golden Path founder Mohan Ghale, returning to his homeland from America to spread his recently deceased mother.
And very quickly, things go to Fucktown, USA. Ajay’s return does not go unnoticed by Pagan Min, formerly and romantically involved with Ajay’s mother Ishwari. This opening scene of going from casual bus ride to terrifying introduction to Pagan Min is utterly delectable. It’s like a hearty shepherd’s pie made from a demon cow: rich, filling, and altogether scary. It is gripping and engaging as anything you’re likely to see in a game this year.
It in fact almost wanted me to turn away from the Golden Path and go back to Pagan Min. He’s, like, a thousand percent more fun (and crazy, but hey, can’t win ’em all). While the writing is rather good across the board, it’s the performances that carry these characters from a nutso world to a grounded reality.
Troy Baker as Pagan Min is perfectly subtle and extreme all at once. James Woods, who was also Keith Ramsay in Far Cry 3, makes Ajay sound like a real person, a welcome departure from the all around caricature of Jason Brody last year. And from the intensely sensual designer Mumu Chiffon to absurd preacher/arms dealer Longinus, the performances give weight to otherwise objectively unreal characters.
That, however, is just the icing on the cake for most people. What many would like to know is whether or not you still do a dozen insane things a minute, and the answer is yes. All of the old things you can recall from Far Cry 3 like taking over outposts, climbing towers, hunting dangerous wildlife, and whatnot is all back. And with a setting like Kyrat where verticality is built into the environment, there’s a far greater sense of expansive possibility.
Most notable is that almost right off the bat, you have access to the wingsuit, allowing you to dive off of any cliff with little fear of dying at the bottom. There’s also the grappling hook, which allows you to quickly ascend sheer cliff faces and swing across massive chasms. It greatly removes the need to wiggle around slopes until you find grass to walk. Oh, and there’s the buzzer, a single rider gyrocopter that basically makes dicking around the best.
There is, however, a difference to be noted between dicking around and getting dicked around. The Rook Islands of Far Cry 3 felt dangerous, full of things that can kill you more or less in an instant. Kyrat, however, is full of dicks and assholes. Eagles will fly down from nowhere and pluck away a bar of health. Dholes and wolves chase you like it was one of the Ten Commandments. And don’t even get me started on honey badgers. Pardon my language, but they are what many would refer to as “some real fuckers.”
That is, though, a great component of what makes Far Cry 4 so compelling. At any given second, what once was a well-laid plan could go to shit. While settling into my old routine of scoping out an outpost before picking the guards off with my silenced Z23, I hear howling. It’s not from the Bengal tiger caged down below, but two shots into the schedule liberation, I hear footfalls. Might be hunters, a new enemy that evades tags and forces careful aggression, but then I hear snarling. Before I even turn, I know what it is. I just hadn’t expected so many of them.
Let’s just say one tiger, two ziplines, five wolves, and like 20 gallons of flamethrower juice later, the outpost was mine. Totally not what I had in mind, but certainly exciting. And that was probably the least crazy thing that happened that hour. Far Cry 4, more than anything, wants to make you do awesome things, and if that means charging a convoy with an elephant and a rocket launcher or crashing a C4-rigged buzzer into an enemy camp, then by golly it’s going to find a way to convince you to do it.
And among all these radical notions of turning reality-based action into the most supreme spectacles of nonsense and well-crafted havoc, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is a both great sounding and great looking game. While a few textures don’t play well up close, the vistas laid before you with vivid colors and sweeping mountaintops more than make up for such visual shortcomings. And little touches with the sound, like your assault rifle sounding increasingly tinnier as you use up a magazine, shine even among the roars of tigers and leopards.
Plus, if you thought you were doing fucked up things solo, try co-op. It is one of the best co-op experiences I’ve had all year, enabling you to do all of your stag tricks with a very human element of intelligence and dickishness. From executing premeditated battle tactics or coordinating a flawless outpost dismantling to not warning your partner about your penchant for unwarranted mines or driving their truck into a lake before taking off in your own, it’s all so unpredictable and all the way fantastic.
Far Cry 4 tries to do a lot of things. It throws an inconsolable amount of collectibles at you. It delivers a solid story of real and interesting characters. It even lets you paint an elephant. But what it does best it given you every possible reason to not be bored. It’s a surprise you knew you were getting all along but still surprised you anyways. Far Cry 4 might be what you expected based on its predecessor, but it’s also just what you wanted: an excellent game.
+ Great character performances and writing that craft an unbelievably gripping intro
+ More activities and variety in those activities than you can shake a tapir at
+ Intrinsic bombast and absurdity with the campaign and side missions
+ Beautiful and bright landscapes with excellent audio design
– Not a lot of originality going on here
Final Score 9 out of 10
Game Review: Far Cry 4
Release: November 18, 2014
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Single-player, co-op, online multiplayer