I’m running away again. I seem to do this at the beginning of a lot of open world games nowadays. This time my bus has been attacked, and my guide and I have been kidnapped and taken off to a big housey fortressy thing by Pagan Min, the King of the country I’m returning to in order to scatter my dead mom’s ashes. Sounds like a pretty standard way to spend a weekend so far. Luckily, I’ve managed to escape, and using a combination of running like hell, driving off on a handy nearby quad bike and shooting a few bad guys I find myself at a nearby Golden Path camp, who despite not being overly delighted to see me still kindly take me in and set me on the road to being a badass action hero of sorts. All this just from taking a quick break to say bye to mom. This guy needs a new travel agent.
It doesn’t take long though to realise just how huge and impressive Far Cry 4 is. Initially you’re bumped from one mission to the next, getting told off if you veer to far from the intended path, but this is nothing more than the game guiding you through some survival basics. Once the opening few tasks are out the way then you can go where you want, do what you choose and lose hours without actually making any progress whatsoever. It’s typical Far Cry action, giving you something to find, do, hunt or chase every few metres if you take every opportunity given to you. Hunting animals takes on a new dimension by collecting the animal’s meat as well to tempt the more violent creatures into attacking enemies, or throw them off your own scent for a while. The usual array of towers to unlock missions and map details (fast becoming an unmoving tradition in Ubisoft games) are tricky to climb and often well defended, and there are enough vehicles scattered around for you to drive, sail or fly pretty much wherever you fancy. Yep, this is definitely Far Cry, and with the power of the new consoles it’s never looked better.
The beauty of any open world game like Far Cry should be in the setting, and Kyrat is fantastic. Tall mountains, flowing rivers and no end of tucked away caves, shacks and old settlements give a huge and varied landscape for you to explore. Get high enough, such as the top of a transmitting propaganda tower or at the helm of a glider or mini-helicopter, and the views are stunning. Animals roam naturally around the place, ready to attack or be attacked. Random skirmishes pop up around the place, letting you help the good guys out in order to improve your karma, and there are hundreds of herbs and plants to find in order to craft the various things you’ll need to improve your health, focus or other aspects of yourself. You can spend so long just exploring and helping out random people it’s easy to get 10 hours into the game and barely spare a thought for the storyline. Hunting animals is one of the more fun resource-gathering possibilities though, with some running away at first contact and others grouping together and charging at you. Some animals such as the eagles will occasionally just take a disliking to you, either due to an enemy’s animal mind control or just because it doesn’t like the cut of your jib, which can be immensely frustrating but also adds an edge to your aimless wandering. Even if there’s nothing on the horizon, the danger from above is always there.
As for the story, it’s a decent adventure that doesn’t set anything alight but keeps the game ticking over nicely. Along the way you have to choose whether to complete some missions for Sabal or Amita, the two other main characters through the game. While each choice seems to only offer a different mission depending on your choice, later stages of the game are shaped around those decisions and bring all of the previous events together in a subtle, but clever way. It’s not a story that’ll be challenging the likes of The Last of Us for any awards, but it does its job well enough and keeps things alive despite all of the hours spent doing things away from the main campaign. There are several other characters you’ll come across through the game too including Willis from Far Cry 3 and Longinus, a religious bod who gives you plenty of chances to listen to his preaching. Those who give the co-op missions a go with a friend will also see Hurk being played by them, but he also offers up some single player missions which seem to be more of a novelty but are very cool and very much worth playing when you get the chance. But spend enough time wandering around and you’ll be bumping into new people quite often, each with their own favours to ask and missions to complete. Had enough with people? Fine, go and find an elephant and ride it around the place, stamping on enemies and tipping over their cars. Awesome. They are, like all of the animals, fantastically designed too, and give the most real feeling to a game I think I’ve ever experienced. It didn’t make me want to hunt them any less, but killing an animal with a bow or throwing knife does give a bonus of a double skin, pelt or whatever which adds a nice stealthy dimension to your destruction.
And that stealth carries through into the combat, which mixes up loud gun fights with some quiet, sneaky stabbing action. While the weapons feel good and natural to use, and make the louder battles very enjoyable, it’s the stealth which (as with Far Cry 3) offers the greater challenge and chance of success. You can still throw rocks around to distract enemies, and you can still use your binoculars to tag bad guys and animals to track them while moving around, but you can also now throw those lumps of animal meat which you’ve been picking up. The main idea behind this is to tempt a nearby animal into the area, and there’s not much more satisfying that clearing out a group of bad guys by sending in a vicious creature to do the work for you. You can, if the setup is right, also release angry animals from their cages by shooting the cage open, which will either cause a huge diversion to allow your stealthy tactics to shine through or just go and obliterate everyone in the area.
And a huge chunk of this can be played co-op with a friend. While the main campaign isn’t available, you can roam wherever you want, clear out fortresses and generally have a laugh together. There’s a limit to how far apart you can go, presumably to stop two players ending up 30 miles away from each other and being no help at all, and the rewards for doing stuff in co-op mode are quite weak, but it’s an excellent addition and one well worth exploring if you’ve got a mate with the game. For those looking for something more competitive though, the 5v5 online modes offer the standard set of multiplayer games, dressed up in Far Cry’s clothing. They’re good fun to play and are a nice diversion, but I didn’t find them to hold a huge reason to keep going back over the main campaign.
So Far Cry 4 is pretty much what we’d hoped it would be. The story could be stronger, and if Ubisoft are going to offer the choice of who to help then it’d be good to see a stronger result later down the line, but generally it’s a decent tale being told. But let’s not lose sight of everything that’s great about Far Cry 4. If you liked Far Cry 3 then this will be fantastic for you; it’s similar enough to feel familiar, but with enough additions and changes to make it a worthwhile entry into the series. It looks incredible, there’s an absurd amount of things to do and you can do a lot of it with a friend. The benefits outweigh the problems considerably, and as such it’s impossible not to recommend.
And there’s elephants.
What’s not to like?
Reviewed on PS4