I’d much rather spend dozens of hours exploring Kyrat, starting gunfights, driving C4-loaded jeeps into enemy camps, hunting alligators, bears, dingos, and all manner of wildlife with grenades, battling sharks with AK-47s (no, the sharks don’t have AK-47s), and exploring shipwrecks, underwater caves, and airplane wrecks looking for loot, rather than having to do my daily job. These are some of the amazing things that you will be able to experience during your time within the hermit kingdom of Kyrat in Far Cry 4.
One of the fitting things about the fact that player character Ajay is introduced as such a pampered, useless person is that it explains why he doesn’t initially possess basic murdering skills like knifing enemies to death or sprinting long distances… like a murderer. The RPG progression system, which unlocks those skills and others on the route to becoming an all-growed-up man of action, kind of makes sense in that light.
I scored most of my XP by beating up enemies and taking over their strongholds to liberate the surrounding area. These are only tangentially related to the plot, but the islands are littered with mini-fortresses that, when conquered, give enticing rewards (like such as becoming fast-travel locations) and change the look of the island. Tackling those and tracking down the Assassin’s Creed-like vantage points (which also unlock weapons and goodies) kept me busy enough that the only real motivation I felt to do the story missions at all was to unlock access to another huge island to the south.
Speaking of guns, all of the weapons have a great feel and sense of weight, including (but not limited to) the bow and arrow, the revolver, the AK-47, and the LMG. Unloading a clip into a jeep is a pleasure, and it’s also pretty cool that you’re allowed to customize your loadout how you see fit. So if you want to load up on a variety of assault rifles, go nuts.
The enemy AI manages to put up a fight worthy of the armaments, especially in the later half of the campaign missions when you encounter the tougher and well-armed variety of goons. Regardless of which enemy type you’re fighting, if a firefight breaks out, they’ll try to flank you and won’t be ashamed to call in reinforcements. They also have a good sense of self preservation, and will usually run for cover when under fire. Of course, they’re no geniuses, and are easy to lure into a trap by tossing a rock or two into a pile of leaves.
Animals, on the other hand, have different behaviors based on their species. The more aggressive varieties, like dogs, tigers, and sharks will attack you outright, while passive animals like deer will leave you well enough alone unless provoked — then they’ll either run away or attack you. The best part about all this wildlife is that sometimes, you may find yourself being hunted. One time when I was trying to sneak into an enemy stronghold, a tiger pounced on me out of nowhere, which needless to say completely ruined my element of surprise. Also, it killed me. But as deaths go, that one was awesome.
Even most of the side-quest activities are worth participating in, such as races, solving domestic disputes with the locals, and eliminating groups of bad guys, and they pay pretty well, too. There may only be five or six character models to go around, but these quests give the surrounding areas a good sense of life.
Perhaps my favorite thing to do is gather items for the crafting system. It encouraged me to collect various plant life to create health syringes as well as all-natural performance-enhancing stat boosts, such as one that steadies my aim. Hunting, meanwhile, involves killing and skinning various forms of wildlife and turning their hides into a larger backpack to hold more guns and gear. I easily logged six hours just picking flowers, stalking wildlife, or diving underwater to collect hard-to-find plants. It takes me back to my days of scrounging in Skyrim.
All of that freeform gameplay makes the story missions feel like a bit of an odd duck, because their linear design clashes harshly. I don’t mean to suggest they’re bad missions — some are quite good, like when I had to escape from Pagan Minn or when I snuck into a mercenary stronghold, but they’re stuff of a typical decent single-player FPS.
The real creative highlights in level design are in Ajay’s psychedelic trips. They’re a bit weird, as you’d expect, playing with time, gravity, size, sound, and generally distorting the world around you, it’s something that’s best experienced than actually described; they’re just really, really cool. I also like how these trips blend into the boss battles. I won’t spoil anything, but I found it to be a much more interesting treatment than say, putting a dude in a mech suit or a helicopter.
With so much great stuff to do, to say that Far Cry 4’s multiplayer component is a missed opportunity would be the understatement of the year. After reading what I’ve just described, what comes to mind when you hear “co-op” and “Far Cry 4” in the same sentence? Did you immediately imagine yourself running amok around a huge island sandbox with your best buds? Well, that’s here too, although it is only limited to the side activities, rather than crusading through the main story.
Competitive multiplayer is similarly ho-hum, with typical 18-player Deathmatch on small maps, plus two variants of control point gameplay (Domination and Transmission). Firestorm mode’s the only mode worth much attention — if one team manages to ignite the other’s barrels, it then turns into a fight to control a radio transmitter in the middle of the map. When one side controls it, water is air-dropped to extinguish the flames; the other drops fuel on the fire. Even then, it’s nothing more than a briefly entertaining sideshow to the single-player game.
Trying to organize a multiplayer match with a group of players is also equally frustrating. The Uplay overlay used to chat with other players is incredibly cumbersome, and the non-existent VOIP support doesn’t help matters. Apparently there’s a “push to talk” button, but it’s not listed in the controls.
Basically, I suggest ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating exclusively on the excellent sandbox of the single-player game. When Far Cry 4 invites you to come stay with it for a long vacation, take it up on its offer. This is a great example of how to do an open-world shooter right, and for me it’s been one of the best Ubisoft experiences I have played yet.