It was late in the year of 2012 when Ubisoft unleashed Far Cry 3 upon the world and changed its flawed but ambitious game series into a heavy hitter franchise that became synonymous with the concept of open-world first person shooter.
Now, barely two years past its release, Ubisoft Montreal brings forth another entry to its franchise with the aptly named title; Far Cry 4.
Does the new game offer enough changes to warrant a sequel or is it just retreading old ground?
In Far Cry 4’s case, it is a mixture of both.
Every game in the Far Cry franchise puts the players in the boots of a foreigner who finds himself in a strange, war torn land and Far Cry 4 is no different.
Far Cry 4’s narrative follows Ajay Ghale, an American raised expatriate who ventures into Himalayan lands to scatter his mother’s ashes.
Once there, he discovers his link with the land of Kyrat and becomes caught in a civil war between the rebellious Golden Path and the royal army of the self-appointed king; Pagan Min.
Told through story missions and interactions with side characters and NPCs, Ajay’s story progression mirrors the formula present in the previous iteration of Far Cry.
Where the game differs from Far Cry 3’s narrative formula is in players’ ability to decide the direction of the Golden Path rebel group.
As the story progresses Ajay comes across multiple forks in the road where he is able to side with Sabal or Amita, who represent differing ideologies of the Golden Path leaders, each with its merits and demerits making the process less black and white.
While Far Cry 4 has its share of eccentric personalities, most characters are more grounded than what was present in Far Cry 3, this includes the main protagonist as Ajay is far mellower and less talkative than Jason Brody was in the previous game.
Though some might prefer wackier interactions in their sandbox FPS experience, the change in approach seems to be for the better as a quitter protagonist and interesting yet saner NPC interactions make the experience that much more believable and hence a more immersive experience.
Far Cry 4 also has better narrative pacing than Far Cry 3.
Unlike the previous game where, in contradiction with its gameplay style, the story almost always had a sense of urgency between one mission to the next, Far Cry 4’s mission’s plot compliments the exploratory nature of the environment and gameplay that is the staple of the franchise.
Speaking of which, Far Cry 4 upholds all that worked in the previous game and adds very few changes to the formula.
The game is still an open world sandbox action adventure that performs a balancing act between stealth and all out blockbuster action.
Players are able to traverse the, much more vertical, land of Kyrat on foot using grappling hooks to climb and swing or by utilizing vehicles like buggies, trucks and rickshaws on land, boats and hovercrafts on water and gyrocopters, gliders and wingsuits in the air.
Far Cry 4 allows players to equip weapons and engage in shootouts while driving and if a waypoint is selected there is an extra option of selecting auto-driving for land based vehicles which allows one to take in the scenery or focus exclusively on combat.
Progression takes the same path from Far Cry 3 where taking down propaganda towers removes the fog from the map and opens up some side missions and weapons, while taking down outposts unlocks new safe houses and quests.
Though in Far Cry 4, players have the ability to reset outposts so that they can revisit them if they so choose.
Aside from these normal missions, Far Cry 4 also allows change of pace by venturing into the surreal sacred realm of Shangri-La, a land soaked in vibrant colors of gold and red, where players can engage with the encroaching demons by utilizing their pet albino tiger.
In the earthly realm, the game offers the usual variety of general, armored and melee focused enemies with the addition of Hunters who are more stealth focused baddies.
There is a huge variety of customizable weapons and ammunition for players to utilize against these enemies with a notable addition of the ability to stick explosives to vehicles, buildings and creatures and cause all sorts of chaos and commotion in the enemy outposts.
Furthermore, players now have the ability to lure predators to attack enemy groups as well as the novel ability to ride the giant and powerful elephants, rampaging through enemy compounds.
This ability is part of the newly streamlined skill tree progression where the Crane, Shark and Spider trees from Far Cry 3 are replaced by Path of the Tiger and Elephant.
As with the previous games, XP gained through completing various objectives can be spent in increasing your skills that can benefit your stealth takedowns, movement, health and other aspects of gameplay.
Crafting returns with a more expansive list of items that can be formed and upgraded through hunting various indigenous flora and fauna across the land of Kyrat.
Not only do such slew of options and abilities allow for players to utilize unlimited permutations and combinations of strategies to tackle the myriad of single player missions but also employ them while pairing up with an online buddy to double the fun.
Unlike the separate co-op section in Far Cry 3, co-op in Far Cry 4 is seamlessly integrated into the main game, where players can invite a friend to help them out with just a press of the D-pad.
While the main story missions are not available during co-op sessions, almost everything else in the game is.
Players can liberate towers and outposts, conduct side missions, go hunting for animals or just explore the world as long as they stay within the huge 150 meter radius of each other.
What’s more, Far Cry 4 allows its owners to get 10 codes that can be given to friends who don’t own the game and enable them to join in on the co-op fun.
Although lonely gamers need not worry as Far Cry 4 has an offline alternative to online co-op in the shape of recruitable A.I. mercenaries that can be called on to assist in any missions that can be accomplished in online co-op mode.
However this ability cannot be infinitely exploited as the mercenaries can only be recruited for the price of Karma Tokens which can be earned by helping out these rebel mercs in randomly generated skirmishes.
On top of all this, Far Cry 4 also offers a separate Arena mode which features gladiatorial missions that can be played through 3 modes; Battles, Endless and Weapon Challenges.
This impressive variety of gameplay options available in Far Cry 4 is equality matched by how the developers have expertly realized the land of Kyrat.
Unlike the African jungles and Pacific islands the previous games, Far Cry 4 leaves the tropical setting behind in favor of an open world filled with a kind of exotic scenery not usually employed in games.
The geography, the structures, the animals and the imagery bring a sense of road less traveled in this medium and definitely hearkens back to the later parts of Uncharted 2.
Far Cry 4’s gorgeous environments perfectly capture the feel of the Himalayan lands with the locations exuding the native ethos of northern areas of Pakistan, India and Nepal.
These snow filled lands look nothing like the western themed towns shown in games like Skyrim and Oblivion but evoke the uniqueness of eastern cultures.
Not only is the fictional state of Kyrat huge in scale featuring an impressive draw distance but is far more densely populated with different places, creatures and activities than any of the previous games in the series.
And while Far Cry 4’s visuals amaze the senses, its sound design does an equally impressive job in recapturing the feel of northern culture.
The game features a stellar soundtrack which mixes tablas, flutes and chimes with modern instruments and also features some local tunes that can be heard on the radios.
There is also great voice acting present in Far Cry 4 where the native accents are surprisingly evocative of the local speech patterns without getting campy and racist in execution.
Along with the impressive production values in the presentation and gameplay variety of the game’s campaign, Far Cry 4 also includes five on five competitive multiplayer missions that retain the sandbox structure of the singleplayer and co-op component.
Instead of a cookie cutter PvP, Far Cry 4 offers a unique twist to its competitive multiplayer, called Battle for Kyrat, where the choice of factions not only changes the aesthetics of characters but also their play styles.
Whereas the Golden Path rebels employ the modern brute gunplay, the Rakshasa army faction has the ability to employ animals and mystical elements into their combat strategy.
On the downside, whereas Far Cry 4 does continue the series tradition of including map editor, at the time of the review, the game does not allow customized maps to be utilized for competitive multiplayer.
However map editor can be utilized to allow players to make customized missions ranging from Assault and Outpost missions to Hunting and Extraction assignments.
These PvP scenarios along with the co-op options, side-missions, unlockable weapons and collectables offer an inexhaustible amount of content for the players of Far Cry 4 to enjoy.
Even the 15-20 hour main story campaign offers incentives for replayability by offering branching paths and multiple endings, one of which is a very clever play on player’s ability to realize that they automatically follow gaming tropes.
The only thing that might detract some people from replaying the campaign is if they end up missing the zany and wackiness of Far Cry 3 far more than the immersiveness begotten from the more grounded approach of Far Cry 4. And while that subjective aspect might be an issue for some it would be a positive for others.
On the whole Far Cry 4 is an impressive undertaking that while not much different from Far Cry 3, still manages to freshen up the experience through the expertly constructed change in scenery, and little changes to made gameplay elements that elevate it as the new yardstick in the open-world first person market.
With the addition of simple things like auto-drive, sticky explosives and baiting predator animals, Far Cry 4 adds a whole new depth to the strategies available in its sand box, which adds to the already astounding diversity of opportunities for free-form adventure and combat found in the previous games in the series.
There are also changes to the series’ multiplayer formula in shape of full world 2 player co-op and competitive multiplayer factors, each with different gameplay styles.
While Far Cry 4 does not make any revolutionary visual upgrades from the previous games, the game is able to marvelously utilize its Dunia engine to create a breathtakingly beautiful vista of the Himalayan land of Kyrat.
Along with the staple booms and bangs of modern combat, Far Cry 4 offers an amazing sound design that contains mix of modern instruments and the music reminiscent of the local Indian tunes.
The game also features great voice acting from the main characters as well as the NPCs where every native character speaks with a slight Indian accent which maintains balance by remaining distinctive without becoming kitsch and campy.
From the visuals of pristine land and the architecture that populates it to the choice of music and the native accents, Far Cry 4 manages to capture the essence of the indigenous cultures of Himalayan areas of Pakistan, India and Nepal.
The inclusion of bright powder orange, pinks and blues in the menu transitions and allusions to ancient Buddhist ethos and myths makes the whole package unique and totally distinguishable from tribal sensibilities of the previous games.
A 15+ hour campaign with slew of side missions, collectibles, crafting opportunities, competitive and co-op multiplayer and the ability to customize maps and missions make Far Cry 4 an experience that allows players to enjoy it for hours on end.
A little less wacky and more grounded than its predecessor, Far Cry 4 does not offer any groundbreaking changes that would attract detractors of the previous games, however it manages to add some depth and freshness to the formula allowing it to sustain the Far Cry series’ dominance over the open-world FPS genre