Open world games have a really difficult balance to achieve. Filling a giant sandbox with enough, but not too many, toys for the world to not bore the player and giving a story that gets the player to keep invested enough that they keep driving forward instead of just playing with the toys. Most games don’t get either really right. They overfill the world hoping it will distract from the bad and under cook the story or overstuff the story with drivel and present a nearly empty world that’s just there to pad the time it takes to get from point A to point P. Ubisoft has long tinkered with open games in all of their biggest franchises. There’s little doubt that Ubi always gets at least half the formula right. You can always count on them offering great sandboxes but they rarely giving a story that’s worth the time despite glimmers of something better along the way. They’d almost gotten the balance perfect in Far Cry 3, giving a strong and compelling story that was driven by an interesting plot and one of the best villains in gaming’s recent history- then they toss you on another island to start all over again but this time without the antagonist, more mystical bullshit and no new twists or wrinkles just more of the same you just spent 10 hours doing. So close, Far Cry 3… maybe your sequel will fix this.
Ajay Ghale returns to the country of his birth, Kyrat, to scatter his recently deceased mother’s ashes. The majestic Himalayan nation has been locked in a twenty year civil war. The current regime of Pagan Min has been brutal but the Golden Path rebellion has stagnated and is close to breaking down completely. Ajay, it just so happens, is the son of the Golden Path’s first leader and is just the emblem that they need to breathe life back into their movement. By that I mean “They want Ajay to do all the work and single handedly take down the whole of Min’s regime because they are all pretty damn worthless”.
The story’s biggest problem, despite bonus points for not doing the whole Great White Hope that pretty much every other shooter does, is that there is no reason to care if the Golden Path succeed. Yeah, Pagan is a bastard and gleefully tells you about it himself, not nearly often enough by the way, but that doesn’t make either of the leaders of the Golden Path, Sabal and Amita, any better or make their struggle any more compelling. One is a religious nut who wants to make the country a theocracy lead by himself with his youngest sister as a living goddess figure head, the other talks about progress but is really planning an even more brutal regime complete with child soldiers and ethnic cleansings. The game all but lights a neon sign signifying these outcomes in the first act. There’s no reason to fight this war and even for how bad Pagan is said to be- he often feel like the best option of the three but he’s not one that you can take. The supporting characters are even worse. A pair of inane English chasing the greatest high and repeatedly drug Ajay… yet for reasons that are inexplicable the game does not allow you to shoot them in the face after the first time. A woman who claims to be a pawn of Min because her family has LONG been held captive by one of his lieutenants- a character that’s so incredibly stupid to think they were still alive that instead of compelling tragedy it is just eye-rolling. A vicious mercenary with a wife and kids back home who have no idea of his double life (we’re lead to believe anyway…). The most psychotic DJ this side of Vice City. These examples COULD work but we aren’t given nearly enough time with any of them. The villains are too easy to get to and only appear for a scene or two, the others just aren’t compelling enough to be bothered with. Then there’s Pagan Min. Ubi’s Far Cry team can do villains. The charismatic king is the highlight of the game, just like Vaas before him, Pagan is really the driving force and real emotional heart of the story. Pagan is a villain worth hating but also so incredibly compelling. He is a vibrant flamboyant monster that is also ultimately sympathetic and human.
Pagan is voiced by Troy Baker, this guy has yet to disappoint. His performances are always worth at least a rent for and Pagan is easily his best to date. The rest of the cast do great jobs and try desperately to lift their parts out of the stench of the script. Player character Ajay Ghales is voiced by Ubisoft veteran voice actor James A. Woods who has done voices in Ubisoft titles since 2010, just isn’t given much to say. Lost’s Naveen Andrews gives Sabal the right sound of conviction and a charisma that his words do not hold. Janina Gavankar’s Amita holds her own against Andrews. The rest are simply there, competent but nothing memorable. Not that this is on the actors in anyway, they do the best they can with what they are given.
Far Cry 4’s world is amazing. Kyrat is a great living sandbox. The terrain is brimming with wildlife and patrols. There’s rarely a dull moment as you traverse it, constantly coming across someone who needs a hand in a firefight or a rescue from an animal attack or a convoy to hijack. Hunting, side quests, liberating outposts and just wandering the countryside is simply so much more fun than the story missions that many many hours will be lost to them without a passing thought to continuing the story’s forward progress. Even more when playing in co-op. The inanity is cranked to another level that needs to be experienced. Unfortunately the co-op isn’t really an organic experience in game. Instead of being given the option to drop in or drop out when playing, you have to make the choice at the start of each session and if there’s any problem with the connection you get kicked back to the main menu.
The open approaches given to you are much like previous titles in the series. Every hunting ground offers hiding places you can toss bait from and wait or you can casually walk around until stumbling on your prey. Every outpost have a hill near it for you to set up a sniping camp if that’s what you want, each also has a temptingly open gate that you can charge though firing wildly the whole time and a hole in the fence that you can slip through to stealth kill everyone inside.
Shooting mechanics here are among the best. Each weapon feels different, even within their type, which makes the choices more interesting and reliant on playstyle. Driving most vehicles is still a loose and annoying experience. Thankfully there is a new auto-drive feature that allows AI to take over steering so you can focus on what’s really important- firing grenades out your broken windshield at everything you pass. To make up for the annoyance of cars is the best new feature, Buzzers. These light small gyrocopters are the only way to get around for some free exploration. What about on foot, you ask? Besides running Far Cry 4 gives you a grappling hook. This is a common navigational item in games these days but rarely are they as good as they are here. Instead of just being a way to get up a peak or down into a cave, here you can Tarzan your way to small ledges holding loot or swing your co-op partner up to blast a passing helicopter pilot in the face.
Far Cry 4 is really just more of the same. There is nothing wrong with that. Giving a better tuned experience that is just great fun to explore. Yes, the story and characters could be much better. That’s not really what any of us come to these titles for. For open mayhem there’s not many options out there on par with it.
Far Cry 4- 8/10