Main Course: Far Cry 4 review – creatively destructive

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About three hours into Far Cry 4’s campaign I decided to climb some towers and reveal more of my map. This was a chore I had been avoiding since the first obligatory tower. I hopped into a buzzer – the game’s lightweight helicopter – and flew to the nearest tower which sat half way up a mountain, surrounded by lush trees.

I ditched the buzzer on an out‑of‑sight cliff a short distance from the patrolling guards, and proceeded to grapple nearer to the tower. Plan A was to throw some bait near my enemies so that a bear or snow leopard would clear out the area for me, but the game politely prompted me that no animal was interested in the bait. Plan B was to sniper my enemies from afar and stealthily pick off any stragglers. From my position I could only see one guard, so I took him out before edging closer with bow and arrow in hand.

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Gotta climb ’em all

I took shelter in a nearby bush and aimed my bow’s crosshair at the unsuspecting head of a nearby guard. Before I had the chance to shoot, I heard a grunt and squeak from behind and was suddenly attacked. I turned around to see a disgruntled boar head-butting my legs. Whether it was of poor self-control or lack of forethought, I quickly ran backwards, recklessly firing arrows at the boar.

I missed. About five arrows wasted. I quickly equipped an assault rifle, but by then was being shot from behind. Due to the considerable amount of health I had lost, I left the disgruntled boar on the backburner and faced the more immediate danger. I shot the guards swiftly and cleanly, but a Molotov cocktail was already hurtling towards me.

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Mmm, vista

I ran in circles, somewhat disorientated, pressing the heal button to stop the fire that had consumed my body. I abandoned the healing process and decided to equip my assault rifle again. It was too late, the boar was hurtling shuffling towards me for one final blow.

And that was that. Taken down by a glorified pig.

*

To its strength and weakness, Far Cry 4 is a vast playground with an extensive set of tools to explore or destroy it. This makes for an unpredictable environment that can affect and frustrate the player at anytime.

The tools to explore Kyrat includes the aforementioned buzzer, along with a selection of cars and boats, wingsuit, parachute, paraglider and grappling hook. The latter is a great tool to traverse the hills and mountains of Kyrat by using grapple points. Though the grapple points are ample, this design choice somewhat limits the use of the grapple. It would be interesting to see the grapple return in future iterations as a tool to use anywhere, or even as a weapon. Just Cause has proved that such a mechanic can be very successful.

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The wildlife is the true star of Far Cry 4…

Kyrat excels as a dangerous land with potential threat lurking around every corner; rhinos in particular are a deadly foe that require some impressive firepower to dispose of. This can be used to your advantage. If skilled enough, you can lead a rhino into an enemy camp to unleash all sorts of hell. The game proactively encourages such creative destruction, with minor animal set pieces being a favoured design choice. However, playing with a more off-the-cuff manner is much more satisfying, as you can use the local wildlife for distraction or destruction. It certainly helps, as Kyrat is very monotonous, though very good looking; what you do to the environment should make it memorable if the gorgeous palette on offer does not.

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Seriously, look at that fur!

Kyrat is very large, which may worsen the issue of variety. For example, I hadn’t realised that there were crocodiles in the game until the last hour of the campaign. They are understandably intended to be quite rare, but I nearly missed them completely.

The open nature of the game also makes it very easy to be overwhelmed or flanked by potential danger, and some players may find this freedom too chaotic. For others, particularly those bored of corridor shooters, Far Cry 4 is a dream.

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The scenery is impressive, but not as impressive as the font direction

*

Far Cry 4 sees Ajay Ghale visit his birthplace, Kyrat, to return his mother’s ashes to Lakshmana, as was her dying wish. However, his mother, Ishwari, forgot to tell you precisely where Lakshmana could be located, so Ajay spends the next 15 hours killing an army of people to find it.

On the surface, Far Cry 4 is about the conflict between a rebel army and a crazed dictator, Pagan Min. Underneath that, it is concerned with the conflict between tradition and progress, a conflict that is embodied by the two characters Amita and Sabal, who Ajay spends most of his time running errands for. Amita’s missions favour progress and the eradication of Pagan Min at any cost, while Sabal’s favour tradition and the safety of his people. The choice is up to you which one is favoured.

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Amita

Each character reacts to your choice, explaining the consequences of your actions. Your actions are also interlinked with Kryat’s other inhabitants; one choice was whether to destroy or take control of a poppy factory and field which can be used for medicine but also pose a potential threat to society as a harmful drug. I usually chose Amita’s missions – she is fiery character all too missed in video games, how could I not? – but about an hour before this decision I had overheard a villager mourn the deadly effect of poppies on Kyrat and his cattle. His lament struck a nerve with me, so I sided with Sabal for this villager’s sake. It’s great to see a AAA game using a random encounter to illicit empathy that later influenced my play choice.

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Of course, the token character is the antagonist Pagan Min, an over flamboyant dictator in a pink suit. He welcomes Ajay to Kyrat and swiftly introduces the violence that Ajay is set to encounter through his journey. Pagan’s madness is cartoonish; he is a character that is only viable in movies, comics and videogames. Over the course of the game, aside from about five encounters with Pagan, he is largely physically absent. Pagan is mostly reduced to a legend that the characters use to prompt their actions; they mostly curse his Kyrat. Otherwise, Pagan keeps in contact with Ajay through radio calls, often critiquing your latest triumphs. His calls are a comedic delight and the voice detached from the ridiculous body highlights his great and surprisingly intellectual presence. Though I wanted to dismiss Ubisoft’s latest cheap villain, they have succeeded with Pagan, choosing a rather high-concept villain and rolling with it.

There are two radio hosts that have a lasting presence in the game: one being an official broadcast read in a strict female voice that always concludes with ‘May Pagan’s light shine upon you all’; the other is a charismatic yet annoying joker who derides Pagan at any opportunity. Both act as propaganda, and both are simple but effective in getting across the conflict between Pagan’s followers and enemies.

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What Far Cry 4 does great is use side characters to further immortalise the nature of Ajay and Pagan; it becomes apparent that Ajay can actually be a bit of a dick, showing extreme patience for some and an instantly rude attitude for others with little reason.

The game isn’t afraid to let Ajay’s enemies say what they think of him either, which is much more effective because of his enemies’ just arguments. Generally, when killing a member of Pagan’s army, their dying words can be as haunting as, ‘You’re a plague, Ghale’, or a simple, ‘Fuck you, Ghale’. This is personal. Being called a plague is accurate too, as Ajay is a stranger to the land who has caused nothing but violence and suffering, and embodied calamity.

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De Pleur in action

Paul ‘De Pleur’ Harmon is another over‑the‑top character as an American torturer who is a sweet and loving father. He is only redeemed by knowing and accepting this and calling out Ajay’s hypocritical actions. He attacks Ajay’s lack of care and knowledge of Kyrat and its people, and claims that Ajay chooses to kill without question when told to do so. It’s a technique often used in recent videogames, and seen in Ubisoft’s recent Assassin Creed entries, but here it fits perfectly with the entire ludicrous story and actions that Ajay commits.

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Things can get very silly in Kyrat

*

Far Cry 4 is gorgeous and mechanically satisfying, but it is not without its flaws. The ever present finicky context‑sensitive buttons rears its ugly head, often when climbing. A few glitches plague the gameplay elsewhere, with some level‑breaking bugs that appear to affect the minority of players. I came across one during the first section of the City of Pain mission, that start of which I perfectly cleared in a stealthy manner, only to reach the back of a truck I was to infiltrate and discover an invisible wall preventing me from getting in to the truck.  The context-sensitive button would not prompt me to get in. I spent ten minutes trying to find a way into the van before restarting the mission. It’s a minor issue, but annoying all the same.

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This popped up a lot

The game prompts you about things to do in Kyrat a lot, so much that it brings you out of the whole experience. This is something I have experienced with Assassin’s Creed too. I must have read the prompt about the ‘Karma’ mechanic about 30 times through the campaign. I also experienced a few radio voiceovers – that act as minor news updates – that were out of sync with my timeline in the campaign. One example regarded Sabal being favoured by the people of Kyrat, despite the fact I had mostly chosen Amita’s mission and recently killed Sabal. In regards to coherent storytelling this is a massive no‑no.

*

There’s certainly something great about Far Cry and it is currently the shinning jewel in Ubisoft’s ever-corroding crown. It has less issues than Assassin’s Creed, a better story line than The Crew and, more importantly, is a very good game in its own right. In an era when first-person shooters sorely lack character and the disappointment of AAAs like Destiny is ever prevalent, here is a game that encourages a creative destruction that can’t be found in other games. It’s gorgeous, fun, easy to play and hard to put down.

Rare

Rare – Full of flavour and worth the blood.

Please consult the rating guide.

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