Ubisoft has saved their best open-world action game for last.
Kyrat is probably the angriest place on the planet. Everything wants to kill you, from the people you meet to the animals that roam around the grasslands, from the birds that fly above you in the sky, to the fish that swim in the sea. Even the landscape has it in for you at times. If it walks - and even if it doesn't - it probably wants you dead, save perhaps for a few friendly NPCs that hand you quests or sell you things.
Moving around the world is almost akin to being harassed. It's a constant stress, and you can't get far without something attacking you or trying to get your attention. There's never a moment's peace, either a pack of wolves are tearing away at your backside as you run like hell, or there's an enemy convoy that needs to be destroyed in double quick time. The map is littered with a huge range of activities, so much so that it's almost overwhelming. Most of it is decent content, but as with most games of this type (and, in particular, from this publisher), it can feel a little bloated, there's almost too much to do and it can get distracting.
The story, in true Far Cry style, fuses elements of revenge, local politics, and psychedelic set pieces that are underpinned by lots and lots of brutal violence. It's held together by your quest to topple over-the-top villain Pagan Min and his henchmen. From the pink suit to the British accent, it feels like Ubisoft tried a little bit too hard, like they were trying to better Vaas from Far Cry 3, but by going all-in they ultimately failed. He's a solid enough foil, but instead of being edgy, there's just a touch too much cliché.
Bringing down the corrupt dictator involves taking up arms in conjunction with the local freedom fighters, The Golden Path. The new setting feeds nicely into the various challenges on the map, and there's less of a disconnect with some of the activities than there was in the last game, where going off on side-quests would sit at odds with the immediacy of the story. Here it makes more sense to immerse yourself in the wider world, helping your comrades with their less-important goals. There's two influential voices within The Golden Path, and you'll be asked to pick sides at regular intervals as the story progresses. Depending which way you go there's different content, and your allegiance will have consequences one way or another.
This is an ad:
The campaign takes you through a variety of different mission types, ranging from stealth incursions behind enemy lines, to the trippy dream sequences that the series is known for. For the most part the quality is good, and the same can be said for the side quests you pick up as you go. There's so much to do and see; this world has been fully stocked with distractions and diversions. There's the main story that'll take fifteen or so hours to complete, and then a good number of additional character missions to tackle. Beyond that there's emergent incidents you encounter en route to wherever it is you're going, and you can always just make your own fun. It's not an overstatement to say that there's potentially dozens and dozens of hours of game to play here.
Kyrat itself is mountainous and therefore a little harder to navigate than previous environments from the series. The new driving controls don't feel as natural as the old (though you can revert them back if, like us, you can't get used to reversing with just one analog stick), and walls of rock must be scaled using climbing gear, which changes the pace a little. It does, however, look fantastic, once again Ubisoft has made a hugely detailed sandbox for us to play in, and they've decorated it well. There's so much to see, and from time to time there's a vista to take your breath away and steal you away from all the murder. That said, after a while the lustre comes off a little; it's just not as colourful or lush as the island paradise that starred in Far Cry 3.
The series staples are all included, there's towers to climb, outposts to capture, wildlife to kill (and subsequently craft with - you have to find so many different species that you end up feeling like a one man abattoir), and a plethora of side-quests, errands and challenges for players to busy themselves with that are tucked away in hidden places. There's new region-specific vehicles that have been added to the mix, to compliment the return of options such as gliders and more standard cars and trucks. Our favourite was definitely the gyrocopter, though the tuk-tuk was also an enjoyable addition.
There's also a huge range of weapons for players to find, use, and customise, which means that there's a wealth of options when taking on the enemy. The gunplay is frantic, visceral, and the combat mechanics have been well executed. Once again the bow returns (we absolutely loved it in the last game), and once it again it has a transformative effect: when you wield it you feel like a hunter. The AI you come up against doesn't do anything too stupid, and there's different enemy types that require a slight shift in tactics. Throw in the local wildlife to the mix - and they regularly get involved - and you've got a huge range of factors working together to keep things constantly fresh.
There's much more to Far Cry 4 than just solo pursuits. There's a map editor where players can create challenge maps for each other, and the offerings we tried were decent. It's hard to review player-generated missions, but it's worth noting that there will be a steady stream of new content available to players, and for more creative types, there's the opportunity to make some interesting levels. Sadly the editor will not support the creation of multiplayer maps (for now at least).
Then there's the multiplayer modes, both competitive and co-operative. We played a few competitive games, and they're asymmetrical in nature, with one team armed with guns, and the other slinging arrows around the battlefield. The narrative grounding of the multiplayer revolves around the rise to power of antagonist Pagan Min, with events set years before the arrival of Ajay Ghale and the beginning of the story proper. We'll have to play more before we can say whether it's really good or not, because at the time of writing we're playing on underpopulated servers. However, there's potential here for sure.
This is an ad:
The other main mode is the co-op option, whereby one player stays as protagonist Ajay, and the second player is invited into the game world as the character, Hurk. There's great fun to be had when playing as a pair, and there's even some content that can be tackled alone, but that has been designed with co-op play in mind, such is the level of challenge. It's also a nice touch that the second player, despite playing as a different character, still gets to keep their gear from their own game (unless, of course, they're playing on PS4 and taking advantage of the Keys of Kyrat promotion that lets the second player try the game before they buy it).
Overall it's a great return for the series. There's a lot of similarities between this and its predecessor, although we're not sure that we prefer this new setting over the last. There's something less enticing about the game world, and while we find it hard to find too much to fault in the scale and spectacle of the whole thing, it perhaps lacks the same wow factor as the superb Far Cry 3, despite being released on the new generation of consoles.
So there's a couple of marks against; frustrating respawn points, the odd glitch (they appear more frequently when playing in the co-op mode), some needless difficulty spikes, and the local wildlife is ridiculously tricky to kill. But none of this is enough to drag the score down, because there's enough going on elsewhere for these to be minor inconveniences. Far Cry 4 is a huge and ambitious open-world shooter, and one of the better games of 2014.
9 / 10
Huge world with plenty to do, interesting story that feeds into the setting, great combat mechanics.
Perhaps Pagan Min is a little bit over the top, a couple of minor technical glitches, some difficulty spikes.