Available on PS4 (tested), Xbox One and PC
Ubisoft has definitely got a theme this year and it’s one of choice. Assassin’s Creed Unity introduced open-world assassination missions so you can choose how to approach your target, while Watch Dogs put a tonne of hacking gadgets at your disposal and let you decide which ones to use. Then there’s the huge open world racer The Crew due out in early December.
That theme of choice pervades Far Cry 4, too, which is apt given the series has always had a strong sense of exploration, freedom and choice. But Far Cry 4 takes this freedom to another level within the storyline itself.
Far Cry 4 sees you play as Ajay Ghale, a young man returning to his homeland of Kyrat with one mission – to scatter his recently deceased mother’s ashes. As you’ll know from the various trailers though, Ajay’s arrival into Kyrat doesn’t go quite as planned thanks to the country’s tyrannical King, Pagan Min.
Of course, the main aim throughout the game is to get back to Pagan Min, who sadly features very little throughout the game despite him being one of the strongest characters.
Instead, you’ll find yourself caught between Amita and Sabal, the two leaders of the rebellion, The Golden Path. Here’s where the choice part comes in. At key points during the campaign, you’ll have to decide whether to side with Amita, who tends to be the more modern of the two, or Sabal, who is more concerned with the history and traditions of Kyrat.
The choice you make affect the immediate missions. For example, one choice might mean deciding between gathering intel from Pagan’s men for Amita or protecting some of your soldiers in one of Kyrat’s villages for Sabal. However, it initially feels like your choices only affect that one mission. Once you’ve chosen one side or the other, the next Golden Path mission will be the other leader giving you the guilt trip and then it’s over.
But as you continue through the campaign, you start to see that your decisions have slightly larger consequences. Don’t expect storyline ripples a la Mass Effect, but at the end, the finale plays out the way it does because of the decisions you’ve made in the closing missions.
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Although the main Golden Path missions will mainly see you completing tasks for Amita, Sabal or another lady called Noore, you will meet some other characters during your Far Cry 4 story.
One of those will be a familiar face for those of you who played Far Cry 3 – Willis. The undercover CIA agent makes a return in Far Cry 4 to give Ajay some information about his family and he has the majority of the mountaintop Himalayan missions to gift you.
There’s also Longinus, who is a religious nut trying to atone for his sins by collecting blood diamonds from Pagan’s men. He definitely means well, but his extended spouting of bible literature makes you wish Far Cry 4 had skippable cutscenes. Thankfully, he only crops up in four missions, but we advise popping to get a cup of tea while he harps on.
You’ve also got Hurk missions. Hurk is the guy your pal will play as in the co-op sections, but you can also do some missions for him within the single-player campaign. He has a bizarre sense of humour and a rather irritating voice, but his missions are extremely fun – especially when you get to go mad with a pneumatic stake.
Often The Golden Path missions aren’t available for a time. This forces you to pick up some of the side missions. That is particularly true for the Yogi and Reggie side quests that see you embark on some drug-fuelled adventure that will have Kyrat radiating in psycadelic colours before your eyes as statues drop from the sky or enemies spontaneously combust. They’re very trippy and have the best soundtrack, so are worth a laugh or two.
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But even if you don’t fancy picking up a mission at any particular point, there’s always tonnes to do in Far Cry 4. Like all the series previous entries, there are animals to be hunted, gear to craft and enemy outposts to commandeer among plenty of other tasks.
Mimicking Far Cry 3’s crafting system, you’ll need to collect the pelts of Kyrat’s thriving animal population in order to create better items, including weapon holsters, loot bags, ammo pounches and other incredibly useful items.
A useful tip is that if you take down an animal using a bow and arrow or throwing knife, you’ll be rewarded with a “clean kill” alert, offering you two pelts rather than just one and some karma points to boot. With every kill you’ll also grab a little of the animal’s meat as bait, which can be used to force the wildlife to help in your battles, or as a distraction for a larger animal so you can take them down for their skins.
Kyrat is home to a vast array of animals, such as Malayan tapirs, Bengal tigers, bears, rhinos, snow leopards and of course, honey badgers – the devilishly fast, extremely hard to kill but also rather cute looking little beasts. Eagles are surprisingly evil, too. You’ll hear them screech overhead while on one of your many strolls and suddenly one will attack from above. We also saw them kill off a Bharal or two and lift them off into the sky.
Elephants are our favourite addition to the Far Cry series and don’t even think about trying to kill one (in single-player anyway). Once you’ve unlocked the skill, you can ride them and turn them into a powerful weapon. You can ride them to charge at enemies, toppling their vehicles or lifting them up by their legs and smashing them into the ground.
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Skills themselves are split into two different categories, rather than Far Cry 3’s three distinct skill trees. In Far Cry 4 you have the Tiger Skills for attacks, or the Elephant Skills for increased health, more effective syringes and the ability to ride elephants. Skill points are earned by collecting XP throughout the game, which you’ll get for taking down enemies, animals and pretty much doing anything in Far Cry 4.
But there will be times you want to do nothing but explore Kyrat. The India/Tibet inspired landscape looks magnificent, with the Himalayan mountains surrounding you on most sides of the map, their daunting peaks piercing the sky. The south side of Kyrat is lush with greenery and is where you’ll find the majority of the country’s wildlife. The north is far more barren, with snowflakes occasionally floating through the air. You’ll notice that buildings are made from stone rather than wood the more north you go, highlighting that wood is a more abundant material in the south, while the northerners have a lot more stone at their disposal.
We spent a very long time just driving around appreciating the detail that Ubisoft has put into crafting Kyrat and its unique mythologies, history and customs. Part of that is experienced through the Shangri La missions, which are accessed by collecting the scattered parts of a torn up tapestry that have been flung to the four corners of the map.
These missions see you take on the role of one of Ajay’s ancestors, in a world where the rivers run red and demons are trying to take over. You have a rather powerful white tiger as your ally and, armed with a time-manipulating bow, you’re trying to rid Shangri La of the demons and free the spirit bells.
Shangri La is not pushed upon you, as we originally anticipated, but are rather offered as a way of experiencing the back story of Kyrat. Even if you only do one or two of the missions, it’s an interesting way to learn more about the fictional country.
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If Assassin’s Creed Unity is the best cityscape we’ve experienced on PS4 and Xbox One, then Far Cry 4 is easily the most impressive landscape currently available. Just jump in a tuktuk or another vehicle or take to the skies in a Buzzer (or gyrocopter) and allow yourself some time to really see Kyrat and its wildlife.
Kyrat is simply stunning. The animals are the most realistic we’ve seen, to the point that you feel really guilty for killing any of the endangered ones like the Bengal tiger or the Asian rhinos.
It’s the soundscape that also makes this one of the most immersive open world games to date. Not only will you hear eagles overhead, pigs squealing in the villages, bears growling from the dense pines or the roar of an approaching big cat, but Far Cry 4 will fill your ears with the noises of the Indian inspired world. Garlands of bells jingle in the wind; the clunks of the travelling Sherpa trade store can be heard from a good distance; and if you start exploring the game’s atmospheric music starts to kick in. Sometimes you’ll want to just stand and listen it’s that good.
Or you’ll just find yourself searching out the myriad collectibles lurking across the Kyrat map. There’s the normal chests to seek out as well as demon masks, points of interest and there are outposts to be liberated too. Each of those opens up a selection of green mission markers, which come in the form of hunting, escort or other shorter missions to earn you XP and lots of new skills.
Thanks to the new ability to shoot sidearms while driving, there are also some mini-missions to pick up on the road, like taking out couriers or royal trucks. It’s a skill that we’ve long needed in Far Cry games and is invaluable in Kyrat – a world where it can feel like everyone is out to get you.
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Of course, it does help that you can bring in a pal for a bit of co-op every now and then if you want to. You can invite any of your friends to play co-op by holding down on the directional pad, or you can join their game by choosing the "offer help" option.
You’ll need to tackle some of the harder fortresses with a friend anyway, as they’re near impossible on your own unless you’re extremely stealthy and ridiculously patient.
We had a lot of fun just doing what Pagan Min suggests at the beginning of the game – blowing some stuff up. We grabbed a pal, hopped in a gyrocopter and took out an outpost in minutes with a pair of RPG sidearms, catapulting grenades directly into our foes below.
The co-op helps make Kyrat a bit more your own, as you build stories of the experiences you’ve had with friends. You’ll experience some of that on your own of course, especially with the temperamental wildlife, but co-op adds another layer of unpredictability.
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Ubisoft has also introduced a new PvP multiplayer mode called Battles of Kyrat. It’s a round-based multiplayer format that sees you play as either team – the Rakshasha or the Golden Path.
As in the single-player campaign, the Golden Path has gadgets, weapons and vehicles at its disposal. You can kit yourself out with armour or weapon upgrades at the base before you head out, and you can use the radio towers to highlight enemy Rakshasa players on your mini-map. You’re basically playing as a team of Ajays with the Golden Path.
The Rakshasa, on the other hand, are at one with nature. You’re armed with a bow and arrow and a knife, but the animals are your real weapons. Build up a mini kill streak and you’ll unlock the ability to first unlock an eagle to fight for you, and later a bear and a tiger. You can also ride the elephants as you can in the main missions, which are a formidable force in small bases.
There are three different multiplayer modes at the moment. Demon Mask is the Far Cry 4 take on Capture the Flag, where your team must go and collect the Demon Mask from a roaming location and deliver it back to one of two shrines without getting taken out.
Outpost sees the Golden Path try to defend a base, while the Rakshasa must try and take it for themselves. They’ll need to stay in the flag area for the requisite amount of time for the base to be successfully captured.
Finally, there’s Propaganda – our favourite. There are three locations (A, B & C) dotted around the map, which the Rakshasa must try to protect. The Golden Path’s aim is to plant bombs and successfully detonate them before the Rakshasa can disarm them.
It’s all a bit fast and furious in Propaganda as it requires strong teamwork to outmanoeuvre the other team.
In all three modes you’ll need to adapt your play style to the team you’re currently fighting as. There’s no point trying to go in all guns blazing if you’re the Rakshasa. It’s all about using the environment. You can even turn invisible if you stay crouched and move slowly. The Golden Path will only hear the whisperings in the wind to know that you’re somewhere close, allowing you to take them out… if you’re quick with the bow.
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For everything that’s wonderful about Far Cry 4, the game isn’t without its flaws. It feels like Ubisoft has in some ways produced a half baked pudding of a storyline. There’s a hint of player choice and consequence, which is constantly referred to by the characters, but it never really feels that you’ve made a choice that will affect the grand timeline.
The wildlife can also seem unnecessarily aggressive too. It’s fair enough that a rhino catching sight of you might charge at random, but eagles swooping from the sky unprovoked is unrealistic and frankly frustrating at times.
There’s also the fact that Ubisoft has chosen to unnecessarily hide some of the features of Far Cry 4 away, leaving you to figure out some crucial things for yourself. For example, your loot bag is now tucked away inside the Collection tab of the main menu, under loot bag. It’s not easy to find and at no point are you directed towards it. Thus, in the early stages of the game, you might find that tiger you need but your loot bag is too full and you’ve not found the way to chuck useless things away without selling them at trade points.
You also can’t craft health syringes yourself. Instead, Ajay will automatically create one for every two green leaves you harvest. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s a handy trick, especially mid-battle, but you’ll only ever see it explained in loading screen tips if you happen to die, which you will – a lot.
There were also issues with the sound at some points later in the game, where the voice and mouth movements would be out of sync – an irritating bug that really takes you out of the moment.
You’ll struggle to find a game available now that looks or feels as immersive or as beautiful as Far Cry 4. And it’s only games like Assassin’s Creed Unity or Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that can match it in terms of breadth of gameplay. It just feels like the story lets it down in places. Make choices count and give the player real power. Don’t just dangle the carrot.
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