‘Far Cry 4’ Review: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Ubisoft knows how to craft an open-world shooter. Far Cry 4 presents fans with a new setting, story and characters while giving them what they love about past games, from outposts to platforming puzzles in the form of towers to satisfying stealth and first-person shooting combat. Even treading familiar ground, Far Cry 4 offers more than enough to make trekking through the fictional country of Kyrat a treat. Dangerous wildlife lurks around every corner, the tyrannical Royal Army is out for blood and it’s up to the reserved and personality-less Ajay Ghale to decide the country’s fate.

The world features a huge assortment of things to do, but the missions set atop the snowy peaks of the Himalayas are particularly entertaining. Wind howls and snow swirls, making traversing the wilderness dangerous and exciting. It was easy to use the blinding environment to my advantage and sneak up on unsuspecting guards. I relished every opportunity to explore the jagged mountaintops because traveling to them was only possible through a handful of missions. As much as I wished each mountain in sight was climbable, that simply wasn’t the case here, and I can’t help feeling that’s a huge waste of potential.

But there’s plenty of beauty to be found in the rest of Kyrat, from the forest to the lakes, though it all starts to run together after a while. No distinct landmarks separate one side of the country from the other, so it’s easy to lose your way, especially considering the play space’s immense size. I spent the first 10 hours of the game in a section of land that made up maybe 15 percent of Kyrat, and as I explored and the map expanded, I realized how huge my virtual sandbox really was. With hidden locations and secret nooks and crannies, there’s certainly plenty to explore.

Besides the question marks on my screen taunting and tantalizing me with their mysteriousness, distractions abound. More than a few times I found myself sidetracked by some interesting random event or quest, even while in the middle of a story-related task. During one mission, I had to travel about a kilometer to a destination, but along the way I killed an enemy courier and looted documents off his body, hijacked an enemy vehicle loaded with supplies and dropped it off at a nearby base, helped fellow rebels in a small firefight and defended an outpost from the Royal Army. Every few hundred meters of travel brings something new, and the rare moments of tranquility are accented by the incredible soundtrack Cliff Martinez cooked up. Though these distractions become repetitive near the end of the game, I still found myself joyfully pursuing them even 30 hours in.

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The greatest weapon in Far Cry 4 has to be the fearsome and majestic elephant.

Yes, Far Cry 4 took me more than a full day of play to beat, and I’m still only about 50 percent through everything it has to offer. Plenty of side-quests such as hunting, assassination, hostage rescue and even racing missions are still available. If that’s not enough, it’s possible to reset all outposts to their hostile states to conquer them a second time with all the upgrades and skills you’ve amassed over time, fixing the problem of no post-game enemy spawns in Far Cry 3.

As far as the story is concerned, protagonist Ajay Ghale finds himself in the middle of a civil war between King Pagan Min’s Royal Army and the rebellious Golden Path. Interestingly, the game has several Balance of Power missions that force you to side with one of two Golden Path leaders. Amita is the chaotic neutral progressive who wants to be done with the outdated traditions of Kyrat, but Sabal is the lawful good conservative who desires to preserve his country’s ancient ways. I always sided with Amita, and doing so resulted in unique missions (most of them violent and destructive) and a different conclusion. Even after 30 hours in Far Cry 4, I’m tempted to replay the game and team up with Sabal just to see how the narrative shifts.

This isn’t to say the story isn’t a stretch. Ajay is in Kyrat to scatter his mother’s ashes across her homeland. That’s a relatively simple task, but almost immediately after crossing the border, he finds himself killing hundreds of Royal Army soldiers simply because someone put a gun in his hand and told him to. He meets unique characters along the way, some great but most terrible. There’s Longinus, the scarred warlord turned Christian, and Yogi and Reggie, the two burned-out stoners who drug Ajay at every opportunity, but the worst has to be Hurk, the walking American “bro dude” stereotype. His dialogue had me constantly cringing, but I took solace in the quaint charms of Rabi Ray Rana, the DJ of Radio Free Kyrat who always had a humorous word to say over the airwaves every time I entered a vehicle.

Speaking of vehicles, one of the biggest changes since Far Cry 3 is the ability to shoot while driving. To do this, aiming is controlled with the right thumbstick and driving is mapped to the left. That makes controlling a car challenging (at least at first), but pushing down on the left thumbstick engages autodrive, which automatically steers your car to your current waypoint, leaving you free to shoot out the window to your heart’s content. If there’s no car around, maybe you’ll find an elephant, which you can use to ram people and vehicles alike, or perhaps you’ll spot a hang glider and soar above the land, shooting grenades at the bad guys below. Vertical ascension is easy when you don’t have access to a helicopter, too, considering the easy-to-use grappling feature. Some of the coolest things I did in-game happened when my feet weren’t touching the ground, and performing a takedown by jumping from my vehicle into an enemy’s never got old.

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Exploring the snowy mountains of Kyrat is a treat, but, sadly, making it to the top of these ranges is only possible through a few missions.

Takedowns have to be the best part about the Far Cry series. There’s something immensely satisfying about sneaking up behind an enemy, stabbing him, chaining to the guy closest to him, then using his own pistol or knife to take out other adversaries. Stealthing through outposts can be challenging, but capturing a base undetected is a thrill each and every time. The bow and customizable silenced weapons make sneaky kills a blast.

Of course, Far Cry 4 offers plenty to the loud and boisterous types, too. I earned tokens to call on my Golden Path brothers in times of need (though I never felt compelled to use them). And if you’re trying to take down one of the Kyrat’s four fortresses (which are basically huge, extra-challenging outposts), a real co-op partner doesn’t hurt. I would’ve loved to cause chaos with an online buddy or battle in the five-versus-five multiplayer matches, but whenever I tried, the servers crapped out on me, which is disappointing for such a huge, recently launched game. A nice distraction from the campaign that does work, however, is the map builder. Using an array of tools, it’s possible to create custom maps, outposts and missions others can play and vote on. We haven’t seen a feature like this since Far Cry 2, so it’s nice to have this time around.

Besides the frustrating multiplayer woes, some game-breaking glitches tainted my experience. During one mission, my screen went black after a loading screen, requiring me to restart a checkpoint. Another time I used a mini-helicopter to fly to my mission objective only for the chopper to inexplicably rise and fall on its own upon arrival, crashing and killing me. Even without the annoying bugs, Far Cry 4 feels like the same experience as Far Cry 3 in a new setting — though a great experience it is. Climbing bells towers (instead of radio towers) to see more of the map, raiding outposts and dealing with an insane antagonist feel too familiar, fun though they are. Graphically, Far Cry 4 even looks the same as its two-year-old sibling, despite the fact I played on an Xbox One.

Far Cry 4 breaks up this monotony with a new feature: Shangri-La. Through drug-infused trips, Ajay explores an ancient Kyrat through the eyes of a Kyrati ancestor. These missions are riddled with religious and mythological undertones as the player fights demons and calls on a friendly white tiger to attack foes, but the best part is the setting. Shangri-La is comprised of reds and yellows, giving the environment a dreamy, otherworldly, almost painting-like quality. Crimson grass, leaves and water rustle and ripple under an amber sky as the ancestor narrates his journey in a foreign language. I couldn’t get enough.

Bottom Line

Though marred by frustrating gameplay glitches, annoying characters and mechanics that feel a bit too familiar, Far Cry 4 is still one of the best open-world shooters available. Exploring Kyrat is wonderful, and the myriad of distractions and content kept me busy for dozens of hours. Unique Balance of Power missions add replayability to an otherwise linear affair, and the Shangri-La sections are beautiful to behold. It’s just a shame the multiplayer and co-op fail to work.

Score: 8.5/10

Pros:

  • Amazing setting
  • Solid stealth and shooting
  • Outposts and fortresses are a blast
  • Gorgeous and mythical Shangri-La missions

Cons:

  • Broken multiplayer
  • Some awful characters
  • Annoying gameplay bugs
  • Familiar mechanics

Buy Far Cry 4 here.



Far Cry 4 was reviewed on the Xbox One with a retail copy provided by the publisher. Heavy uses Amazon affiliate links in its articles. If you use our links to purchase a product, Heavy may receive a small percentage of the sale.