Far Cry 4 – Final Review

Far Cry 4’s sprawling open-world environment of Kyrat, a state nestled in the bosom of the vast Himalayas, is impossibly beautiful, sharply clinging to reality though injecting life and creativity into that realism, with vibrant coloration and a pervasive sense of crispness. Startingly, arresting coloration abounds; oranges have a prominent presence, as do azures, the sky, the towering mountains, all of this latter color, though those selfsame mountains expectantly display white, too, the highest peaks clearly bearing a heavy, beautiful burden of snow. The northern regions, while still embracing vibrancy, are comparatively sparse when considered alongside the southern regions, where the foliage is thick, all-consuming, hundreds of trees huddled together; Kyrat is characterized by a fair degree of environmental diversity. A dynamic day / night cycle, meanwhile, tangibly illustrates the passage of time, with nighttime sequences being especially arresting, as the sweet moon gleams overhead, her beauty accentuated by many glittering stars. The draw distance is massive, the Himalayas visible always, communicating a sharp sense of player smallness, insignificance, being but one speck in a sprawling countryside with centuries of history, habitation, destruction and regrowth; indeed, the potentialities inherent to a more Asian landscape and culture are seized upon here, and Kyrat is brimming with atmosphere, a sharp sense of place dominating, grounding the narrative. In a subtle maneuver, too, particle effects are almost always present, some regions seeing flower petals dance majestically about in the wind, while the more frigid northern regions feature basic snowfall, again suggesting motion.But for all beauties and majesties displayed here, technical limitations are in place; the Himalayas, snowcapped and tranquil, are characterized by generally poor texture quality, a statement which can be applied towards nearly every distant object in the game world. The frame rate is steady throughout, though pop-in surfaces occasionally, contributing to a destruction of immersion. But whatever are these minor technical blemishes, Kyrat, its design, is a remarkable achievement, singularly beautiful, and, crucially, never devoid of life; just as the moon revolves in the heavens, just as the sun takes her place, Kyrat is in constant motion, animal species moving to and fro, hostile and friendly NPCs navigating the landscape, sometimes meeting with hardship, other times prospering from that landscape; environmental storytelling abounds. Being an open-world game, and accordingly possessive of considerable freedoms, it is entirely possible to miss the subtler displays of beauty, complex world design. For the player who makes these additional exertions, though, who explores with vigor, particularly rich are the rewards.

The narrative which unfolds in Kyrat is a straightforward construction, the motivations succinctly expressible: topple Pagan Min, the charismatic tyrant who has seized hold of Kyrat, oppressing the masses, corrupting other citizens into joining his fold, so that those oppressions can grow ever more widespread; in time, so the thought, Kyrat will be steeped in total darkness. The protagonist of the narrative, Ajay Ghale, naturally becomes agent for Pagan Min’s ultimate deposition, destruction. A foreigner for a fair span of time, he travels to Kyrat, a region of immense importance to his family, to scattered the ashes of his recently deceased mother, a figure who, as is communicated often throughout the narrative, is regarded with universal reverence by the Kyrati population, she being emblematic of the rebel spirit, a spirit that Ajay, unintentionally or no, kindles, rekindles; in assisting Kyrat, he is fulfilling and advancing his legacy. Of critical importance, though, is the fact that Ajay is not some solitary figure, tasked with vanquishing Pagan Min and his four lieutenants singlehandedly; he is assisted in this burden by the Golden Path, a group animated by the sentiments which Ajay’s own mother displayed before her death, a group which values citizen freedom and autonomy above all things. The almost immediate introduction of Pagan Min lends to the narrative a sharp sense of focus, encourages the player to care about the Kyrati people, to make them desire that more widespread autonomy; the player, then, is fast endeared to the Golden Path, a construction of some complexity. Much of this complexity arises from the internal feuding waged between the resistance’s two central leaders, each vying for total dominance: first, there is the staunch traditionalist Sabal, who seeks to preserve Kyrat’s storied legacy whatever the cost, he seeing ample value within tradition, the symbiotic relationship existing between the Kyrati people and the lands they inhabit, which have nurtured them, produced objects of swelling pride. Amita, ever progressive, spurns this tradition, seeing the preservation of tradition as halting Kyrati growth; excessive idealization of tradition, for Amita, harms the populace rather than advantaging them; accordingly, tradition must be forgotten, for the supposed good of all. The pair clash with considerable frequency, and the dynamic existing between them is very profound and very compelling; the spirited nature of their conversation can be almost overwhelming. Critically, too, these two central characters are not binaries; neither figure is defined by villainy, while neither figure is defined by altruism; ambiguity abounds, and the existence of this ambiguity makes particularly difficult the decisions Ajay is occasionally presented with: support and reinforce Sabal’s position, or conversely reinforce Amita’s. The difficulty of these decisions results in narrative engagement, and the rising tensions existing between the two figures inevitably results in tragedy; just as Pagan strives for continued tyranny, Sabal and Amita each have similar ambitions for the Golden Path; the two cannot coexist simultaneously and harmoniously. The pair, together, greatly amplify narrative strengths, though Pagan Min’s repeated displays of exaggerated villainy also result in certain profundities, as does Ajay’s gradual metamorphosis, arriving in Kyrat a stranger, divorced from its traditions, though in time embracing those traditions, guided by a desire to preserve those traditions, to save the masses who cherish those traditions. The narrative, simple as it is, remains fairly engaging, anchored by excellent performances of all the central characters, Ajay among them. Interestingly, a minor character is introduced early on – Bhadra – who is the supposed reincarnation of a Kyrati god and is thus revered by the populace. Sabal and Amita, expectantly, regard her in vastly different ways, and her treatment is emblematic of the divided nature gripping Kyrat, stuck in the past though advancing onwards towards the future. While Bhadra does make periodic appearances throughout the narrative, she is underdeveloped, painful when considering she is complex, brimming with possibilities for such development; her implementation was half-hearted.   

Far Cry 4’s gameplay is especially engaging, abounding in opportunities for player freedom; experimentation is encouraged; adaptability is a necessity. Combat is in the game is anchored by two distinct pillars: a more bombastic approach and a quieter, stealthier one. The former pillar is a strong one, the arsenal of available weapons being massive, and expanding at a perfect pace, while the shooting mechanics themselves are foundationally sound, each weapon having a distinct feel, though the gunplay is intuitive and easy to grasp; while enjoyable, however, very little new ground is paved here. In combat, excessive boldness is oftentimes heavily punished, particularly when playing on the hard difficulty: even the standard grunt armed with a simple submachine gun or assault rifle poses a threat, and protracted player exposure, removal from cover, oftentimes equates to a swift end; the pacing of gunplay, then, is often of a more prodding sort, though periodic redirection, movement from cover to cover, is not only useful but is actually essential. Inevitably, the player will engage in experimentation in their choice of weaponry, and swapping out one weapon for another can fundamentally alter the gameplay, opening up new avenues inaccessible whenever other weapons are equipped. As illustration, equipping a long-range sniper rifle endows Ajay with a certain strength which is absent otherwise. Basic weapon customization is present, too, and it is just that – basic. Most weapons have three different categories of upgrades, principally attachable suppressors, attachable weapon sights, and extendable magazines, though understandably certain weapons like the bow feature only certain categories. The inclusion of these simplistic systems only makes the player yearn for further complexity, though it is mostly lacking. Still, these failings are compensated for by the inclusion of signature weapons, permutations of existing weapons with vastly enhanced stats and other incidental features. The unlocking of many of these weapons, fairly and rightly, can be a Herculean affair, some such weapons obtainable only near the end game, clearly for balancing purposes. The different unlocking parameters, meanwhile, incentive the completion of secondary content, which might otherwise be ignored – complete a predetermined number of instances of this mission type, for instance, or seek out and gather a predetermined number of any collectable type. Simultaneously, then, these signature weapons also encourage general exploration, amongst the game’s greatest strengths. Combat, then, can be immensely enjoyable – if unoriginal – and the level of enjoyability escalates as the narrative progresses ever onwards, as newer, more powerful weapons are unlocked and as newer enemy types are introduced, like the menacing, heavily armored flamethrower unit or threatening enemies wielding sniper rifles or RPGs; these enemy types inject new life into the gunplay.        

Stealth, that second gameplay pillar, has a prominent presence, too, being viable in many different scenarios, its employment resulting in a radically different gameplay experience than would emerge by reliance on gunfire alone. Whereas that gunplay is characterized by slowness, stealth is characterized by immense slowness, the player encouraged to consider all facets of a situation before advancing. Noise production plays a prominent role in continued evasion or detection, so it follows that Ajay will be in a crouched state almost always in these stealth encounters, in that such a stance dramatically reduces sound output while simultaneously lessening visibility, also crucial to continued evasion. Once the distance has been closed and Ajay is in close proximity to a hostile AI unit, the player can execute a litany of different contextual takedown maneuvers, which instantly – and sometimes violently – eradicate the foe. Everything which has just been said – advance slowly, be mindful of visibility and sound production, rely upon takedown maneuvers – can be applied to virtually any stealth game in the present moment, reflecting the unoriginality of the systems on display here; everything is basic, though ultimately the game transcends this basicness, stealth evoking far more exhilarating sensations than those evoked from more straightforward gunplay. An equipable camera, meanwhile, permits enemy detection through walls, greatly assisting in tracking, while an infinite inventory of stones is provided the player, objects which can be thrown to distract an enemy, enabling more favorable advancement or evasive pathways. But the stealth system is somewhat let down by the nature of enemy AI, which is cheap, unfairly perceptive; one missed arrow, one missed sniper rifle shot, has the tendency to alert the spared enemy on the instant. Fair enough. Frustrating, though, is their ability to discern the player’s precise location on the instant, as if they have supernatural instincts, honing in upon a foe who is potentially dozens and dozens of yards away. While this does evoke frequent frustration, redirection is helpful here, in that is possible to throw enemies off the player’s scent; running from one location to another is a necessity, and it can be immensely satisfying to observe a group of panicked foes looking for Ajay in his former position, from a new position of complete safety. Stealth is simplistic, the AI cheap, and yet stealth is richly rewarding, in that it demands a different sort of mindset than that required for conventional gunplay; a more cerebral dimension characterizes this stealth, and the sensations of satisfaction which accompany outpost seizure without a single instance of detection are almost unparalleled in their intensity, evoking great adulations.      

Exploration constitutes another significant portion of the overall experience, and whatever are the successes in combat and stealth, they are absolutely eclipsed in greatness here, much of this enjoyability directly stemming from Kyrat’s masterful level design, world building. From the first, one activity is of considerable importance: hunting. Upon starting the narrative and being handed relative freedom, Ajay’s equipment is lacking, almost nonexistent; one weapon can be wielded, while the wallet has an impossibly small capacity, and even the carriable stock of ammunition is slight. These lacks must be remedied, and immediately. Accordingly, hunting commences, materials are gathered from slain animals, and those materials can promptly be employed in the game’s basic crafting system, seeing dramatic expansions on quiver size, ammunition carrying capacity, and the like. Most crucially, though, Ajay can go from carrying but a single weapon to carrying four. This ultimately means that hunting is like a hurdle to be overcome before gameplay can begin in earnest; it is impossible to tackle the narrative capable of carrying one weapon, drastically reducing combat efficiency and flexibility. Hunting initially is characterized by enjoyability, though it gradually grows more and more tedious, meaning once the player is satisfied with their equipment set up, hunting will likely be ignored outright, the player only engaging with animals when the more predatory sort advance upon Ajay, displaying their fierceness and their menace. Sighting a bear on the horizon is, admittedly, quite exhilarating and even frightening, though their threat level gradually levels off as more powerful weapons are acquired. Highly damaging eagles have a prominent presence throughout Kyrat, too, and they have the tendency to swoop down towards Ajay, pecking at him fiercely, leaving him injured before promptly retreating away again. For better or worse, hunting almost monopolizes the early sequences of the game, animal habitations directing the player to explore one region over another. Eventually achieving satisfaction with equipment is thus a relieving experience.

The existence of this animal presence, though, further communicates the fact that Kyrat is a living, breathing world, and this is furthered still when considering the various NPCs Ajay will encounter during exploration. A few different encounter types are present: in one such encounter, Pagan Min’s soldiers may hold an innocent Kyrati citizen in captivity, and Ajay is thus tasked with liberating that hostage; in another encounter type, Golden Path members may be sparring with animals, and Ajay is tasked with subduing the animal, or at least contributing to its subduing; in still another encounter, a hostile courier may be advancing through the landscape with great haste, and that pace must be halted, the materials the courier was carrying retrieved. While there is a fair degree of diversity, then – a handful of other encounter types will go unmentioned here – they all have the tendency to repeat, and with great regularity, lessening their impactfulness; they feel “gamey,” contrived, though the message is still the same – Kyrat has a fast, ever-beating heart; here is a land of motion, a beautiful land, whose beauty is only enhanced by the implementation of clever traversal tools, like a grappling hook which permits rapid ascension, and a wingsuit / parachute combination which hasten and make more exhilarating – and safe – the general act of locomotion. Verticality abounds, meaning that opportunities for these tools’ usage are immense; these objects are not lazily implemented, as is the case in other games with similar objects, where a grappling hook might have few, highly predetermined uses; here, the object is central to exploration, and while it is superficially a simplistic addition, a simple advancement over Far Cry 3’s movement, the revolutionary nature of this one object cannot possibly be overstated; it is a fantastic inclusion, and heightens the already enjoyable attributes of exploration, map traversal. Reaching a place of great elevation, meanwhile, provides the player with opportunity, provided they are equipped with the wingsuit, fortunately obtainable early on. With this object, the player can soar through the air at a blindingly fast rate, navigating with considerable efficiency, efficiency dwarfing that possessed by even the speediest of vehicles; it is exhilarating. 

As an experience, Far Cry 4 is richly rewarding, is also quite brimming with content – though, tragically, not all of it is compelling. The main mission thread, that revolving around Pagan Min’s destruction and the destruction of the lieutenants which support him, is quite riveting, while the melodrama of the Golden Path, its internal feuding, is also well developed. Secondary mission givers have their place, too, like the excessively biblical, scripture-quoting Longinus, an arms dealer, while a pair of highly obnoxiousness drug users have their own irritating presence. One secondary mission thread, meanwhile, sees transportation to another realm entirely, where the color grows ever more vibrant, the color palette ever more selective, as reds dominate. Aesthetically beautiful, these sequences are remarkable, while also conveying a secondary narrative which serves a sharp world-building function. But beyond the main quest and these more involved secondary quests, much of the side content included could have just as easily been excluded; assassination and hostage rescue quests, bomb defusal quests, are far from exciting, especially when considering such mission types number nearly half a dozen each. An excessive amount of collectables is present, too, which does encourage exploration, a positive considering exploration’s strengths, though the rewards for such collectable gathering are often scarce. An imbalance of enjoyability is present, then, though Far Cry 4’s greatest failure is its excessive similarity to Far Cry 3; the formula of that game is taken and only partially altered here; climbable bell towers have a prominent presence, while a rudimentary skill system is in place, resulting in constant progression. Still, that formula was a uniquely compelling, engrossing one, so its adoption is no failure. Indeed, the slight inclusions which are present here – consider the grappling hook and enhanced verticality – do offer sufficient innovations which breathe new life into the experience, excessively similar or no. If one finds delight within Far Cry 3, they will find delight here, perhaps of an intenser sort. If one felt frustration with Far Cry 3, then, accordingly, frustration will be evoked here, departures being minimal. But with wondrous Kyrat, that beautiful location steeped in history, Far Cry 4 is able to carve out its own distinct identity, and the clever worlding is the game’s greatest strength.  

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