Open World Analysis – Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4’s technically and artistically beautiful open world of Kyrat is constantly in a state of motion, the game world teeming with life. This bustling nature directly enhances the joys of exploration, which constitutes a considerable portion of the overall gameplay experience. The ample animal presence is amongst the greatest communicators of this life; myriad different species are presented, their spawning location dependent upon logistical situation within Kyrat; each individual region is home to unique animal species, though some overlap is in place. Beyond being diverse biologically, they are also diverse in behavior and programming, some animals – consider the fierce, indefatigable honey badger – characterized by excessive hostility, reckless abandon, while other species – like the deer-like sambar – are defined by relative docility, passivity. Observing these animals is a mostly joyous affair, the animation quality being spectacular; seeing a sambar prance about gracefully, seeing that same sambar flee when startled – it can be immensely compelling. And this docility is, again, sharply countered by the more hostile animal species, those who advance upon the player character, Ajay Ghale, determined to inflict pain, animals of course being devoid of empathy, instead motivated by self-preservation – at least in theory. Rather than being guided by this instinct of self-preservation, animal behavior, hostility, is occasionally exaggerated within Far Cry 4; it is difficult to believe such animal species are as bold in actuality as they are presented here; tameness seems more common.  

Still, this exaggeration is mostly a wonderful one, and animals are constantly asserting their presence, injecting life into the game world, always welcome. True, their threatening attributes are minimized as the narrative progresses, as more and more powerful armaments are obtained, though that selfsame presence never disappears outright; they are always there, those predatory honey badgers, those ferocious wolves – pack animals – while even eagles dwelling far above in the sky are prone to swooping down from the heavens, pecking at Ajay, pestering him, inflicting pain. Rhinoceros, protected by an impossibly thick, resilient hide, have their own presence, congregating near waterways; with their endurance and virility, their threatening nature persists throughout the entirety of the narrative, impressive armaments or no; earning their ire, agitating them, is thus a poor decision, one which can potentially end in a swift death, the animals relying upon their oversized horns to send Ajay sprawling backwards, weakening him before advancing onwards for the kill. And then there are the majestic elephants, passive creatures who are also ridable, serving the role of potential ally, their presence, their taming, being sharply empowering for the player. Fierce fish with jagged fangs swim to and fro in certain of Kyrat’s waterways, latching onto Ajay should he encroach upon their territory, this grappling eventually resulting in a cinematic QTE, its successful completion meaning the animal’s vanquishing. On and on goes the animal presence, on and on goes the fauna diversity. The exaggerated nature of their programming has been mentioned – not all behave in a believable fashion. But this exaggeration is acceptable, welcome, in that it enhances overall gameplay, energizing the game world, resulting in perpetual player engagement; a threat may spawn at any moment, and, once spawned, may assert their menace; the player is constantly forced to adopt a defensive stance, or at least a stance of hyperawareness; animals are implemented expertly, perfectly, suggesting a perpetual state of flux.     

Further life is communicated when considering the human presence within Kyrat, such presence actually being fairly abundant, even as that population is sparsely distributed; sprawling, heavily populated settlements are mostly absent here; wilderness, sweet wilderness, overtakes all. Many human NPCs are actually static in nature, never venturing away from whatever ramshackle settlement they may inhabit, some being rooted to the spot entirely. Other NPCs, though, engage in motion, exploring Kyrat just as Ajay explores Kyrat. The pool of available NPC models, though, is actually rather sight, meaning that models are prone to repetition, which directly equates to a destruction of immersion. Inconsistent voice acting, meanwhile, further damages immersion, though this damage is wonderfully countered when considering the dynamic nature of certain of these NPCs, who engage in believable actions; encountering these NPCs in the normal process of exploration is commonplace, many of these NPCs afflicted with a plight of some kind. The intensity of certain of these plights is indeed tame, the stakes low – consider encounters centered around stalled vehicles; while exploring, Ajay may come across such derelict vehicles, the driver expressing visible frustration, a frustration Ajay can directly remedy through clever employment of a repair tool always on his person. In other scenarios, however, the stakes are intense, urgent, as in the various combat engagements. Gunfire erupts with fair regularity while exploring, the Golden Path resistance group exchanging bullets with the tyrannical Pagan Min’s corrupted forces. Here, again, the player can swoop in, resolving the engagement while slaughtering the opposition; Kyrat again shows itself as dynamic, living, and breathing, in that this warfare can occur at any moment.

Limitations are expectantly in place, however; just as the pool of NPC modelling is slight, the pool of these engagement types is also slight. There are the mentioned instances – vehicle troubles and open combat. But these are supplemented by only a few other activity types, like one which centers around hostage liberation, or another one centering around human / predator conflict. In another scenario, Pagan Min’s heavily armored convoys, patrolling Kyrat, can be interacted with, either seized or destroyed outright. But these scant few scenarios constitute the entirety of these emergent events, and the frequency of their emergence, their susceptibility to repetition, does erode their overall sense of impactfulness; the excitement they elicit at the narrative’s opening is drastically lessened by the narrative’s conclusion. Still, they contribute to what is perhaps Ubisoft’s greatest developer ambition – namely, the crafting of a dynamic game world, a spontaneous game world. Patrolling sherpa, merchantmen, further contribute to this apparent liveliness, which is enhanced further still when considering NPCs in more domestic situations, as when a pair of these individuals are discovered surrounding a campfire of diminishing flames, clinging to the better, safer attributes of Kyrat; Pagan’s oppressions cannot destroy the landscape’s beauties, the people’s optimism and resilience.       

And Kyrat is beautiful: immensely beautiful. The developers repeatedly inserted majestic displays of color; vibrancy abounds, with prominent reds and oranges, while even startling, arresting violets see periodic insertion. With the orangeness, with the redness, the trees seem to be in the height of their autumnal glories. Clever shadow work only enhances the inherent beauties of this flora, the lighting of a dazzling sort. Indeed, technically the game is remarkable, with sprawling draw distances, helping to communicate player smallness, insignificance. The greatest creative feat, though, is largely connected to the implementation of blues, the daytime and nighttime skies both being beautifully blue, while the moon which emerges at night is a massive orb of grace and grandeur, complementing the skies’ beauties, which is complemented further still by the inclusion of countless shimmering stars. Most notable, though, are the mountain chains, extending upwards seemingly endlessly, as if striving for the heavens. The mountains are of course static, immobile, suggesting constancy, while the advancing moon in the night skies contrastingly suggests motion, mutability; the synergy of these two conflicting sensations is a remarkable achievement. The hundreds and hundreds of trees which may be rendered at any one time, meanwhile, point towards further technical excellency, which is especially observable whenever occupying a place of considerable elevation, such height permitting a different sort of perspective, an especially beautiful, almost arresting one. Here is a landscape only partially tamed by mankind; for every structure, for every display of man’s exertions, there are dozens and dozens of trees, vegetation, and overgrowth.

Creativity and technical excellence exist simultaneously when considering Kyrat, and the developers assert their creativity in unusual, and sometimes very compelling, ways. Consider fog effects. In so many open world games, especially earlier games of the genre, fog has a commonplace presence, in that the existence of this all-consuming fog can cut down on the number of objects rendered at any moment; it centers around the preservation of resources. In Far Cry 4, however, fog is indeed present though it is employed for stylistic reasons rather than being implemented owing to technical inadequacies. At high elevations, overall visibility can be dramatically reduced, this fogginess resulting in a certain anxiety, which is of course countered by the continued presence of the Himalayan mountain range, its sweet influence inescapable. While characterized largely by blueness, as the mountains ascend ever closer to the heavens, whiteness is observable, reflective of snowfall, frigidness. This whiteness is beautiful, almost peaceful, and again establishes a sharp sense of place, and Kyrat overall is a highly atmospheric landscape, one brimming with notions of place. Its Asian stylings are heavily emphasized, with shrines and temples abundantly distributed throughout the region, reflective of a respectful population who cling to older, and accordingly valuable, traditions, even as men like the corrupt Pagan Min seem indifferent to these traditions, seek to erode their influences. The devoutness these Kyrati citizens display is remarkable, and directly results in player agency, urgency; instinctively, the player cares for these pious NPCs, nameless though they may be; they must be assisted. This agency is heightened through clever environmental storytelling, many notes discoverable at secondary locations, notes oftentimes tinged with tragedy, sorrow. Regarding simple presentation and world building, then, Kyrat is defined by repeated, profound successes.    

Kyrat’s environmental diversity, though, is fairly slight – and accordingly very believable. In so many open world games, environmental diversity is fiercely exaggerated; believability is rejected, as any given game world may feature desert biomes, snowy, mountainous biomes, biomes characterized by immense overgrowth, forestation, while even monumental cityscapes may see implementation. The impulse to exert this diversity is absolutely understandable, in that ample environmental diversity only heightens the joys of exploration. But just as creativity is stretched, believability is diminished. Far Cry 4 – Kyrat – clings to relative reality, and one cohesive whole is achieved here. It is conceivable that the world crafted here could exist in actuality; it is not an excessively creative construction. Reflecting genres tropes, meanwhile, Kyrat is only opened up gradually, the southernmost regions first explorable, the more frigid northern wastes explorable some ways into the central narrative. This design decision will always be divisive – should the player be given total freedom of exploration from the start, or should exploration see gradual expansion? Here, the gating seems welcome, and actually unlocking the northern regions was a very exciting affair, while potentially overwhelming sensations are of course minimized. A relative misstep is attached to this unlocking, though; once some arbitrary line on the map is crossed, the environment changes dramatically; the striking oranges and reds of the southern regions, the lushness of the foliage crunching underfoot as Ajay advances forward, is displaced by relative barrenness, many of the trees stripped of their foliage, being spindly constructions, boasting scant foliage, victims to the seemingly excessive cold. This is fine; this is welcome, even as the break in world design is drastic and jarring.  

But relative failures arise when further considering that arbitrariness; the lush verdancy of the southern regions is not faded out gradually but is instead completely swept aside in one swift motion. It is very odd, this suddenness, though this new region is impossibly beautiful, even as the withered nature of the trees communicates a certain hostility, the coldness here elevated over the coldness of the southern region; sparsity – the south – exists alongside scarcity – the north; Kyrat is sharply divided in climate and in aesthetic. And in a further stroke of brilliance, a more self-contained region is visited a few times throughout the campaign – namely, an impossibly frigid region, presumably a fair way up the towering mountain chain. Conditions are terrible; whiteout is abundant; visibility is slight, while even oxygen tanks must periodically be relied upon for survival. In total, this environment is featured for no more than thirty or so minutes, though its presence communicates much: when the mountains are viewed below, in the sanctuary of Kyrat, they are beautiful. In actuality, though, those selfsame mountains are hostile, uninviting, almost intimidating. As environment, then, Kyrat is defined by relative believability, though here ambitions for believability do not come at the expense of creativity; both are balanced, and the world design generally is measured, restrained, yet arresting, enthralling.  

Kyrat broadly is a masterful achievement, being impossibly beautiful, that beauty only slightly diminished some eight years on. The Asian stylings emphasized here are fairly unique, and the developers seized upon the potentialities inherent to such a location; a sharp sense of place is established here, the presence of the vast Himalayan mountain ranges further evoking place, atmosphere. Place is further established when considering the animal life, the NPCs; Asian influences are observable when considering the animal species included, while NPC voice acting and visual design are also tinged with Asian influences. The abundant existence of temples and shrines serves a similar function, communicating the massiveness of the Kyrati pantheon, constituted by manifold differing gods and goddesses. Technically the game is remarkable, with crisp shadow work and exhaustive draw distances, these technical feats complemented by equally impressive creative feats. The greatest achievement attached to Kyrat’s construction, though, is the connection between world design and gameplay. Much of this connection is centered around the embracing of verticality. As environment, Kyrat is, expectantly, mountainous, the terrain oftentimes of a more rugged sort. This verticality can be employed to the player’s advantage, principally through the usage of an unlockable wingsuit, which serves a highly liberating, empowering function. Kyrat is sprawling, quite massive, and the player is endowed with the capability to seamlessly and gracefully navigate that sprawl.    

This massiveness would seemingly point towards heavy reliance upon vehicles for navigation. While vehicles are certainly present, and while such vehicles oftentimes feature dynamic radio stations, the primary disc jockey commenting upon Ajay’s recently completed actions, this wingsuit is easily the most efficient form of traversal; realizing this fact the developers emphasized this verticality, shaping the game world around it. The inclusion of an equally empowering grappling hook fundamentally alters exploration in stark, immensely impressive ways; locomotive freedom is immense, though respecting modern expectations, an intuitive fast travel system is also in place. So, while Kyrat is impossibly beautiful, while it features ample diversity which is simultaneously reined in and believable, world design is, again, intimately connected to gameplay, to exploration. In so much video game design, these two pillars are oftentimes divided, worlds sometimes designed arbitrarily, crafted with little regard as to how that world may be explored; visuals and presentation are prioritized over logic and practicality. Realizing the value of synergy, in designing Kyrat, Ubisoft boldly sought and boldly embraced that synergy. Exploration is a consistently enjoyable and exhilarating affair, and is oftentimes richly rewarded, with ample opportunities for emergent gameplay; Far Cry 4 is a bold, unabashed, lively open world game, and while certain of its secondary content is lacking in depth, while certain of that content is unwisely numerous, mission types prone to ample repetition, a repetition which fast lessens the motivation for their completion, Kyrat itself is a remarkable achievement, alive and breathing, its more Asian-inspired atmospheres not yet replicated. From a foundational design standpoint, it may be excessively similar to its immediate predecessor, though in terms of simple world building and world design, this title easily eclipses in greatness that earlier title, that impossibly generic, tired jungle landscape. Expectations of improvement exist within all sequels; original mechanics and ideas are expected to be refined, perfected. In this regard, Far Cry 4 expertly performs the role of sequel, and Kyrat broadly can be – often is – a monumental, enduring accomplishment, one of relative innovation, when considering the aspirations directed towards the construction of a mutable, ever-changing gameworld, where, as the back of the game case communicates, “every second is a story.” And so it is.    

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