"Stop, shoot, stop shoot..."
I loved Far Cry 3, not for the story or the NPCs that hung around the protagonist like dead-weights around his neck, not even for Vaas who was a delightfully twisted mad-man and became the very definition of insanity - I loved it for the sheer openness and the sense of organic driven gameplay it provided when you weren't rolling from mission A to B for the storyline. What, back then, I said would make this game even better is more of everything.
Ubisoft must have heard me, and every other Far Cry player out there because Far Cry 4 is stuffed to the gills with things to do, see, shoot, explore, explode, burn and hunt. It's pretty true when they say that you experience a story every second in Far Cry 4 - the amount of awesome moments I've had in single player when roaming the open world, or in cooperative with a friend of mine has been truly insane and worthy of videos galore.
If you take one thing away from this review, it's that Far Cry 4 is a better game than 3 in every single way and just adds a whole layer of polish atop systems that worked nigh-on-perfectly last time.
From the moment you (Ajay Ghale) step off the bus in the remote region of the Himalayas known as Kyrat (entirely fictional by the way). You're assaulted by the spectacle of the game, bigger, better and host to Troy Baker as Pagan Min, King Min of Kyrat, dictator, fashion icon, madman in his own right and one of the most over the top character's that the veteran voice actor has played next to the Joker.
I was pretty spellbound from that point on and it just got better as I escaped Min, found the Golden Path and ended up borrowing a hang-glider to go explore the massive region where you start, soaring over the trees and landing smack bang in the middle of a furious gun battle between Golden Path and Min's Royal Army. It was a Karma Event, one of the new things about Far Cry 4 and as Ajay I was able to turn the tide of battle, but not before one guy had me dead on with his shotgun.
He looked at me, thought about it, readied himself to fire and: EAGLE ATTACK!
With a screech and a sudden flurry of movement, a large eagle attached itself to the soldier's arm and he was thrown off balance. I ended him there and then with a pistol shot to the face, the eagle, somewhat disturbed by this flew off and soared high into the sky only to be brought down by a Golden Path soldier in a hail of gunfire.
None of this was scripted, it was emergent and exhilarating gameplay - the kind of moment-to-moment play that Far Cry 4 is flush with.
There's a lot to do in Kyrat and the more you progress the story, do your thing, help the Golden Path and fight against Pagan Min's regime - the more opens up for you to do. There are new side quests, new takes on old favourites (the Outposts) and even bigger Outposts called Fortresses, where there are scores of guards, more than one alarm and lots of fun to be had.
Liberating an Outpost brings a new Fast Travel point, more rewards and missions to the massive open world.
There are Balance of Power missions, caught between the decisions of the Golden Path's leaders: Amita and Sabal, Ajay struggles to keep the peace and the player's own sense of morality is tested. Amita favours the hard-line choice most of the time, one that can get people killed, but as you learn early on... the choices aren't just black and white, good or bad, they open up new missions and change the way the story progresses until you hit the next Balance of Power mission.
Do you support Amita 100% or does Sabal's next mission resonate more with your own goals for the game world?
Do you go for intel or rescue, and what happens if you do?
You'll usually find out a little later on as you end up on a new mission, a mission that interleaves with the choice you made and often in unexpected ways.
Outside of the well-crafted and focused story of 4 there's the game world itself, packed with dozens of side quests and exploration opportunities. New tools are at your disposal this time around, including the useful grapple hook, allowing you to experience what it's like to climb the side of a massive mountain and swing hundreds of feet off the ground before launching yourself across a chasm to barely grab on at the other end.
The grapple, the wingsuit, a new little gyrocopter known as a Buzzer help you to organically explore the various regions of Kyrat and have a ton of fun doing so as you take over Belltowers (the new Radio Towers that were seen in 3), explore forgotten caves, hunt animals to strengthen Ajay's equipment and gear. The more you do, the more you find to do and that's without throwing in random animal attacks, patrols, skirmishes and other surprises that pepper the open world.
Weapon upgrades are back, skill points via XP are back, and there's the Karma Events as mentioned previously too - earning Karma will allow you to unlock some sweet things like Guns for Hire where you can summon in NPCs to help you take down Outposts and provide a distraction whilst you sneak around stabbing/shooting and throwing in bait to cause utter chaos.
Again, Far Cry 4 doesn't paint itself into a corner with the style pre-chosen for the Outposts or other missions. It's really up to you how to approach things, go in guns blazing and you'll have just as much fun as you would do sneaking around and shooting people in the throat with the bow.
I took an Outpost recently, sticking c4 to a car atop the road close by, and standing near the back of it. The option to release the handbrake was tantalising and needed exploration, so after loading two bodies into the back of the enemy pickup I put one more bit of c4 just to make sure. Nearby an elephant was grazing close to the back gate of the area, that also needed some exploration too.
It was almost sundown, so I waited a bit longer to enact my plan (as I saw it). The sun faded from the sky, the sky darkened and things quietened down.
I pulled the handbrake release on the pickup and let it roll, it slowly trundled towards three guards at the gate and then gathered speed. As I dashed into hiding I saw it roll past a couple of fuel drums - that's when I hit the trigger. There was a beautiful explosion (Far Cry 4 is a really pretty game by the way) that lit up the night and killed four men, one guy had been hiding by the back of the wall having a crafty cigarette.
The elephant didn't like the explosion, he panicked and that's when part 2 of my improvised plan hit me. One fire arrow later, and the area where the elephant was grazing had been set ablaze - it had no choice but to escape towards the Outpost.
Elephant plus guards - guards shoot elephant, elephant wrecks the Outpost in record time. One Outpost taken, undetected and the net result is an epic moment I'm not likely to forget soon.
That would have been it, if it wasn't for a convoy driving down a road close by. I had to take that convoy down, so I grabbed the nearest car that wasn't a smoldering wreck and tore off after it. Soon I was on the six of the enemy truck and that's when I clicked on Autodrive.
Yeah, Autodrive, a nifty tool that allows you to follow a road safely whilst you concentrate on the important task of shooting or exploding the heck out of whatever is your target. Autodrive also allows you to drive to waypoints and markers. One grenade launcher later and the convoy was wrecked, I was grinning again - the XP rolled in and I was able to pick a new skill, vehicle Takedown was mine at last.
The skill tree is split between Tiger (Offense) and Elephant (Healing, Survival) and there's a lot of great stuff that makes a comeback from Far Cry 3. There's also the Just Cause 2 style vehicle takedowns that now allow you to take a vehicle's passenger and driver out seamlessly from the vehicle you're driving as you get alongside it and hit the button.
It's fantastic stuff.
Far Cry 4 is fantastic, that's about the best thing I can say. When you ride an elephant through a squad of enemy soldiers, whacking them with the trunk and watching them fly around like leaves in a storm, it's hard not to be entertained. Or when you hear the roar of a tiger, spin around to see an elephant near by and decide to turn the tables on the big bully cat using a bow atop said elephant, it's hard not to be impressed by the organic flow of gameplay.
Lets Tear Things Up!
Oh and then there's co-op, and whilst there's the Battles of Kyrat (traditional deathmatches etc), co-op is a whole other ballgame and it's fun, amazingly well done and does everything it can to facilitate play with another person.
All the story content turns off, side missions remain open and everything else remains open. It's you, and Hurk (a friend) sticking it to Pagan Min's army or just exploring to unlock content together and enjoying the sense of team-work when you coordinate a successful attack on an Outpost or even save a buddy from a vicious tiger attack.
See, my buddy jumped off a mountain, ended up being attack by a tiger. He yells help, so I have the buzzer - I swoop low enough and he's able to attach his grapple to my chopper, climb up and then shoot the tiger in the face from the safety of our airborne attack platform. Several bow shots later and he lets me skin the tiger for my latest upgrade.
That's teamwork for you.
On the agenda next, a coordinated vehicle takedown from the road with me driving.
Bigger is Better
There's so much to do, so much to see, so much that can happen every second in Far Cry 4 that the game is extremely fun and very replayable. It comes alive in a co-op session and whilst you need not play co-op at all to enjoy it, it becomes SO much more when you do invite a friend along for the ride. Far Cry 4 might just be my favourite shooter this year and certainly my favourite action game of 2014.
Bigger is truly better in this case and Far Cry 4 does it all in style. The voice work is superb, the music is stirring and the graphics are breathtaking when you look at the sheer vistas before you, this includes the various animations and little touches.
Then there's Shangri-La where you become an ancient warrior, hunt demons, command a spirit tiger and learn about the secret history of Kyrat.
Then there's... more... which I'll leave you to discover when you pick up the game. To some people more happening on screen is a detriment, not me however, give me more and keep me entertained and I'm happy!
This is why Far Cry 4 is a game that deserves all the praise it's been getting.