Far Cry 4

FBT returns to the world of Far Cry for the fourth ti - Eagle! Eagle!!

*Spoilers! This is a playthrough review*

Ajay’s plan to return his mother’s ashes to her homeland of Kyrat is violently interrupted by Pagan Min, it’s despotic ruler. ‘Inviting’ AJ to dinner, Min claims - despite having stabbed a solider with a pen for shooting not stopping AJ’s bus and stabbing a fellow dinner guest with a fork - that he’s a nice guy and he knew AJ’s mum and dad. Popping out to answer a call, he suggests we tuck into some Crab Rangoon and when he returns, we talk it through.

Slipping out, AJ meets The Golden Path, a rebellion established by none other than his dead dad whose goal is to usurp Min - but their leaders are at a stalemate; Saban wants Kyrat returned to traditionalism while Amita is looking to the future. Once peace is restored, Mum can be laid to rest. Can’t she just sit on the mantlepiece like everyone else?

Essentially Nepal, Kyrat is incredibly beautiful; snowy mountains, rivers, valleys and woodland, it’s isolated but busy and a massive step up from FC3; if you just look at it. But the gameplay is so shamelessly FC3 reskinned it even has the crappy ending. Actually no, it has a far worse ending, with an obvious story we have to drag ourselves through to reach.

Once AJ’s free of Min, we’re trapped by the Golden Path(s). Amita and Sabal are both manipulative, awful characters with Amita having ambitions to turn Kyrat into a drug-capital to fund its resurgence, while Sabal wants to Kyrat returned to a time of strict religious worship. They each offer solutions to missions, and who you pick sways power to their leadership leading up to the final choice; in short, we’re choosing between child labour or child marriages.

FC4 thinks we’re navigating a provoking narrative where you wrestle with what freedom means, but we’re not. We’re the most docile hero ever. AJ just blindly follows the GP, never questions them or his own history; that’s AJ’s only strength, his lineage, the influence he has but he never uses it. It’s obvious what both Sabal and Amita are up to but AJ never forges his own (Golden) path or influences, he just picks one then changes his mind. He is literally just a mascot and it’s infuriating waiting for him to catch up.

Compounding AJ’s inaction is the fact that the Sabal versus Amita choices have no visible impact; say you pick Amita. Doing it her way should result in better-armed troops or supplies while suffering morally dubious missions like protecting child-labourers in the poppy fields; yet you see investment and modernisation. You should be conflicted, torn, eventually abandoning her for Sabal but nothing ever changes to bring home the impact of your choices; reasserting a temple’s importance for Sabal should have more impact than Amita stressing we just set back women’s lib; we need to see it, understand what we just did to the people of Kyrat. Worse, it never impacts Min, who just maintains an amused commentary on AJ’s actions. The only unpredictable thing in FC4 is Min. I wanna hang out with him instead.

Min seriously challenges Vaas as top dog in FC’s rogue’s gallery. It’s not just his bored calls to AJ (asking if he left because of the Crab Rangoon, if he reads Kanye's twitter or if AJ thinks Dennis Rodman would accept an invitation to Kyrat), or his threatening eccentricity - at dinner, he takes a pinch of Mum’s ashes and tastes them. He knew Mum better than most and was excited to have AJ visit (greeting us with “You and I are gonna TEAR SHIT UP!”). He seems to be actually protecting AJ, prodding him into realising he’s on the wrong side; Min might not be the right side either, but he wants AJ to figure that out himself. Its rage-inducing that we barely scratch the surface of a complex bad guy up there with Ryan, The Joker, GlaDOS or The Illusive Man.

Much like FC3, the secondary characters are all top-notch, but unlike FC3 they’re all wasted and undermined. De Pleur, Min’s enforcer has a lovely chat on the phone with his daughter while torturing someone, and Noore runs an arena (betting how long people last against animals) but turns out to be a human-rights investigator whose family Min is holding hostage; yet both are little more than cut-scene characters. Why is everything story-related kept out of AJ’s reach? Then there’s Yuma Lau …

The general of Kyrat’s armies and an ex-Triad, Yuma hits the same beats as both Vaas and Citra did in FC3; she’s obsessed with Kalinag from Kyrati folklore much like Citra was and she has Vaas’ hatred; she despised AJ’s mum for her influence over Min, and now has AJ to torment. Except … she doesn’t. We see her in two cut-scenes and one boss battle. She’s reduced to a teenager’s hot-Asian fantasy – someone this dangerous and we get seduction scenes? Utterly, frustratingly wasted.

Hallucinogenic vision-quests worked in FC3 as a ceremonial rite, but FC4’s Shangri-La and Kalinag segues are pointless; we portray Kalinag as he rids Shangri-La of what looks like Sesame Street’s Big Bird going through a goth stage then face off against Yuma as Kalinag – the fight should be dependent on how we’d progressed through Shangri-La, tie them together to show AJ understood it’s meaning whereas Yuma missed it but no; we even fight the tiger that we control in Shangri-La, surely there should be a connection there? Nope, it’s just an unconnected, crappy mini-boss fight that undermines what we learnt about Kalinag.

And it’s not just Yuma who uses mind-altering drugs. Two twats pop up to grind the game to a halt as AJ’s drug dealers, giving him visions in which we have to survive Kyrat while tripping to unlock power-ups. We also have to contend with the return of CIA stooge Willis who fulfils the same role he had in FC3; padding. Willis is assessing Min’s threat to the US – there could have been a great little sub-plot or narrative choice here, force us into an alliance with Yuma who also wants Min gone. Just gonna ignore all the possibilities there? Well okay then.

Eventually we secure the region and storm Min’s end of Kyrat, and just like FC3, everything resets on the other side of the border. It’s the same crap again. Amita and Sabal bitch about each other, AJ does inconsequential missions, it all looks the same. Against my wishes, I’m gonna go kill Min and get the first easyJet out of here.

Before I can reach the palace though, I have to chose which child abuser I like. I go with Sabal. I would have chosen Amita but Sabal was closer. He tells me to kill Amita but I banish her instead (Wow, AJ made a choice) then finally I get ‘go kill Min’.

But I don’t kill Min. When I reach him, rather than shooting I stop and listen. He may be a bastard, but he’s broken. He was in love with Mum, and she influenced him; when he explains their connection and leads us to Mum’s resting place with the line “the last time I went in there, I came out like ... this”, you pity him. And us. It’s huge and there’s so many ways this could have gone. Such an intricate story and FC4 leaves it to a cut-scene? As Min waves goodbye, I realise I just ended a game by letting the bad guy go. What happens now? The end credits of course. FFS. I’m gonna tear shit up.

Afterwards, I find Sabal asserting himself in the worst possible way, and the game laughing at me. I am so pissed-off I fire at Sabal and … kill him? Yes! Finally an impact. That has … no impact. After I rage quit, I find out Amita is still in Kyrat. I reload and go kill her too.

By Kalinag I hated FC4. But, as much as the story mode is appalling, the open world is fantastic. It may be FC3 with snow, but it’s cracking fun out in the wilderness.

The most obvious FC3 carry-over is the ‘bell towers’. Clambering to the top shuts down Min propaganda but they’re a lot more complex than FC3’s radio towers, and once in Min’s backyard there’s often troops lying in wait; one Bell Tower even has a helicopter guarding it.

Outposts are a familiar sight too, but a welcome one. There’s nothing we haven’t seen/shot before – take out alarms, look for caged animals, watch for snipers, try to do it unseen for max XP but FC gets those right and FC4’s mountainous layout provides more ways to muck it up.

If you want to go in guns blazing, or be a show-off like TheMorty who takes them out with a bow, Outposts are always great fun and provide (welcome) distractions from the main mission; they unlock rescue hostages, stealth assassinations, revenge missions, rogue animal hunts, races, and Min’s fashion designer who sends us to skin rare animals for upgrades (a honey badger that references the Black Beast of Arrrghhh and nasty-ass badger is ace).

Then there’s the Fortresses. Mega outposts, this is where Min’s forces strike out from so taking them down curtails attacks and roving patrols. They take planning and careful consideration; which always goes to hell when a random soldier spots you crouching behind a bush half a mile away. They call in helicopters, heavies, mortar bombardments ...

A great addition, nicked from FC Blood Dragon is tempting in animals by throwing meat – doing this in camps is great, as is accidentally throwing meat at your own feet and having a bear rush out of the bush at you. Taking out outposts is just satisfying somehow.

And if you decide to avoid the encampments and go for a ramble, there’s tons of wilderness missions like timed deliveries, propaganda factories that are mini-outposts, bomb disposal and GP trucks that have to be protected as well as endless random missions - convoys or couriers to be stopped, supply trucks that need hijacking, roadblocks to dismantle, Kyrati locals who got into fights with troops or animals; then there’s collection items – those are actually worth it because they unlock special items as you go, plus they’re often in difficult locations or places you just want to visit. Those award Karma points which unlock weapons and add to your standing with the Kyrati, enabling more to come to your aid when outnumbered – you can also lose Karma if you hinder the Kyrati, which you will, whether you mean to or not.

The Kyrati are a little excitable. They’ll run into your gunfire - or car - then blame you for it (as well as running each other over. Or you) but they can be accidentally helpful; once I was stalking a lieutenant and just lined up a sniper shot when a Kyrati ran him over. Still, I got the credit for killing him unnoticed.

For a vast wilderness, Kyrat is like the tube in rush hour. It once took me five goes to claim a bell tower; first time I drove past a Trader, got out to trade, got attacked by the Dholes then all of us got run over by a passing Kyrati. Next time I got half way and my outpost was attacked so back I went, then I got distracted by a truck mission, delivered that and as I left for the third time, got run over by a courier. On the fourth go I stopped for a collectable, got attacked by Dholes again then troops who set fire to the grassland which blew up my car. Eventually I reached the tower only to get attacked by troops again, and then an Eagle, then fell off the tower and got bit by a snake. If you ignore the main mission and just RPG it, Kyrat is so reckless you’ll never get bored.

Thankfully crocs are extremely rare in FC4 (well, I never went looking for them) but they’re more than made up for by eagles. Plummeting down and clawing a health bar off you, they’re a menace and as you tramp through woodland all you hear is Kyrati’s yelling ‘Eagle! Eagle!!’ - I’ve seen them carrying off pigs and goats. They’re like FC4’s version of Cliff Racers. There’s also Rhinos that can send your car to the scrapyard, but the real king of Kyrat is the elephants.

It’s not quite as cool as it seems, riding an elephant, partly because you don’t want to see jumbo get hurt, but mostly because they're slow and present a large target. To be honest, they’re just a gimmick but using your trunk to smash a jeep into a wall or sending a solider flying is never going to be anything less than awesome.

If Dumbo is too slow for you, there’s ATVs, cars and trucks, dinghys and speedboats but the most awesome addition is the Buzzer. A little gyro-copter, you can fire sidearms and drop throwables from it as you take in Kyrat from the air – it’s just so much fun, as is AJ’s wingsuit; many’s the time I crashed into a camp, or a pack of Dholes, or got run over when I touched down. Ahh, Kyrat you mad bastard.

Kyrat is a perfect place to game about in. We’ve even got grappling hooks to scale the mountains or do some spelunking; why is all the originality in FC4 in the open world not the narrative? I tapped out at 47 hours of gameplay, and at least 30 of that was free-roam mucking about. Leave Amita and Sabal to get a room and go have fun in the mad world Min created.

I can’t think of a game with a more fascinating narrative that I didn’t play. The main mission has its standouts. Escaping Yuma’s prison, chasing a plane using a wing-suit, shooting Min’s solid gold statue just to annoy him, but you don’t play the story. Mum would be disappointed.

Usually when I give a game a second chance, especially opener-worlders like this one, I stick to the main plot and ignore the distractions, dig into the story and characters. But to do that in FC4 is to get really frustrated playing as a clueless people-pleaser. If you want to play FC4's story, the best option is to just sit back and enjoy the Crab Rangoon for about fifteen minutes ...

2014 | Developer, Ubisoft Montreal | Publisher, Ubisoft

Platforms; Win/Uplay | PS3/4 | X360/One