After spending countless hours trekking through the fictional mountainsides of Kyrat, I can say that there is truly something special there waiting to be discovered. Though it was well received by both myself and other reviewers, the main storyline is not that special something. In part, this stems from the criminally underused Pagan Min, excellently performed by actor Troy Baker. The moments when he is onscreen are both tense and enjoyable, creating a certain level of discomfort in the player, but always leaving you wanting him to come back for more.
On the other side of this dynamic is the player character, Ajay Ghale, who isn’t seen for the most part, save for a clever selfie gag in the opening cinematic. The protagonist of a Far Cry game is almost always an outsider entering into an exotic locale to pick up the nearest gun and start wreaking havoc on the beautifully rendered environment. Previous installments have drawn criticism for their use of white protagonists acting as the “white knights” of their given story, particularly in the case of Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody.
In Ajay’s case, this narrative trope is cleverly sidestepped in a way that allows it to stay in line with the Far Cry series, but removes the “white knight” aspect of it. Ajay is returning to Kyrat, the country of his birth and the home of his parents, following his mother’s death to spread her ashes. This allows the character to be both a non-white native and also an Americanized young man with an accent that will be inoffensive to the majority of the American video game audience. It shows progress on the issue, but not an ultimate solution, as it would have been more interesting to see a truly diverse individual as the protagonist, native accent and all.
From the first moment you are given control of Ajay, you begin to make decisions that affect the way the game plays out. This is both in the literal sense of the story and also in the way the game plays out for each individual’s own experience. For the story, there are two different factions within the game narrative: Pagan Min’s Royal Army and The Golden Path. Players fight for The Golden Path, the resistance movement within Kyrat founded by Ajay’s father, and within The Golden Path itself there are two leaders struggling for power, Amita and Sabal.
It is here that the player makes a majority of the decisions that are reflected in the outcome of the game. As Ajay, you can choose to complete missions for either leader, but doing so locks out the corresponding mission of the other. Players are not initially locked into either side of the power struggle within The Golden Path, but as things progress, you tend to fall on one side or the other. Initially, these missions are not very polarizing, presenting choices like whether to gather intel or fortify a position, but as the game progresses the choices become more extreme, such as whether to claim an opium farm for profit or to destroy it and rid Kyrat of dangerous drugs.
Beyond Amita and Sabal, the player can complete missions for various other NPCs, all of whom are somewhat forgettable, save for Longinus the priest/arms dealer. Upon first meeting him, you have a rather humorous conversation about what gun Jesus would have used. Here we see another character that could have been used to a greater effect, and I always wanted more of.
The more interesting part of Far Cry 4 is the story you make for yourself: scouting enemy camps and fortresses and deciding how to assault them, hunting for that elusive Honey Badger to complete your weapon holster, climbing to the tops of mountains and jumping off, just because you can. These are the moments where Far Cry 4 truly shines. Once I was set free on the game world after completing the introductory story missions, I played another 5-7 hours of the game before I touched the next real mission. I was having too much fun exploring new locations and searching for collectibles to worry about what was going on in the prescribed narrative. Generally, I found that my only real reason to complete story missions was to unlock certain weapons that required this, if only so that I could get back to rampaging around on elephants and wingsuiting off of gyrocopters with my new arsenal in tow.
In addition to unlocking weapons through the story missions, they can be unlocked by freeing outposts and solving bell tower puzzles. These are similar to the radio towers found in Far Cry 3, and serve a similar function as the sync points in the Assassin’s Creed series, opening up new areas of the map and revealing more things to do. Weapons can also be purchased, provided certain requirements have been met. In addition to this, there is a simple crafting system for gear and syringes. The gear is used to expand how much you can carry with you, whether its weapons, ammo, syringes, and other items, and syringes are used for healing or providing buffs to various stats. The player can also up their stats by spending skill points, which serve a variety of functions, such as opening up new takedowns or increasing player health.
The freedom of exploration is augmented by excellent gameplay mechanics. The game handles well, and players of previous entries in the series will be familiar with the controller layout. Those new to Far Cry will have no trouble quickly learning to control Ajay and lead him on a rampage through the Royal Army. My only complaint was the sensitivity of the Dualshock 4’s touchpad. This can be used to select weapons or items off the inventory wheel, or to navigate the map from the menu, and while in theory is an interesting idea, in execution is somewhat of a nuisance. I often found myself accidentally switching weapons or quickly scrolling across the map, and because I didn’t know what was causing this at first, I thought there was some kind of glitch. Once I realized what was causing this, I figured out the feature could be turned off in the menu, although this didn’t seem to work in my game. Other than that, the only other glitch I encountered was getting stuck in a tree once and being unable to get out (I finally resolved this by fast traveling to a nearby outpost).
There are a few other features of the game that make it stand out from the competition. While Far Cry 3 had the Blood Dragon DLC, which took the mechanics of the main game and dropped the player into an over-the-top jaunt through a 1980s action movie, Far Cry 4 has the Shangri-La missions. Not wanting to give too much of this experience away, as it is quite an experience, it is a unique aspect of the game that takes the players into a mystical world and requires them to solve puzzles with a bow and arrow and a white tiger. In addition to this, the campaign features a unique drop-in/drop-out co-op experience. Rather than being a separate campaign, friends can come in and assist you with conquering enemy strongholds and hunting deadly animals. While the main story missions are turned off while co-op is engaged, the experience of running around the world of Kyrat with a friend is all the more enjoyable.
In addition to the co-op, there is an online PvP multiplayer mode called Far Cry Chronicles. This mode sees The Golden Path facing off against the Rakshasa in 5v5 combat. The Golden Path uses the traditional tactics one might find in the game, employing guns, explosives, and vehicles, while the Rakshasa rely on supernatural powers seen in the Shangri-La portions of the campaign, utilizing the bow with a variety of unique arrows and special powers to conquer their enemies. Multiplayer matches are fun and fast paced, and capture the freedom of Far Cry 4 in a competitive setting.