I've spent the last minute tagging everyone in the outpost. I've scouted out the alarms, I've found a tiger trapped in a cage. I've got a full complement of arrows -- fire, explosive and the regular pointy kind -- and I'm all set to stealthily dismantle the outpost. My bow is drawn, arrow nocked, and to the edge of the screen somewhere, I can hear a vaguely familiar sound. Over the noise of the tiger and the birds and the guards in the outpost, I can't quite place this extra sensory input. It's a weird yipping sort of bark, followed by... is that a growl? A snort?
As I loose the arrow at lock keeping the tiger caged, it dawns on me why I'd made a mental note of the noise -- it was a goddamned honey badger. The tiger wreaks havoc in the outpost, but with a honey badger on me I was far too busy to capitalise on the situation. They're the freaking Oddjob of animals -- tiny, annoying, and frankly cheating. It takes two healing syringes and eight arrows, but eventually the honey badger is dead -- I think I can salvage this takeover attempt. That's when the eagle attacks
Far Cry 4 is all about those hilarious moments when you've planned everything perfectly only to watch it get ruined by the surprise arrival of the Royal Army, of a rhinoceros or a bear. Reacting to the world -- and it reacting to you -- is what makes Far Cry 4 so much fun to experience, and it contrasts starkly with the controlled portions of the game, the story where Ajay attempts to dismantle a North Korea-esque dictatorial regime.
Well, to be fair, Far Cry 3 ruined the story missions of Far Cry 4. Jeffrey Yohalem, the main writer on FC3, was so adamant that FC3 was a clever commentary about the nature of videogames that it's now impossible to see FC4 in any other light. FC3 tried to parody the power fantasy concept so prevalent in games, and while many will argue it failed to stay a parody -- it became that which it parodied, eventually -- at least by attempting to say something it created an interesting antagonist in Vaas and an interesting if intensely unlikeable protagonist in Jason.
Far Cry 4 once again tells a story -- of the son of revolutionaries, returned to his motherland to scatter his mother's ashes, of a country ruled by a despot, of the power struggles inside the revolution itself. It'd be a perfectly serviceable story, if Far Cry 3 (and to a lesser extent the follow-up Blood Dragon) hadn't poisoned the well and turned the series into meta commentary. The most Far Cry 4 can muster is a quick reference to your kill total by the dictator at the end.
It probably wouldn't be quite so tedious, except the game insists on unskippable cutscenes and occasionally terrible checkpoints. Why are there checkpoints just before unskippable cutscenes? Why are there still unskippable cutscenes in a game in the year 2014? I wouldn't harp on about this, but I'm beginning to think there's some sort of conspiracy at play here. Hear me out -- two huge Triple-A titles this year have featured awful story-telling delivered by unskippable cutscenes. In Destiny, the entire game centres around repeatedly revisiting the same areas over and over, so unskippable cutscenes are the stupidest possible option out of many. In Far Cry 4 the story exists solely to serve as reason for the player to explore more of the map, so unskippable cutscenes are the stupidest possible option out of many. In basically every circumstance, unskippable cutscenes are the stupidest possible option out of many.
If the game didn't specifically gate weapons and skills and a large portion of the map behind story missions, I'd basically advise you to skip them entirely. Pagan Min, the iconic bad guy from the cover, is a charismatic -- if insane -- dictator, and he rules with an iron fist. You, Ajay Ghale, are there to spread your mother's ashes following her death, and you get drawn into the revolution. And what this means is you run murderous errands for the two leaders of the revolution. The two leaders squabble over the correct course of action, always turning to Ajay for final say -- and I genuinely couldn't work out why they did. Whatever it is they want you to do, you can guarantee it involves shooting people, and after you've made a choice you then get to sit through an unskippable cutscene where the person you ignored berates you. The worst part was that at the end, I wanted Pagan Min to win more than I wanted the revolution to win -- not because the revolution was staffed with bad people, but because even after two dozen hours of gameplay I still didn't feel like Ajay had a dog in the fight, and at least Pagan Min has a sense of humour.
So you'll have to do the story missions, but do your best to break them up with any of the scores of side adventures on offer. You can hunt animals, escort trucks, race quad bikes, steal drug shipments and more. Most of those things you can just do while in the world -- you don't even need to start a mission -- and those that need a mission are usually right next to a convenient fast travel location. The Radio Towers and Outposts combo from FC3 returns, this time with the added complication of Fortresses. While Fortresses remain occupied, the Royal Army will repeatedly attack the outposts you've captured, forcing you to defend them. The trick is -- Fortresses are Outposts on steroids, with stacks more guys and heaps more alarm posts.
This is where the soft stealth that FC3 did so well comes into play, and Far Cry 4 nails it as well. With your bow in hand you can silently dispatch guards at will, and with the right skillset you eventually become capable of silently taking down multiple guards in a row. You can hide their bodies, you take care to kill them when they're out of sight of others, and as you puncture your way through the Outpost you begin to feel like a badass ninja type -- albeit a South Asian one.
Unfortunately I feel the gunplay isn't at the same standard as the stealth. It's not terrible, but enemies take an unusual amount of bullets sometimes, and most of the guns sound and react like airsoft or paintball weapons instead of firearms. The single exception to this is in vehicles -- the guns aren't any better, but the addition of an Auto-Drive system which steers and accelerates for you while you shoot at enemies is fantastic, even if it does crash a truck through the fourth wall.
Despite less than satisfying gunplay the broader sandbox game is still wonderful to mess around in. You can get a wingsuit very early in the game, allowing you to cover a lot of ground quite quickly, and hang gliders and tiny one-seater helicopters are abundant. Kyrat is a mountainous area, but instead of allowing players to climb cliff faces at will ala Assassin's Creed, you're forced to use specific grappling hook pivot points. This was initially disappointing, but it doesn't wind up being that big a bother, and the existence of a grappling hook enabled my favourite moment in Far Cry 4 -- swinging my co-op buddy into trees at high speeds.
One of my biggest complaints about Far Cry 3 was that I couldn't take a buddy around the Rook Islands for some high octane shenanigans. And by that, I mean I couldn't repeatedly troll the shit out of them. Far Cry 4 doesn't just let you troll the shit out of your friends -- it revels in it. "Haha" you say to your friend, "come jump into this helicopter and we'll fly around for a bit", taking off when they're five metres away. And when they smugly grapple onto your chopper, it seems like all is lost -- except they're still affected by momentum on the rope, so you can whip them into trees, mountains, basically anything. If you team-up to take down an outpost together, it's a merry jape to throw some bait at your friends feet and then retreat to the safety of a car while a tiger mauls them. Their revenge? They coated the car in sticky C4, and before they die they blow you up. After you respawn, you hang glide back into battle -- with your mate standing on top of the glider, firing grenades as you swoop in. As much fun as the sandbox is by yourself, it's so much better with a friend.
Before we wrap up, I should point out that there are some bugs. No show-stoppers, but I got stuck in a wall at one point, I found a tree that appeared to be hovering out of the ground and I got into a ute while an NPC was still in the driver's seat, allowing me to see through his head while I drove. Initial loading is on the long side, even for an open-world game, and while there are stacks of options for you to fiddle with if you so choose, I couldn't find any option to turn off the in-car radio to make Rabi Ray Rana shut the hell up forever.
When all's said and done, Far Cry 4 isn't a masterpiece. It's not going to rock any boats or blow any minds. It's a brilliant toy, a fantastic tool for players to screw around within when they feel like some lighthearted fun.