Matt and I have been holidaying in Far Cry 4’s lovely Kyrat for the last week, and we return with enviable tans and only a few bullet wounds. It’s a dangerous place, so we got off lucky. But is it a destination we would recommend? Should you take your Christmas holidays there, or even bring the family? Far Cry does have co-op after all.
Read on, and enjoy the sort of enlightenment you can only get in Shagri-La.
Matt: So we’ve both been holidaying in Ubisoft’s Himalayan resort for several hours now. It’s a destination that’s both new and shiny but, once you get past the snowy mountains and different local wildlife, is something exceptionally familiar. I’m quite the fan of Far Cry 3 so this makes me happy, but then I’m struggling to be bouncing off the ceiling with it because I can't shake the feeling that I’ve been here before.
But perhaps this is the reason why people go back to Benidorm every year; the guarantee of finding all your favourite fun vendors each year. I’ve certainly been having fun. There’s just so much to be getting on with.
Fraser: Like all shopping trips I’ve ever been on, I seem to have forgotten what I was meant to be doing in Far Cry 4. Ubisoft Montreal does love to fill up their lovely maps with all manner of seductive icons, all weird shapes and secret potential. It’s overwhelming.
Can you help me, Matt? I think I was meant to be doing something with my mum’s ashes, at least I think that’s what’s in the jar I keep stroking, but actually I’ve just been weaponising bears. What the hell is going on?
Matt: Yup, I’m afraid to say your dear old mother has passed, and you’ve been packed off to Kyrat to give her ashes a good scatter. Of course things aren’t so simple as just hiking up a mountain and tipping an urn upside down. Turns out your family were wrapped up in a group of rebels known as The Golden Path who are fighting the reign of Pagan Min. He’s an… interesting chap, clearly designed to be an unsettling presence in the world, and this game’s answer to Far Cry 3’s insanity dispenser Vaas.
But I’m not sure I actually care much. Bombing wild boar from a helicopter grabs my attention by the scruff and holds much tighter. It looks like you’re finding this too?
Fraser: Indeed I am. Any time I’m not hassling the wildlife or putting arrows between the eyes of unsuspecting naughty soldiers, I’m bored out of my tiny skull. The story, what little there is, seems to be not much more than a prodigal son power fantasy. While Far Cry 3 got a bunch of flak for its narrative, at least there was an attempt to subvert colonial fiction. Far Cry 4, on the other hand, seems content to just have a scenery chewing antagonist and not much else.
This is an Ubisoft Montreal game, though, so that means a diversion every 20 feet. Hunting animals, racing on quad bikes, shooting more baddies than you can shake a stick at. I confess that I’m growing tired of the formula, yet some of the side missions and ancillary stuff has been a whole lot of fun.
Last night I took on an outpost - gosh there are a lot of them, and they are nearly indistinguishable from Far Cry 3’s - and made an elephant friend in the most unexpected way. I lobbed a grenade at it, and instead of rightly getting pissed off with me, it slaughtered the entire outpost. We are now close chums and I’ll be sending him a Christmas card this year.
Matt: When I got started I really wish they’d chucked in a ‘Have you played Far Cry 3?’ question, because there’s a lot of time spent teaching you how to use a world that’s pretty much indistinguishable from Far Cry 3. Radio Towers? Check. Outposts? Yup. Hunting for skins and flowers? All present and correct. But whilst the template is all there, it’s the little additives that make the formula so much fun for a second tour.
I’ve already said how much fun it is to hunt from 150ft in the air whilst whizzing around in a little gyrocopter. This little machine gives exploration a new lease of life. You get the rush of adrenaline that things like the hang glider and wingsuit provide, but it’s infinitely more controllable. Travelling great distances becomes something I’m actively enjoying because I can both admire the scenery and hurl grenades on unsuspecting checkpoint soldiers.
Alongside the wholesale lift of Far Cry 3’s sandbox activities, there’s also new additions like Fortresses. They’re bastard hard, heavily manned castles of doom that offer up the most challenging zones of the map. Have you attempted to take any of them on?
Fraser: Fortresses have failed to impress me, unfortunately. Sure, they certainly are challenging, but really, all they are is a small handful of extra-tough outposts. You need to prepare more when planning on tackling them, but there are few differences besides the added difficulty. They just don’t feel like something new.
That’s not to say I don’t think they have their place - I just think there could be more that sets them apart from an activity we’re already going to be doing a hundred times. It’s a feeling that’s pervaded my entire journey through Kyrat so far. I find myself doing the same nonsense over and over again, and I’ve already done it in Far Cry 3. Hell, I’ve just done a lot of it in Assassin’s Creed Unity, too!
Most of the fun seems to come from random mayhem and emergent shenanigans. So outposts and fortresses are a bit safe, a bit bland, but when a group of allies cross paths with you just as you’re assaulting one of them, or when a rhino appears out of nowhere and decides to ruin the Royal Army’s day, then things get interesting.
Matt: Absolutely. I think Far Cry 4 is really creaking under the increasingly apparent Ubisoft design decision to make all their games the same bundle of collecting tasks, towers, and open-approach camps. I don’t want to tear down 150 propaganda posters. I don’t want to do much of anything the game insists, actually.
I think co-op is an excellent addition to Far Cry 4. The chaos that simply roaming around Kyrat produces is the perfect fuel for two players to work with. Charging into a group of soldiers on Elephant back, hurling molotov cocktails and coaxing in predators with bait is without a doubt the best kind of an evening two people could have. It’s just a shame though that, like almost every top-notch idea in Far Cry 4, there’s a drawback. You see, co-op only supports a second player as a guest. They can’t improve their own character as they clock up XP, nor contribute to any core missions. It makes the whole thing feel very temporary and throw-away. As poor as Far Cry 3’s separate and highly limiting co-op campaign was, at least it offered both players genuine progression.
Fraser: The vast majority of the series’ attempts at multiplayer have reeked of pandering, so I’ve never managed to get into it. This time around, I haven’t even bothered getting a bud to jump into my game. I can certainly see how the silliness could be doubled, but I prefer to go it alone and make my own fun. In Far Cry, I’m basically an only child.
I’m probably sounding like a proper grumpy bastard at this point, and that’s because there’s a lot of guff in Far Cry 4, but there are things I completely adore. Surprisingly, autodrive is one of them. That’s something I never thought I’d write. For those not in the know, Far Cry 4 lets you give up control of your car - if you’re within range of an unlocked radio tower - leaving it up to the AI to get you to your destination. Surface deep, it sounds a bit silly, because why wouldn’t you want to drive everywhere yourself? But the world is massive, and the driving is, well it’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly a pleasure either.
Autodrive lets me avoid fast travel, so I can still witness the delightfully random wilderness or just go off the beaten track on a whim, but I don’t need to watch out for rocks or trees, because the AI takes care of it for me. It’s also very handy when you want to unload clip after clip into enemies while cruising through the forest. It usually works really well, too. The AI is certainly a better driver than I am, and the only hiccup I witnessed, I excused, since a great big bloody rhino smashed into us. Maybe it had a history with the car and wanted revenge? I’ll never know, because I immediately took back control and buggered off.
Matt: That Autodrive certainly does make drive-by shootings without face-planting a tree much more achievable, not to mention a lot more fun. And that’s actually something Far Cry does really well: the actual shooting. You’d think that was a given being a shooter, but after playing Call of Duty last month I found myself questioning if the big developers had all forgotten how to make a shooter engaging.
But Far Cry’s weapons all feel nice and meaty. There’s a huge variety of them to fulfill pretty much any tactic you’d like to employ, and there’s plenty of lovely modifications for them to satisfy any gun nuts out there. But the simple act of aiming and firing feels powerful, and when things kick off there’s a real sense of the situation getting hairy as you cower behind a tree as it splinters and catches fire around you. You can handily call on your buddies from the Golden Path too, evening the odds when the Royal’s try to flush you out.
Fraser: The cavalry is always a welcome sight.
Matt: Indeed; be they humans or or a prowling tiger you’ve managed to attract!
In the sense of finding my own fun with the game, just diving in to random firefights, or chasing deer across a hillside, I’ve found Far Cry 4 wonderfully liberating. Shadow of Mordor had a terrific open world, but forced me to complete the bulk of its missions before I could play with its systems. Far Cry’s systems are significantly less ambitious than the Nemesis system, but thankfully so far I’ve found doing stuff pretty much only relies on having the cash to purchase the right weapons, and the will to hold down the W key to get there. I think it’s something to be applauded that there’s enough to do and accomplish without getting tied up in its plot. I’m not even sure I’ll ever ‘finish’ Far Cry 4, but I know what I’ve done with it is some of the best fun I’ve had this year.
Fraser: I know I won’t finish it. I think I’m getting close to maximum Far Cry already, but I’ve thought that a few times since I started playing, and I keep going back. There are, as you said, few restrictions, and a powerful arsenal and ripe targets are easy to come by. An hour of drowning Pagan Min’s minions in bullets and fire usually soothes my irritation with the game’s failings, like the bickering Golden Path leaders and the half-forgotten narrative, at least for another few hours.
I’m like a tourist, really. I like it for a wee bit, but I wouldn’t want to stay. I can forget my troubles in a gunfight and go trekking in any direction, looking for adventure. That adventure usually involves more gunfights, but that’s what you sign up for when you play Far Cry. Big playgrounds covered in deadly weapons.