Far Cry 4 is a world that is alive. Take a stroll through the mountains of Kyrat and in a short period of time you’ll likely run into some native Kyratis that need rescued, or Golden Path members that need help fixing a vehicle. Maybe you’ll be attacked by an eagle or a honey badger. No matter where you go, something is always happening; and you get to be a part of it.
That is the strength of Far Cry 4 and what sets it apart from its predecessor. The world of Kyrat is not just another open-world playground where snow-capped peaks and rocky terrain were substituted for sandy beaches and tropical foliage. You’re still free to run, jump, climb, and shoot your way throughout the hillsides, but there’s more going on around you if you stop for a moment and take notice. Those gunshots you hear echoing in the distance could be Golden Path members fighting Pagan’s forces, or maybe someone shooting at a wild animal. That village down the path that looked like a good place to stop is the sight of a gruesome murder; the work of a serial killer. So many games have strived to make the setting of their world match with the events going on around you, but most only achieve it in when you’re in one of the game’s main area. For Far Cry 4, Ubisoft has somehow been able to craft a world that feels exactly like it should: a beautiful place that is being wrecked by internal strife.
That strife is due to the battle between a native freedom fighter group, called the “Golden Path,” and the forces of the country’s dictator, Pagan Min. Pagan has turned the country into his own little drug-production facility and there are those that take exception to such things. This fighting has been going on for sometime but it doesn’t deter Ajay Ghale, the title’s protagonist, from journeying back to his homeland in order to scatter his mother’s ashes. Once he gets there, he’s tossed right into the middle of the conflict. Everyone and their dog seems to know who you are and many feel like you’re the guy that’s going to help them finally overthrow Pagan. But why? What makes Ajay so special? Much of the game’s plot revolves as much around the plans and operations to take Pagan down as it does around who Ajay’s parents were. That’s Ajay’s journey and you, as his controller, get to be there with him when he finds those answers. Your journey, as a player, is through the world of Kyrat.
There is never a moment where you don’t have something to do in Far Cry 4. Bringing up the map screen assaults you with various collectibles, bell towers, outposts, side missions, and other points of interest. After clearing the first few campaign missions, all of these are at your beck and call. Just as in Far Cry 3, areas of the map are obscured from view until you climb up a bell tower - which has been repurposed to spread pro-Pagan propaganda - and change the station. Once you can see what’s out there, you can start planning your assaults on outposts in order to unlock Fast Travel points, more guns, and help the Golden Path. Some of these objectives may be more difficult to access until you gain more experience (which is earned by completing missions, freeing towers and outposts, and killing enemies) and unlock more skills, but you’re never penned into a small area with the larger sandbox just out of reach.
In some ways, attempting to access these areas earlier in the game is more fun than doing so later on. Having limited resources and skills at your disposal means you have to think up more creative ways of assaulting an outpost. You may take the stealthy approach, marking each guard with your camera and watching their patrols to plan your attack; or you may opt for a more direct method and drive a car into the middle of their base, run away, and then throw a grenade to blow it (and any nearby enemies) to smithereens. You’re eventually given all of the tools you need to play the game how you want, with the occasional caveat that you’re not invincible and have to be a bit cautious from time-to-time. Bring a friend along, and throw caution to the winds.
If playing the game solo is a journey of discovery, then playing the game cooperatively is tearing through the countryside in a truck playing “Back in Black” on full volume while your friend is in the back hollering and firing wildly into the air. Provided, that is, your friend is game for it.
A second player can be added to your game at any time to play as the free-spirited Hurk, who appears briefly in the game to essentially say “you can play co-op now!” before going back into the shadows. This player brings with them all of the skills and equipment they’ve unlocked in their game, and gets to take back with them any experience, guns, skills, ammo, and cash they earn along the way. What’s excluded from that list is any sort of progress within the game, i.e., towers liberated, outposts conquered, or collectibles gathered. Any such progress is only saved to the host’s account, so the second player would have to liberate or collect all those in his or her own game. There’s the potential for the second player to bring back with him or her guns he or she hasn’t unlocked yet, but that’s not the reason he or she is there. The second player is there because (ideally) you both feel like playing around in an open-world FPS sandbox.
It took me a bit of time to wrap my head around Far Cry 4’s co-op mode. When a player joins your game, the main campaign missions become locked out. However, the rest of the world is still open. You can still liberate towers and outposts, take on side missions, go hunting, engage in the random events that show up, and generally cause havoc. There are no special co-op missions upon which to embark or new areas you’re able to reach. I’m so used to inviting friends to a game in order to achieve something that having someone join up to just goof around felt strange. There was no objective or set “thing” we had to do. We could go climb up that bell tower and have a look around. We could just as easily hop into a mini-helicopter, ascend as high as possible above a group of enemies, and then jump out while throwing grenades at the ground. Pointless? Sure. But way more fun.
Regrettably, it feels like that attitude is only shared among friends. Given the way the co-op is setup, and perhaps even because of the penalty that any kind of connection issues tosses both players back to the main menu, joining a random person’s game is almost impossible. In the ten attempts I made to join a random game, only one of them was successful. Most of them I was kicked out by the host almost right away, and a few just randomly lost connection before I ever got into the game proper. For the one game that I did manage to join, I helped the host assassinate an enemy lieutenant. Stealth is absolutely required for this particular side mission so I was a little surprised I wasn’t kicked out (I could have easily gone charging into the area on an elephant and alert every guard in a five-mile radius). We managed to quietly dispatch all of the problematic guards in the area, moving in from opposite sides of the camp. With the sentries gone, he made his way around to where the lieutenant was hanging out while I continued dealing with the guards. Neither one of us spoke directly through all of this, we just followed one another’s lead. With the lieutenant dispatched in a great show of cooperation, I figured we’d move on to something else. Sadly, my only reward was getting sent back to my game.
What’s missing from Far Cry 4’s co-op mode is a sense of purpose and players. Fun aside, there’s no real reason to have another player there. The second player doesn’t get much out of their time in another player’s game that they couldn’t get in their own, and the main player can’t progress in the main campaign while the second player is there. The whole chaotic fun aspect is great but it would be better with at least a couple more people tossed into the mix to make it more of a “party” than a little hangout. Not to mention the looming threat of being kicked back to the main menu if there are any connection issues between the two players. It’s not that the co-op is bad, it just feels like a partial implementation of a bigger idea.
Far Cry 4 feels like the next step in the FPS genre for creating worlds that have depth to them; not only in the characters with whom you interact, but the environment itself. Wherever you go in Kyrat there’s a sense of history and purpose. That shrine was built there by someone or a group of people at some point, and people are still at that shrine today. It’s a little touch but it’s enough to make a game that could have been “just another…” stand out on its own. While that same sense of wonder doesn’t quite extend to the co-op mode, charging into an enemy base on the backs of a couple of elephants is a pretty amazing experience in its own right (all hail Babar, king of cooperative destruction!) It’s just too bad it’s not always like that.
While the single player campaign has the look and feel of a “next-gen” experience, the co-op feels like it’s still stuck in 2009.
The Co-Optimus review of Far Cry 4 is based on the PC version of the game.