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This review focuses on the single-player aspect of Far Cry 4. GamesBeat will run a later review of the multiplayer after release. –Ed.

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When developers or other spokesmen tout the possibilities to “craft your own story” due to a given title’s emergent gameplay, what they pitch and aspire to is what Far Cry 4 achieves.

These personal storylines are natural outcomes in well-designed open-world games, from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor to even Forza Horizon 2. Every player collects a series of unique experiences in a given playthrough, but it’s rare games like Far Cry 4 that compel you to share those events with your friends — sometimes immediately.

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From my playthrough on the PlayStation 4 (also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC on November 18),  I recall the butterfly effect of a lone eagle interrupting an otherwise quiet infiltration into an enemy outpost, which resulted in my panicked reaction to shoot my then-alerted enemies with a rocket launcher, killing hostages in the process. Then there was my hurried ATV escape from a dozen soldiers, where driving off the beaten path snowballed into a series of three consecutive unplanned vehicular cliff jumps — leaps that I somehow survived. You’re never short on these kinds of moments in Far Cry 4.

What you’ll like

Simple goal, complex story

The “tropical vacation gone horribly wrong” premise of Far Cry 3 effectively worked like a playable version of the book-turned-movie The Beach. As welcome contrast to that game’s hedonistic beginnings, Far Cry 4’s premise is more heartfelt and ordinary. Ajay Ghale, Far Cry 4’s playable protagonist, is simply visiting South Asia to scatter his mother’s ashes in his parents’ homeland. It just so happens that Ajay’s father is a legend of sorts in this territory. In the eyes of the locals, the name Ghale carries a lot of weight and meaning, enough that a rebel group, The Golden Path are eager to recruit Ajay to their cause.

You're often not alone in your shootouts.

Above: You’re often not alone in your shootouts.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Far Cry 4’s narrative unfolding prescribes to the notion of the journey being more important than the goal, which is to end the oppressive leadership of antagonist, Pagan Min. Adeptly voiced by Troy Baker with a quality performance that closely rivals his memorable work on The Last of Us, Min has the charm and sense of humor of a typical Bond villain while also showing the same cold-blooded ruthlessness of Far Cry 3’s Vaas Montenegro.

If we’re relating this to the supporting cast, the journey is simply more interesting than the goal. Sabal and Amita, the conflicted leaders of The Golden Path, manage to overshadow Min, partly due to receiving much more screen time than the likeable villain. Both rebels have the same objective of defeating Min but fundamentally differ on how how to accomplish that. The heated discussions and disagreements effectively showcase depth in their characterizations and the story overall. Their respective reasoning in a given situation are both often equally valid, and thus, you having to choose one leader’s strategy over another’s is never an easy choice. This is akin to the toughest decisions you have to make in BioWare games — the kind that compel you to replay a game until you’ve seen all the outcomes.

Before you do this, do that

Far Cry 4 tests your inner dog — namely the part of you that can be distracted by something as tiny as a squirrel. I only had been airborne for five seconds in my first gyrocopter when I spotted a drove of pigs, whose hides I needed to make a new loot bag so I could hold more of my stuff.

Naturally, I had to land, but since I had exhausted all my sniper rifle rounds in a recent mission, securing a couple pig hides involved some extra work. The ensuring foot chase alerted some nearby adversaries, and as much as I didn’t mind the extra experience from killing them, I was more focused on the pigs — pigs that, at least in Far Cry 4, run really fast. You might be planning a 20 minute session but don’t be surprised of such a playthrough unexpectedly stretches to 120 minutes. Distractions in Far Cry 4 are to be embraced, no matter how goal-oriented you might be.

Sabal and Amita butting heads, as usual.

Above: Sabal and Amita butting heads, as usual.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Improvising goes hand-in-hand with adapting. If the best judge of character is how one handles himself in a crisis, Far Cry 4 is a hotbed of such judgements. It’s one thing to patiently mark guards from a distance with your binoculars, but it requires another level of preparation to also study the layout of an enemy base before going in.

If a stealth operation goes awry, how do you adapt? Do you charge at every enemy in the hopes that their cumulative rounds of ammo won’t kill you, or do you use your knowledge of the lay of the land to temporarily hide, heal, and pick off each foe, one by one?

Weapons and strategies of choice

For all the elements in moment-to-moment combat that are familiar to fans of Far Cry 3, the new features in Far Cry 4 succeed in adding freshness to otherwise familiar scenarios, particularly outpost infiltrations. Many of these mini bases can be cleared through classic stealth means, such as by throwing diversionary rocks or by charging in with your best weapons. Investing 20 minutes systematically eliminating guards without being detected is just as gratifying as conquering the same base with grenades, a rocket launcher, and your best submachine gun in less than three minutes.

And there’s no shame or deprived experience if you simply unlock an outpost’s elephant cage from 50 yards away with a grenade throw and let the animal take out the entire opposition for you. Compared to Far Cry 3, there are fewer ordinary bases with square-shaped layouts, which makes their takeovers all the more rewarding. Some only have one point of entry while others span multiple levels on the side of a hill.

You'd be surprised how elephants can fit in indoor spaces.

Above: You’d be surprised how well elephants can fit in indoor spaces.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Time equals rewards

Beyond satisfying obsessive compulsiveness in achieving 100 percent completion, letting yourself get sidetracked yields compounding rewards. Every action, whether it’s skinning animals or eliminating enemies with stealth, presents you with some award. It could be more experience points, which lead to skill points that go toward improving Ajay. Almost every action in Far Cry 4 is time well spent, unless you’ve been spending ten minutes on foot when you could have easily taken a truck or an ATV to your destination.

Using explosives with care isn't hard. Just keep your distance.

Above: Using explosives with care isn’t hard. Just keep your distance.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Speaking of vehicles, the methods of getting from point A to B have been positively expanded over the already impressive traversal conveniences of Far Cry 3. I thought that ziplines and hang gliders in the previous game were thrilling enough. Now you have single-person helicopters that are a blast to pilot but also provide the practical benefits of enabling you to survey the land below for nearby encampments and packs of animals you might be searching for.

Yet it’s the grappling mechanic that impressed me the most. Like an evolution over the simple climbing controls that appear whenever you approach ledges, grappling hooks enable you to scale lengthy cliff faces with swift efficiency. The moment I realized grappling also allowed for horizontal movement along walls was the moment Far Cry 4 carved its own sense of identity beyond just being “the sequel to Far Cry 3.” Add the Himalayan setting, tie-ins to Shangri-la, and the abundance of treasure waiting to be found, and you now have the closest thing to a first-person reimagining of Uncharted 2.

What you won’t like

Adapt or die

The Far Cry series, with its immensely open maps and unpredictable enemy AI behavior, has been revered as a refreshing alternative to the linear first-person shooters like the Call of Duty series. If you prefer the sense of control in picking off foes who are fixed behind the same cover point, you’ll seldom find that kind of predictability and ease in Far Cry 4. When you respawn in a Battlefield campaign, there’s comfort knowing that enemies will generally appear in the same area as before. Such assurances are rare in the Far Cry series, much thanks to the expansive spaces that provide opponents with a wealth of strategical options such as cover and flanking opportunities. Unless you thrive on thinking on your feet at all times, Call of Duty and Battlefield would be more your speed.

Conclusion

Far Cry 4 is the latest illustration that the best open worlds are those designed to function as playgrounds — where goals can be pursued even when impulsiveness thrives. While it received a good deal of help from a rock-solid foundation that is Far Cry 3, this sequel introduces more than enough new features that both games should be regarded as companion pieces to each other.

Far Cry 4 is the furthest thing from a mere upgrade. As developers struggle to decide how much a sequel should be similar or different from its predecessor, Ubisoft shows immense skill in finding a happy medium in Far Cry 4.

Score: 94/100

Far Cry 4 releases Nov. 18 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a “debug” prerelease PlayStation 4 copy for the purposes of this review. 

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