Far Cry 4

HIGH ALTITUDE HEART OF DARKNESS

Far Cry 4 is the latest in Ubisoft’s first person exploratory shooter franchise. It was resurrected from 2008 sleeper Far Cry 2 into 2012’s heavily publicized and popularized Far Cry 3. The series maintains a familiar structure, similar to and likely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. All follow the journey of someone from the first world moving suddenly to the darkest and most unstable parts of the world, where the right decision is stolen from the protagonist by unjustifiable conflict.

The Far Cry series is one strange fever dream. 2’s protagonist often collapsed in fits of malarial agony, 3’s was high out of his mind the entire time, and 4… well, Far Cry 4’s protagonist doesn’t have much to characterize him by. I find myself missing the obnoxious Jason Brody, the bro-ey SoCal Übermensch of Far Cry 3, at least in comparison to the flat plank of wood that is Ajay Ghale, American returning to his (fictional) native country of Kyrat in order to scatter his mother’s ashes.

Kyrat is a strange blend of India and Tibet, not unlike a sort of hazy (yet very believable) pastiche of Nepal and Assam, Himalayan nations influenced by both of the ancient empires. Kyrat is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the entire game. The gameplay is not bad, but it’s repetitive and unimpressive. Shooting people with guns and bows alike has been done, and stealth is in this season. Ubisoft takes its usual approach of a smattering of mechanics thrown into the game, with a huge quantity of collectibles and side missions to gnaw on in order to distract us from the main plot.

Kyrat itself, however, is a gorgeous and very real feeling nation, where shrines dot the land, and summits are marked with poles bearing prayer flags. Many of the side locations are useless, or only contain some small collectibles. But many of them are still fascinating or gorgeous little holes in the wall, reached by mountain climbing and caving.

The very best of the game is in those side missions that take advantage of place, like those that take you into the bloody arctic ops of the Himalayas, and the Thangka missions, which unashamedly incorporates the concept of Shangri-La into fascinating and beautiful missions within the mythical land. Many games give me a gun and a red-colored soldier to shoot; but I can’t remember the last time I sicced a glowing white tiger on demons while I shot mystical arrows at a giant flying monster atop a waterfall of blood. The Shangri-La Thangkas ultimately immersed me more than anything else in the game, which could have been a plus, if they hadn’t been a short, disconnected questline.

The main campaign has interesting questions within it, but it strings the player along a boring civil war filled with bad decisions, and then answers them all at once, with very little closure, in an ending so open it can only be a matter of setting up postgame DLC, or a bad case of rushed writing. Far Cry 4 has many misses, but it is such a large and multifaceted game that, as per Ubisoft’s plan, some of the places where it hits are well worth investigating.

pwasted@synthesis.net