Launching today, Far Cry 4 is the latest in Ubisoft’s franchise of first-person shooters set in exotic locales. It takes place in a big, beautiful open world roughly based the area around the Himalayas in Nepal.
As a player, you’re free to explore this environment through a variety of means, including driving ATVs, cars, and trucks to water vehicles, small helicopters, and even a wingsuit for quickly bailing from great heights. When navigating towards a specific mission or location, the game conveniently lets you turn on Autodrive so you can take in the surroundings or deal with enemies in vehicles of their own.
Your motivation for exploring the game’s world is the central campaign, which pits you against an eccentric dictator as the son of two rebels who has returned to the country from America to bury his mother’s ashes.
As you fight for the rebels (who you join within minutes of gaining control after the opening cut scene), campaign missions make you choose between options like capturing drugs so that their sale can feed the country’s poor or burning them on principle. The game makes it clear that there are shades of gray to each of these decisions, though making these choices often seems to only change how certain key characters act towards you temporarily.
There are also missions tangential to the main story which introduce you to the game’s many quirky side characters. Whether its a preacher obsessed with guns or a raunchy radio broadcaster looking to take down the corrupt governments propaganda, these characters are entertaining and their missions challenging and unique from the rest of your time wandering around the countryside of Kyrat.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot in Far Cry 4 that has little to do with your progress in the main campaign. In order to toughen yourself up for the harder battles, you can go around hunting wildlife, whose hides can be used to craft better equipment. That includes making yourself bigger bags, which you’ll need to collect all of the loot you get from taking down enemies. It’s worth it to do so, however, because you can periodically sell it for a huge boost in cash, which lets you buy more of the weapons you unlock.
You unlock weapons (and discover new locations) by completing key missions and by taking over the bell towers scattered around Kyrat to play the rebels’s radio transmissions instead of government propaganda. Capturing these towers is usually more of a puzzle than a fight, pushing you through some light platforming and a stealthy assassination or two to reach the top.
Rounding out the time you spend wandering around Kryat are random “Karma” events where you run into government soldiers on the roads between villages and military outposts. These might task you assassinating an officer or running a courier with intel or supplies off the road, and typically only take a minute or two to knock out. They’re a lot of fun because you never know when another group of soldiers or a pack of wolves will stumble upon you, forcing you to change tactics just as you get the upper hand.
Far Cry 4 is the first big shooter since the Wolfenstein reboot to focus on providing a fun single player campaign instead of tacking one on to a primarily multiplayer game. While there are some online modes, including ones that let you make your own maps, you’re going to want to spend the majority of your time exploring Kyrat on your own or with a friend visiting from their own campaign (though we’ve seen claims on Twitter that the game boots you to the menu without saving if you lose connectivity while playing in the online co-op mode).
After recently putting 10+ hours last week into Assassin’s Creed Unity, which has an incredibly spare, uninteresting story with bland characters, Ubisoft’s latest AAA release was a refreshing palette cleanser that kept me engaged in making steady progress. As with Assassin’s Creed, this follows the formula set by the previous game in the series, but here Ubisoft has managed to keep what works while updating parts of the game that detracted from the most enjoyable bits. If you’re looking for a break from leveling up in Destiny or the latest Call of Duty, Far Cry 4 is a fantastic open world shooter.