On my way to capture an enemy outpost, I come across some of my Golden Path allies in a heated battle with a rampaging rhinoceros, and they have no chance. The rhino bashes into cars like they were made of paper, and soon enough, I'm the only one with two legs still standing. The rhino notices me and I open fire with my rifle. After only a few shots, I hear the click which indicates I'm out of ammo, and probably gonna die. I've still got some space between me and horned death, so I take the only weapons left in my inventory, a handful of molotov cocktails, and fling them at my nemesis. This is when I learn that the only thing scarier than a berserk rhino charging at you with all its strength is one that does so whilst on fire. Such are the types of lessons learned in Far Cry 4.
Such is an average day for Ajay Ghale in the volatile Himalayan region of Kyrat. Upon arriving to spread his mother's ashes, he is quickly drawn into the civil war between the ruthless King Min and the guerilla fighters, the Golden Path, whose leadership is sharply divided on what direction their country may eventually take. Although choices are set up and presented in a clear and dramatic way, the payoff is ultimately non-existent. It's a shame, since I was engrossed by the infighting of the Golden Path, and it was disappointing that the conclusion, while adequately shaped by player choice and action, never really shows off the consequences of said choices.
However, this is Far Cry, so at the end of the day, the story comes second to the world and the action. Serving as something of an expansion of Far Cry 3, FC4 is all about tossing the player into the world with minimal gear and direction and letting them conquer the land, one outpost, one radio tower, one sidequest, and one mission at a time. The structure, and ultimately much of the game, is virtually identical to Far Cry 3, with the same combination of melodrama and irreverence, fined tuned for maximum entertainment. The game is great at allowing the player to drop out of the story and explore the world, even within a mission. Shooting is tighter than before; playing without the crutch of auto-aim assistance is not merely feasible - it's superior. Also, shooting while driving is a blast, if rarely integrated into the mission design.
Despite running on the same tech that powered FC3 (and even 2008's flawed but brilliantly innovative Far Cry 2), the visuals get a serious performance enhancement from the graphical power of current-gen consoles. While one can detect a little pop-in and some low-res textures here and there, the character models are very detailed and I hardly ever noticed any drop in framerate, even when blowing up everything (and everyone) in sight with my trusty one-handed grenade launcher, which I promptly anthropomorphized and made my best friend. I called her Jillian Michaels because when she spoke, everybody listened and obeyed.
If the story takes a backseat to the sandbox shooting gameplay, then multiplayer is practically an afterthought. Competitive play offers only a few stock modes and the custom map editor only supports single-player challenges (no custom multiplayer maps, even though they have long been a staple of the series). The asymmetry between the teams and emphasis on stealth means most of your deaths will happen out of nowhere, being sniped silently by somebody who noticed you out of the corner of their eye. Maybe I just suck at it, but I was done after a mere handful of matches. Co-op fares better, in which a second player can join Ajay in the open-world and participate in side-quests. It's merely supplemental, but it's fun and can lead to some wild firefights a single player would never be able to survive alone. Try storming an un-weakened fortress with a friend for a true test of teamwork.
Most of FC4 should be immediately familiar to anyone who enjoyed Far Cry 3, just improved in every respect. When the foundation is that strong, there's little tweaking required. Sure, I'd like to be able to fall more than ten feet before dying, a little more variety in the side-missions would be welcome, and I still don't care about online play, but there's enough here to keep anyone occupied for dozens of hours and still have weapons left to unlock, quests left to complete, and secrets yet to discover. Add Kyrat to your list of awesome fictional vacation spots.
Final Score: 8/10