At the start of Far Cry 4, the despotic yet not wholly despicable Pagan Min invites you to simply sit at his table and eat. You don’t have to join the rebellious Golden Path in fighting him for control of your native homeland, as you can indulge in the crab rangoon instead. But then there’s the view from the balcony, and that glimpse of deciduous trees nestled between frost-tipped mountains (a mere taste of the gigantic map) offers a compelling reason to decline Min’s idle hospitality. Unlike the real world, Kyrat’s outdoors offer an addictive smorgasbord of adventure, served up as a pu pu platter of cinematic styles and immersive gameplay.
To begin with, you can largely ignore the story. If you want to blow off the rebels and simply backpack across Kyrat, flying around in a single-passenger Buzzard helicopter to take in the sights before leaping out to parachute onto a ledge that you can then rappel down, so be it. If you’d rather play Rambo, you can sneak about liberating strongholds and fortresses at your leisure, whether that means stealthily dispatching its military occupants from afar or going in bazookas blazing. Nothing’s stopping you from hunting the local wildlife and using their skins to upgrade your equipment; there’s no reason why you can’t just scale the various radio towers and BASE-jump off of them. There’s some gated content tied to progression in the campaign (the entire Northern region, for instance, as well as performance-enhancing skills, increasingly powerful weaponry, and arena-based survival challenges), but given all the marvelous distractions at your fingertips from the get-go, there’s no rush or need to immediately unlock everything.
For those desiring a more focused approach to gameplay, Far Cry 4 offers a lengthy campaign with over 40 missions. To its credit, none of these trials come across as tutorials, and often create one-of-a-kind events to enhance your sense of progress. In one instance, you’ll wingsuit through Himalayan canyons as you attempt to outrace an avalanche; in another, you’ll climb aboard an elephant and use it to tear asunder the cables supporting an opium den’s massive chimney. By sacrificing some of the open-world adventuring for these specific scenarios, the game is actually able to open up, much as a documentary, in the hands of the right director, can actually reveal more than one’s potentially aimless wandering. Hurk’s missions, for instance, are clearly inspired by Michael Bay’s penchant for destruction (he even says as much) and the tomb-raiding of Indiana Jones. On the other hand, Yogi & Reggie’s hallucinogenic challenges would be a nice fit in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, whereas your meditative visitations to the surreal Shangri-La calls Tarsem Singh to mind. In other words, there’s an action movie in Far Cry 4 for everyone, regardless of taste.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that Far Cry 4, like its action-movie inspirations, falters in the actual plotting and character development. Perhaps some of this is due to the difficulty of offering narrative branches; several times throughout the game, you’ll either have to side with the religious idealist, Sabal, or his realistic rival, Amita, and your choices determine who leads the Golden Path, and which missions you’ll undertake. Given the amount of free will you have in determining your path through the game, there’d simply be too much to script if every character’s fate was actually shown or explained; it’s far easier to leave things as ambiguous as a works-for-all-purposes Barnum statement. That said, even an open-world game deserves better than an open-ended resolution, especially when it comes to returning characters from Far Cry 3, like Willis, or to those you’ve chosen to ally with.
It would take far more than a disappointing and rushed climax to taint the otherwise astonishing visual accomplishments made here by Ubisoft, which are right on par with those of the remastered Grand Theft Auto V. And it speaks volumes to the authenticity of Kyrat that both the 5v5 multiplayer and Map Editor feel frivolous, despite the stray innovations of each, especially when given the option to explore this fictitious country with a co-op partner. (That said, it’s a bit of a waste, given that the controls are as smooth as those found in Destiny.) Be glad that Far Cry 4 isn’t entirely perfect; if it were, it’d be the sort of vacation you couldn’t come back from.