All things considered, it would have been hard for Ubisoft to screw up Far Cry 4. The third game in the series was really well received, with a brilliant blend of mission design and open-open world gameplay that let you approach each conflict how you wanted, even if the story itself let a poor taste in the mouths of some.
For Far Cry 4, Ubisoft take this foundation, shifting all that had been on the Rook Islands and transplanting it into Kyrat. Sandy beaches give way to mountainous vistas, but still there are dozens of outposts to tackle, more animals to hunt and skin, platformer-esque radio tower climbing puzzles and a lunatic running the whole place.
Alone this would have been a game well worth playing, into which you could easily sink dozens of hours, but Ubisoft didn’t stop there. Far Cry 3’s arguably lamentable campaign is improved, with a (slightly) more believable protagonist, while the choices it forces you to make were genuinely difficult. Siding with either Anita or Sabal will piss off the other, but only afterwards will you find out exactly what the disappointed party’s motives were. It’s a weird kind of morality – do you burn the opium plants to create a “pure” institution, or use the money gained from selling them to construct vital hospitals. Which is right? How do you choose?
The characters are more memorable as well. Pride of place of course goes to Pagan Min, the scariest of all madmen, a vicious personality covered by a veneer of total calm. De Pleur sticks in the mind as well, a sociopathic killer balancing helping run a tyranny with being a good father to his little girl, as does Yuma, who doesn’t even start off trying to appear sane. They’re genuinely interesting characters, if a little underused.
The aspects brought over from the previous game are just as fun as they ever were. Outposts still allow total freedom to conquer as you see fit, with multiple opportunities to use the world to your advantage in doing so. Hunting, meanwhile, is – if anything – better, giving you incentive to use the bow and arrow rather than, say, a flamethrower to track down those valuable pelts.
Most of all though – forgetting the story and side-quests – the world of Kyrat is simply pure, distilled fun to play around in. Grabbing a gyrocopter, chasing an ATV, wing-suiting out, running away from a rhino, jumping in a hovercraft… It’s an endless cycle of brilliant, often hilarious, moments.
A clone of Far Cry 3 would have been a great game, perhaps on its own deserving to be in our top 10 games of the year, but Far Cry 4 takes the best bits of the series so far and adds to them, with a surprisingly poignant story tied to an incredible open-world.
How did we decide our top 10 games of the year? Come back on Christmas Eve for our four hour podcast-extravaganza, featuring this, and multiple other categories.