Note to readers: Unfortunately, this review does not cover the multiplayer mode of Far Cry 4, as it was too unstable to fully test at the time of this writing.
Boot up Far Cry 4, and you'll notice a small collection of digits under its logo. In any other context, this handful of numbers would be completely harmless, but in this case, they're given a task geared towards intimidation: measuring your progress down to the nearest hundredth of a percent.
Yep, this is an Ubisoft game, all right.
Of course, Ubi isn't alone in using this tactic, but sticking a progress marker in such a prominent position feels almost boastful: This is a developer, after all, whose "house style" typically involves throwing the player into an open world dotted with a dizzying amount of objectives—Assassin's Creed and the recent Watch Dogs follow the exact same tack. This approach has served them well, which is why Ubi hasn't abandoned it for this latest installment of the Far Cry series. Load up the legend to decipher all of those little icons on your map, and you'll notice this information spills over to more than one screen. If you're looking for a nearly impossible amount of things to do, you've found the right game.
Thankfully, Far Cry 4 knows exactly what it is. Where the last game wrung its hands for the first few hours about the main character's transition from frat boy to full-fledged mass murderer, 4 disposes of this idea completely. Protagonist Ajay Ghale arrives in the fictional Himalayan land of Kyrat to spread his mother's ashes, and finds himself captured by the enigmatic villain, Pagan Min; after he's rescued and recruited by a resistance group, Ajay becomes a one-man army capable of hunting exotic animals, piloting any number of vehicles, and committing a wealth of war crimes without batting an eye. And, outside of the few seconds of reluctance Ajay shows when asked to do the Next Crazy Thing, he's mostly an empty shell—but that's fine. The small amount of narrative Far Cry 4 burdens you with is more than enough.
If you've played Far Cry 3, this sequel doesn't offer many surprises. As with the previous game, you slowly spread your group's influence across an entire map's worth of enemy territory by scaling radio towers—platforming puzzles that gradually increase in complexity—and conquering enemy outposts, which once again act as the highlight of the game. While you can roll up to a stronghold with guns blazing, Far Cry 4 rewards a more meticulous touch by doling out greater rewards to those who can successfully take out every enemy without being detected or tripping an alarm. If you're a fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, there's a lot to love about these segments, which apply their focus on limiting your abilities to various other types of missions found within the game. Just because you're encouraged to stay hidden doesn't mean you can't fight dirty, though: Throw a piece of bait into a group of unsuspecting enemies, and a vicious animal may soften them up or even take a few out before you have the chance to fire a single arrow. In case you missed the infamous Internet video, those honey badgers can seriously wreck someone's shit.
Far Cry 4 tries its best to guide you through the narrative with plot-relevant missions, but they mostly get lost amid all the other activities available in the game—and I mean this literally. When I felt the need to move on to the next node of the critical path for the sake of getting this review done in a timely manner, I had to scour my map for minutes to find the icon designating the correct mission type. And that's just fine, because, at its heart, Far Cry 4 is really a "make your own fun" kind of game. My most entertaining moments could be found when I wandered around Kyrat with no agenda, moving towards whatever icon on my mini-map promised the next minutes-long chunk of madcap antics. On that note, my worst moments of the game came in the pre-mission (unskippable) cut scenes, where the gleeful sociopaths determining Ajay's next actions blathered on and on while I impatiently refreshed my iPhone's Twitter feed. I'm sure plenty of people worked hard to write, voice act, and mo-cap these scenes, which makes their superfluous nature all the more tragic.
Rest assured, there's a ton of things to do in Far Cry 4, so much so that listing each individual mission type here would border on tedious. It's strange, though, that with so much to do, the game feels the need to throw so many distractions in your path. As you explore Kyrat, various objectives will pop up without warning, which range from rescuing hostages to defending a conquered outpost from attacking enemies. Some of the time, you can ignore these surprise missions, but they have a nasty habit of popping up smack-dab in the middle of your current path, which can slow your progress significantly. Kyrat's wildlife also has the tendency to attack without warning, leaving you with no choice but to shift your priorities once again. I wouldn't mind these animal encounters if they happened less often, but I found myself constantly annoyed by the many, many times I had to stop what I was doing to spray bullets into the faces of the wild wolves, tigers, and rhinos who decided to win one for Mother Nature. Sure, I get the irony of the hunter becoming the hunted, but that doesn't make it fun to experience first-hand.
Far Cry 4 certainly presents a wild ride, but it's an experience in desperate need of some pruning. Godspeed to you if you're capable of such a feat, but I imagine only a tiny fraction of its audience will make that title screen progress meter roll over to 100%. And I wish Ubi had the confidence to focus completely on stealth, because the straight-up action set pieces the game often relies upon feel artless and not nearly as satisfying as the few times I managed to scrape by without a single enemy spotting my actions. Ubi's focus on continually reiterating the same kinds of game play had me satisfied by the halfway point, which left me hoping the clearly skilled developer would focus on a smaller, more thoughtfully designed series of missions rather than a Thanksgiving feast with half of its contents destined to moulder away in the refrigerator of this particular metaphor. Far Cry 4 provides plenty of fun, of course, but don't be surprised if you're done with it before it's done with you.
Kyrat offers an absolutely gorgeous backdrop for Far Cry 4's antics, with plenty of jaw dropping vistas and well-rendered settlements throughout.
Far Cry 4 boasts some pretty impressive sound design—don't be surprised if you end up using audio alone to determine the position of enemies.
Nothing in particular stands out, though the map can be particularly hard to read if you're looking for a specific type of mission.
If you can work your way to the end of each and every mission Far Cry 4 has to offer, congratulations: you have an admirable brand of madness.
Far Cry 4 certainly features a lot to love, but Ubi's continued buffet-style approach to content has the game wearing out its welcome far earlier than it should. Still, if you're willing to adopt a pick-and-choose approach to its unbelievable amount of stuff to do, you should have a good time—just don't expect to digest everything it has to offer.