I wonder how much I would have loved Ubisoft’s FAR CRY 4 if I never played FAR CRY 3. I had a complete blast with FAR CRY 3 and definitely thirsted for more after completing the game 100% side quests and all. So I suppose in a sense I got what I wished for because this game really should have been called FAR CRY 3.5…and I mean that as a compliment. Everything I loved about FAR CRY 3 is here including a huge beautiful sandbox world to play in, a wide variety of weapons and vehicles, intense animal-infused action, fun and worthwhile side missions, and an overall sense of freedom rarely found in an open world first person shooter. Unfortunately some of the down sides stuck around as well including hollow characters, a lackluster storyline, and a “meh” at best multiplayer component. That said, it’s still a damn fine game that played it safe by recreating a wonderful experience rather than taking any bold new directions forward. Again…I’m ok with that…this time.

FAR CRY 4 exchanges the tropical setting found 3 for the vast openess of the Himalayan countryside of Kyrat which is extremely mountainous, river-filled, and stunningly beautiful. Sure, I prefer my FAR CRY with sandy beaches, palm trees, and sharks…but whatever, I embraced the change in scenery. There were many times where the action calmed for a moment and I could stop, breath and soak up all the beauty…until a damn hawk (or whatever) swooped down to poop on my parade. Trust me, the birds in this game would put a chill down Alfred Hitchcock’s spine. Relentless beasts!! My one nitpick about the setting is that “bigger” does not always mean “better”. I liked the more focused (yet still huge) world in FAR CRY 3 and believe this iteration was just a little too big for its britches and borderline daunting. That said, it’s still pretty dense with beasts, camps, tombs, fortresses, and whatnot making it a fun place to romp around.

This time around players are thrust into the shoes of American Ajay Ghale as he travels to Kyrat to spread his mother’s ashes in the land she once fought for and loved. The plot thickens as you discover the rich history of Kyrat and you’re parents’ role in all the politics and escapades of yesteryear. You quickly meet the game’s main villain Pagan Min who seems more of a caricature or Saturday morning cartoon character rather than an actual threat. Sure his performance was over the top and well acted, but he was just kind of absent throughout the game and there was no question I was going to blow his brains out at some point in the game and win the day.

While the campaign missions were a blast in all their scripted glory, it was the unscripted camp and fortress liberations, side missions, beast hunting, and helicopter flying that stole the show. This game is damn fun. While I was never itching for the main story to progress, the main missions were fun and moved what little plot there was forward. The side missions including hostage rescues, races, bomb diffusions, and the like were rewarding and fun almost all the time. Not to mention the true joy of overtaking a camp and/or fortress to cleanse the land of all those naughty people with guns and grenades roaming around. We are even treated to completely gorgeous and epic side missions set in the mystical land of Shangri-La. There are 4 total, but I have to admit this game is not without it’s huge bugs and glitches. As of the writing of this review 2 out of 4 of these fun and beautiful Shangri-La missions just disappeared from my map and I was unable to play them. Bummer I know! I was also treated to a download code at preorder granting me access to a harpoon gun after completing side missions for the zany Hurk who is somewhat of an off-the-hinge weapons expert. But alas his missions disappeared of my map as well…no harpoon gun for me. While I did feel a bit ripped off, they weren’t game breaking glitches, just dissapointments.

Which brings me to the cooperative component of the game. The most notable addition is the ability to invite a buddy into the action and help you on your quest to take out camps, attack fortresses, hunt, collect loot, or just roam around lighting rhinos on fire or ghost riding your car off a cliff with your bud still riding shotgun. There are just so many tool here to make playing with a friend a blast. You have a wide array of amazing and powerful weapons, grappling ropes to scale mountains, a squirrel wing suit to soar off a cliff, land and water vehicles aplenty, and last but not least the mini helicopter that stole the whole damn show. Reigning fire from above on your copter, traversing the beautiful world easily, and/or jumping off from the highest height you can go into battles create some of the most fun moments I’ve had in gaming in a long time. My only gripes with this co-op mode is that you can’t do any campaign missions together, the collectible items (treasures, posters, etc.) you collect only count for the host player (except money and skins), and if you stray too far from one another someone is teleported right next to you. While it’s all a little flimsy, there is no denying just how fun it is. I hope it’s something the franchise refines next time around possibley adding more players into the mix.

And not be be a Debbie-downer but the competitive multiplayer component is pretty stinky poo. I’ll admit the biggest issue is just not enough players are on the servers, and those who are seem to just be experimenting with the option rather than giving it a true go. But damn, the levels are just too big, teams are often uneven, the objectives of the various modes can be a bit blurry, and it was just too boring and a bit of a chore to complete a match. Not to mention to get through a full game cycle almost always took 25+ minutes. Too much. There’s also a robust map creator/editor included that is a bit of a hidden gem and can add a lot of value to this title if you are so inclined. Playing some of the player-created level were pretty insane.

As the sun set on Kyrat for the day and I made it a safe place to live again (besides all those foul beasts!), I was left with a very worthwhile and rewarding gaming experience. Sure it’s a bit buggy, sure the co-op has a lot to be desired, and sure the characters and story are all a bit safe and dull. But even still, I had a blast and FAR CRY 4 comes highly recommended for its wonderful gameplay, beautiful and dense sandbox world, weapon and vehicle (and Elephant!) choices, exciting and unscripted side missions, and the overall freedom of choice in the action. Sure it was a bit safe and repetitive for those who played FAR CRY 3, but more of the same isn’t always a bad thing. No pressure FAR CRY 5, but I think it’s time to up the ante…

Final Score: 8 out of 10