All Ajay Ghale wanted was to scatter his mother's ashes in Kyrat. The only reason he returned home to the country of his birth was to fulfil her dying wish to be lost on the wind in Kyrat's wild and untamed landscape. He didn't plan on becoming embroiled in a civil war. Or in being tapped up by a bent CIA operative. Or experiencing an acid trip that hurled him thousands of years into the past. Sometimes this is just how things work out.
So it's a good thing that Ajay turned out to be a natural born killer. This natural aptitude at death-dealing is obviously one of Far Cry 4's principle draws.
Unlike other shooters or open-world games where the psychotic tendencies of the protagonist are hardly ever addressed, Far Cry 4 zeroes in on the fact that its hero - and, by default, you as the player - is more than capable of producing a mountainous pile of corpses. The game even goes so far as to point it out to you on the in-game radio station. No point in hiding here. You're a psycho. Run with it.
Cue movie-like moments of madness, the sadistic villain Pagan Min - brilliantly acted by Troy Baker - and Far Cry 4 has all the foundations of being the most audacious and fun shooter of 2014.
Into The Wild
In Kyrat, the fictional country in which Far Cry 4 is set, being a capable killer is no bad thing. In fact, it's necessary for survival. This is a theme that was addressed in Far Cry 3, a game in which players witnessed a spoilt Western suburbanite transform in the Lord Of The Flies. Far Cry 4 takes that theme widescreen: Ajay's lethal bent here is somewhat balanced by the fact that nearly everything in the vicinity is either battling for his soul or actively trying to kill him.
At ground level it's Kyrat's animals and state soldiers that are a problem because the artificial intelligence in Far Cry 4 is head and shoulders over that of its predecessor. Enemies and beasts don't just respond with instinctive hostility to you, they actively seek exploits. Weaker enemies retreat or wait until you've turned your back. Strong enemies attack frontally and with murderous ferocity. The artificial intelligence looks at every challenge the same way you will; it looks at every situation individually and works hard to exploit it.
Far Cry 4's second ace in the hole is its plot. While it bears some resemblance to its predecessor - a protagonist cut loose in a foreign land - Far Cry 4's story is more nuanced and varied. Once you escape from Kyrat's flamboyant dictator, Pagan Min, you'll join forces with the country's rebel movement, The Golden Path. It's here that the narrative starts to splinter based on the decisions you make during play and which faction you side with.
There are two leaders in The Golden Path - Amita and Sabal - and both of them have very different political outlooks towards the liberation of Kyrat. Amita is a liberal pragmatist; she sees nothing wrong in commandeering Min's drug-running operations if they provide a means to build infrastructure and she's also adverse to Kyrat's traditional culture, which marginalizes women. Sabal, on the other hand, is more conservative. He wants to return Kyrat to traditional societal values, but by the same token, he values human life above all other concerns.
In other words, there's no clear-cut moral path through Far Cry 4. Every choice you make occupies a grey area and as the end credits approach you may find yourself questioning pivotal decisions made in early stages of the game. One of Far Cry 4's strengths, though, is that the main story can sometimes feel like background noise. The main draw here isn't plot - although it's very well written and very well paced - it's the potential to create unique moments that just don't exist in other games.
Have you ever fired a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher at a rhino? Ever flipped a jeep and all of its human contents off the side of a cliff while riding an elephant? Have you ever leapt off a radar tower, deployed a wingsuit and soared through the upwinds to the nearest trading post? How about sticking a piece of semtex on the shell of a tortoise and then detonating the poor animal from a safe distance?
You can do all of this in Far Cry 4 and more - in fact, the game encourages you to go off-piste as often as possible. It's likely that between bagging a story quest and rushing to the designated spot on the map to start it, you will run into myriad side quests and dynamic events that drag your attention from the task at hand. Far Cry 4 is a candy factory of a game; there's always a new bauble, event or mission with the potential to drag you off script. But it's a glorious game for that exact reason.
On top of all this there's a multiplayer, divided up between co-op and player vs player (PvP).
The former is rambunctious fun since it takes place on the single-player map and it makes a lot of the missions contained therein easier to accomplish. You can't complete story missions in co-op, but if you've been attacking a fortress with negligible results solo, you and your mate can make short work of it.
The PvP multiplayer is interesting, but not really essential. While the match types are compelling and the decision to pit stealthy bowman against heavily armed freedom fighter is engaging, it's unlikely Far Cry 4's multiplayer lobbies will remain full for long. This game is really all about its standout single player campaign.
Far Cry 4 is one of the deepest and most involved shooters of 2014. And in a year where we've had Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Titanfall it takes something special to stand out.
When we look back at many of the over-hyped, thin and often plain lazy shooters that have been shunted onto retail racks in recent years, Far Cry 4 stands out like a beacon in the mist. Yes, it bears a lot in common with its immediate predecessor, but there's nothing wrong with that. It delivers what any first person shooter fan will want. And then some.
Quite simply Far Cry 4 isn't only one of the best games for the new-gen consoles, it's easily one of the best games of the year.