In my experience with video games—at least third- and first-person shooters—I tend to divide them into two mental categories. There’s Column A, encompassing your wacky self-aware types (your Saints Row, your Borderlands, your Team Fortress 2—even GTA V had some genuinely funny moments between all the tryhard sociopathy and hamfisted thuggery), and Column B, consisting of all the humorless, capital-S Serious Shooters featuring stubbly white protagonists and faceless brown enemies (think Call of Duty, Ghost Recon, Gears of War and so forth). Far Cry 4 is a bewildering concoction which displays all the self-referential, limitless gameplay of Column A, and all the flat, unlikeable characterization of Column B.
I have never had as much fun in a video game as I had in this stupid piece of shit game. I love it so much it hurts my soul. My crystallizing moment was the exact second I fired an M-79 grenade launcher with one hand while hanging off the side of a ramshackle gyrocopter and watched the grenade plow directly into a grazing rhino, all while being harangued via radio by the rakish and incredibly obnoxious commander of our quasi-socialist rebellion.
The gameplay is, in a word, phenomenal. There are hundreds of missions and random encounters, numerous ways to approach each of them (stealth, misdirection, full-on assault), dozens of customizable guns (though the color selection is depressingly pedestrian) and all sorts of happy surprises like the protagonist’s upgradeable homestead and the game-changing ability to ride elephants and wield them as huge, leathery tanks.
But Far Cry 4 disappoints just as much as it delivers. For every breathtaking shot of the environment of Kyrat-which-is-totally-not-Nepal, there is a head-scratching moment of “why the hell is everyone swearing at me in Hindi instead of Nepali?” For every witty item description, there is an equal and opposite “okay, so they made a DLC with yetis in it, and it doesn’t make any sense and has no relation to the main game.” But to cut to the heart of the matter: Far Cry 4 doesn’t let you like anyone or anything involved with the plot.
Ajay Ghale (amusingly pronounced as “AJ Gale” by our American-born protagonist, but as “Ahjay Gallay” by everyone from Kyrat) is so goddamn boring Ward Cleaver fell asleep playing this game and drowned in his coffee cup. He is the most Call of Duty player character ever to exist outside the realms of the actual Call of Duty franchise. He gets angry over absolutely nothing, he reacts to shocking developments with panicked grunts or nonsensical cries of “Fuck you!”—he just basically doesn’t act in the way anyone would in any given situation, and that’s before everyone in Kyrat starts worshipping him as the second coming of…whatever Nepali communist leader Ajay’s dad is based on. At first it’s like, okay, everyone is a dick to Ajay, and I would be too—and then suddenly everyone is treating him as a conquering hero, and I’m trapped in the Berenstain Bears dimension.
The two commanders of the Golden Path rebels hate each other for vague ideological reasons and you have to pick between their mission choices even when it doesn’t seem like there’s any urgency whatsoever or when one side seems blatantly sociopathic (choose between rescuing villagers from a massacre or retrieving ambiguous information that may not even be useful!). And Amita and Sabal are just as unlikeable as Ajay, though they both have at least the semblance of a personality. In fact, the only characters I found myself interested in at all were Rabi Ray Rana—a minor side character who has more characterization in his self-conscious, name-dropping radio broadcasts and awkward questions about the state of Ajay’s bathroom hygiene than Ajay has over the course of an entire game—and the villain, Pagan Min.
Min, in the tradition of Borderlands 2’s Handsome Jack, communicates with the player at every turn in order to mock or berate Ajay for his various fuckups and failures. He is poised, well-dressed, articulate, and genuinely funny—everything that the “good guys” are not. The problem is that you still want to kill him, because he still executes innocents, employs CIA torturers, and is generally a total piece of shit. But he’s an entertaining, well-written piece of shit, which is more than I can say for our putative hero.
At the core of my issues with Far Cry 4’s plot—and be warned, spoilers ahead—is the fact that it is meaningless. It’s fake deep. The plot is eventually revealed as “whoa…you thought Pagan Min was evil because he killed people, but he was just crazy from grief…and now YOU’VE killed people so maybe YOU’RE the evil one!” Insert “mind blown” image macro. It’s an insult to the intelligence of the player, a narrative copout that is only furthered by Ajay’s inability to respond to any of these developments beyond cursing and confusion.
In the end, you’ve spent an entire game building towards murdering this erudite fop, and then you barely even want to anymore. If you let Min explain Ajay’s family history and then escape in his helicopter, it’s still possible to shoot the chopper down (for a large reward). I took too long to orient myself after the cutscene and missed my chance—but it almost didn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters. Which is what Far Cry 4 is trying to say, behind all the gorgeous worldbuilding and flashy guns, I guess.
Personally, I’m a disgusting completionist. I completed every quest and every DLC of every Borderlands game. I did the same for Skyrim. I got 100% completion in GTA V and finished every ridiculous challenge in Saints Row: Gat Outta Hell. But I physically couldn’t do it for Far Cry 4 after the taste the ending left in my mouth—the taste of Ubisoft pissing down my goddamn throat with a completely purposeless plot. I went and killed my faction’s remaining leader, because I needed to kill someone at this point, and turned the game off.
All that said—this game is incredible. It’s worth your money for the sheer thrill of running down enemies in a knockoff VW Golf while your co-op partner blindly fires cluster rockets into a fortress and your AI allies scream fearfully at the ever-present threat of murderous eagles. But don’t expect it to tell you anything you don’t already know about the world: war sucks, people are mixed bags of evil and righteousness, and Far Cry is still overpaying its writers by multiple decimal places.
Art by Jyoti Kami.