Birds. Why does it always have to be birds? The jungle may be full of deadly predators in Far Cry 4: wolves, tigers, rabid monkeys, and even heavily armed humans, but the one thing that's given us the most trouble, over everything else, is the flipping birds.
Picture the scene, if you will. You're crouching low behind a rock, overlooking a rebel outpost. There are some hostages being held captive by a group of bloodthirsty bad guys, armed to the teeth and nervous. They're ready to kill everyone at a moment's notice if they even so much as sense something's up, so it's imperative you stay down, and stay quiet. Pulling out your camera to "tag" the enemies (for some reason, pointing your camera at enemies on Far Cry 4 lets you "tag" them, meaning you can track their position, even if they're behind a building), you pull out your bow (because every game needs a bow in 2014), and slowly move in for the kill. Getting within range, you pull the arrow back, aim, and...
All of a sudden, you're on your back as a giant chuffing eagle swoops out of the sky, totally unprovoked, and starts doing its best to peck your eyes out. All of a sudden, your incredible attempt at stealth has gone horribly wrong, as your cries of "GET AWAY FROM ME YOU OVERGROWN BUDGIE" have just about alerted the nervous guards, who're spraying bullets into the air - and doing their best to run away from the eagle, too. As perhaps the most feared predator in Far Cry 4 - seeing as they're so incredibly hard to hit, being fast moving and, you know, airborne, it's not just people setting up sneak attacks on camps that have to worry about eagles - it's everyone. A single swipe from one of these guys is enough to take off 75% of your health when you first start out - and so far, we've probably died more because of, and used more ammo fighting these winged terrorists than we have the entire rebel armies of Pagan Min. You don't even have to look at them to set them off.
Trying to find a treasure chest? CAWWWW! You're dead.
Picking flowers in a field? CAWWWW! Not on their watch!
Going for a drive in the country? CAWWWW! Eco bird thinks otherwise.
The worst thing is, eagles don't even (usually) attack humans in real life.
This, is Far Cry 4 - a game that's supposed to be about one man's quest to pick up his family's lineage and take on the creepy blonde villain, Pagan Min, but actually ends up being mostly about slaughtering innocent animals, and little feathered wazzocks.
Set in the open and mountainous region of Kyrat, Far Cry 4 is an open world first person shooter, like the Far Cries that came before it. With vistas that spread for miles towards the horizon, if you can see something, you can pretty much reach it - if you can figure out how. Whether you're sneaking up on the aforementioned hostage situations, storming an enemy base on the back of an elephant, or gleefully tossing grenades from your handy gyrocopter, Far Cry 4 has all the pieces to put together a game that's a lot of fun - but somehow, it isn't.
A large part of the issue here is that things don't tend to gel together all that well. You can drive cars, but the narrow roads make it almost impossible to drive without crashing into things and wrecking your vehicle - and the "good guys" who come shooting around blind bends on the wrong side of the road like, well, like drivers in real life don't exactly help keep your car intact. Even venturing off-road seems to be enough to totally destroy the cars, whose windscreens only have to take one look at a tree to shatter in fear. Ending up having your car break down because you've been forced off the road by one of your "friends" isn't much fun - but at least you can pull out your welding iron and put the car back together.
Surprisingly, the welding iron also has a few other uses - like setting fire to things. Stray too far from the vehicle you're repairing - or perhaps sneeze and end up pointing in the wrong direction - and you may find yourself setting fire to a nearby tree, bush or building. While you can achieve the same thing with Molotov cocktails, it's a lot more fun doing it with a welding iron - although it's incredibly disappointing that you don't actually seem to be able to pull the welding iron out manually. Instead, you can only use it if you have a broken down vehicle to repair.
Fire actually plays a real purpose in Far Cry 4, too. Seeing as most of the missions seem to revolve around either attacking something, or defending something, fire can end up being the real game changer when you're trying to flush people out of their hiding place. All it takes is one well placed Molotov cocktail to send a building up in flames - and from there, the fire will spread. Soon, the field, bushes, and nearby buildings are all alight too - as are the daft enemy soldiers who wander that bit too close. Sadly, though, as impressive as it may sound, the fire is a little bit buggy. At one point, we were tasked with getting inside a burning building to rescue someone - and what better way to get in, we thought, than going through the front door. While the rest of the building was on fire, the door was miraculously flame free - yet no sooner had we put our hand on the handle than we'd spontaneously combusted. Leaping back and following the handy on screen prompt to "hold X to put out flames", we stopped sizzling, and tried again, only to randomly ignite again. Seemingly, even things that aren't on fire can set you alight in Far Cry 4. It made no sense either, seeing as once we'd got inside the building, we could stand right next to that same door, on the inside, without any ill effects. It's not much fun randomly igniting because you've strayed too close to the game's invisible fire.
While it may have a huge map, too, Far Cry 4 can all too often feel desolate, and lonely. Perhaps that's what the developers were going for, but having to trek through a sparse, featureless landscape for five minutes at a time isn't our idea of a fun. It gets even more annoying when you eventually reach your destination, having hiked halfway around the world, only to get shot, killed, and respawned at your last checkpoint, which was right back where you started from. Sigh. Luckily, you can manually save - but a better checkpointing system would have been nice. It doesn't help, either, that while you can ride an elephant around, you can't mark it so you can find it again - and while elephants may not forget, we can't always remember where we've parked it, when we leave a crazy fire fight, dazed and confused.
Then there's the emphasis on hunting. We don't know about you, but if our idea of a good day out was going and shooting animals, we'd be playing something like Cabella. If we're playing Far Cry, we're fine shooting at some bad guys - what we don't want to have to do is keep killing animals. But in Far Cry 4, hunting is half of the game. We wouldn't mind so much if it was an optional extra, but if you want to get very far in Far Cry 4, you'll find yourself having to hunt, as you need to harvest their pelts for crafting. Killing three Malaysian Tapirs will net you an extra weapons holster (something that's pretty much essential, as you really need to be able to carry more than one weapon), killing two wild boars will net you a syringe kit, and killing two Bengal tigers will let you get a heavy ammo bag. When you consider the Bengal tiger's endangered, this seems in pretty bad taste. Yes, it's a game, yes, it's not real, but there's a big difference between shooting something in self defence, and going out and hunting it for its pelt.
Hunting is also one of the ways the game goes out of its way to make you feel uncomfortable. One of the proponents of the new "torture porn" style of "cool" games, Far Cry 4 repeatedly gives you a front row seat to cringe worthy gore. Whether you're skinning a tiger, and get to watch as you drive your knife into the corpse, with blood splashing all over your screen, before you bundle the raw meat into a sack, or have your stomach turned by your character digging a bullet out of his open, fleshy forearm with a knife, Far Cry 4 still thinks that overt, in your face gore is both big and clever, and what people really want from games. The problem is, no one plays a game to see this sort of thing. There's not a single person on the planet that would go and buy Far Cry 4 because of the gore - but there's plenty of people it might put people off. So why bother?
It's not as though it's used sparingly and has any shock value, either - explicit gore is pretty much the order of the day in Far Cry 4, and is quickly gets very, very old. While it may turn your stomach, things aren't so "shocking" the fiftieth time round - we once dug a bullet out of the same place on our forearm, three times in a row within the space of thirty seconds, as it's one the default healing animations. Take damage, and you can hold Triangle to heal, which sometimes leads to your character bandaging their arm, and at other times, leaves them gouging out bullets. Lovely. Another scene where you get to watch a character sacrifice a goat, who's doing its best to get away from the knife that's being driven into its throat, is another low point.
While there are lots of things to do in the open world - masks to collect, radio towers to hijack, enemy bases to overthrow, and the aforementioned hunting missions - far too many of the missions, both story and otherwise, rely on you defending a base from attack. As anyone can tell you, protection missions are the single most frustrating type around, because it's often not your fault if you lose - if your team mate chooses to run head first towards the enemy, or can't be bothered to duck when they get shot at, that's not your fault.
But in Far Cry 4, this is what you'll spend a lot of your time doing - and it's not fun. It's not exactly exciting at the best of times, but when you end up going up against the game's horribly cheating "hunters", who can a) vanish from your radar only a few seconds after being spotted, and b) can "tame" wild animals to attack you, the only way to fend off the attack being to kill the hunter - things get old fast. When you fail the missions if a certain number of your friends die, and said friends seem to prefer running in front of the machine gun turret you're trying your best to pick hunters off with, it's just annoying.
It's not that Far Cry 4 is an awful game, either. It adds some genuinely new and fun things to the series - the gyrocopter is amazing, and escaping from a firefight on the back of your tiny flying machine is great fun, while ridable elephants are every bit as awesome as they sound. It helps that they feel pretty much indestructible too - stampeding down the road, heaven help any daft driver who doesn't get out the way in time, because in a head on collision between and elephant and a car, the elephant wins. Usually. You can even click the right stick to start throwing the cars - and soldiers - around. It's just a bit rubbish that while your heffalump can usually shrug off head on collisions with cars, it'll instantly pop its clogs should you ask it to jump off a small hill. And while your elephant may seem invincible on the roads, it is just an illusion of power, as after fending off six or seven cars, your elephant will keel over without warning - we just wish there was some sort of elephant health bar to give us a hand. The map editor is also worth a shout out, as so few games feature these nowadays, but it's a lot of fun to mess around with. Disappointing there's no support for split-screen multiplayer, though.
But at the end of the day, for all it gets right, Far Cry 4 gets a lot more wrong. Resorting to cheap scares to make you feel uneasy rather than doing the hard work to get it right, with far too much of a reliance on annoying defence missions, and with so many little irritating bits and pieces in the gameplay (like the random eagle attacks, or your character's spontaneous combustion), Far Cry 4 is just OK.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4