Our games editor, Jake Muncy, has been playing Far Cry 4 since it came out on Tuesday and is eager to share his thoughts. A full review or analysis, however, is a ways away—this game is frickin’ twenty- to forty-hours long and our boy has a day job. In the meantime, here are some reflections and notes from Jake’s time with the game so far.
1. Within half an hour of starting Far Cry 4, I’m getting attacked by a bear. Shit like this is always happening to me in Far Cry games. Faced by the vast wilds of Far Cry 4’s setting, the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat, I immediately go full George of the Jungle. What’s even sadder is that this is still the tutorial portion of the game.
2. Okay, here’s how this went down: The game is teaching me how to use bait, a new wrinkle in its hunting system. When you come upon a dead animal—killed by you or someone else—you can skin it, but also take some flesh from it to use as bait. (Yeah, it’s gruesome.) You can throw this bait in order to draw other predators in the area, getting them away from your position or siccing them at enemies.
The game, in teaching me to do this, suggested I do the latter in order to make it through an early stealth section. I did, and Yogi comes lumbering in, mauling the soldiers. At this point, I decide my best option is to make a break for it, sprinting through to safety. I was wrong.
3. During the bear incident, I learned some valuable information about Far Cry 4’s protagonist, a Kyrati American by the name of Ajay Ghale. I discovered that Ajay, despite inexplicably having the combat and climbing skills of a Navy SEAL, cannot climb trees and refuses to even try, even while being chased by a bear.
Fortunately, however, I managed to clamber up a nearby ledge and avoid the embarrassing fate of having my first death by tutorial bear. That came later, when I blew myself up with an explosive arrow.
4. Speaking of nature mishaps, the prologue section of the game ends with a gunfight on a snowy mountainside cut short by an avalanche. The torrent of snow kills all your enemies, all your allies, and very nearly kills you. This one moment sums up the game’s construction of nature well, a design and narrative element it carries over from 3. Everything is trying to fucking kill you. Not just you, though: everything is trying to kill everyone. Nature is a constant threat, a nuke in the corner to keep an eye on, a shotgun with a tendency to blow up in your face.
5. Nature is also beautiful, though. The mountainy vistas in Far Cry 4 are breathtaking. That might be a good way to put it: For a Far Cry protagonist, nature is a beautiful problem.
6. This Far Cry protagonist, cut from the same cloth as 3’s protagonist, Jason Brody (the whitest name this side of Dudebro McFratcollar), is wild eyed, seemingly innocent, yet also really, really good with an assault rifle. Ajay Ghale has come to Kyrat on the dying wishes of his mother, who wanted her ashes spread over Lakshima, a place of some importance to her in the northern part of the region. Minutes after entering the country, Ajay finds himself embroiled in Kyrat’s civil war, thrown in with the rebellious Golden Path faction against the regime of the dandy-ish Pagan Min.
7. Like Ajay, who is Kyrati but was raised in the United States, Min occupies a liminal space, half Chinese and half British, an interloper in Kyrat but one with mixed ties to the East and the West. And like Min, Ajay might be a murdering lunatic.
8. I mean, say what you will about Jason Brody, but the opening of Far Cry 3 at least had Brody express shock and terror at the violence that explodes around him after he becomes marooned on that game’s Rook Islands. His older brother, a military vet, guides him through his first acts of violence, framed (clumsily, sure, but framed) as desperate acts of survival.
Ajay, though, just sort of rolls with it. After the Golden Path breaks him out of Min’s fortress in the opening setpiece, someone tells Ajay to grab a gun and start shooting. He does it without question. Minutes later, you’re creeping through the tree lines with a bow, hunting wolves and picking off straggling soldiers, listening for the wind.
9. In gameplay terms, Far Cry 4 plays nearly identically to Far Cry 3. It has some next-gen polish, and the AI is more complex, but the biggest change is that this game is just bigger, and set in a mountainous jungle instead of an island jungle. (Are there jungles in the Himalayas? Don’t think about it too much.) Which is to say, it’s an open-world first-person shooter with a strong stealth element and an emphasis on exploration, character progression, and the slow reclamation of territories through taking over outposts and radio towers, tied together through story missions that walk your character through a path of conflict and empowerment at the end of a gun (or bow).
10. That identical gameplay might be why Far Cry 4 feels so light on tutorial elements. A lot of the game’s systems are explained briefly in on-screen text prompts and then not mentioned again, left for you to understand discover. The character upgrade system, crafting—in Far Cry 3 time is taken to explain and introduce you to these systems, and they’re closely tied to the narrative. Here, they’re just hanging around without context, part of the mechanical tapestry.
I think this is also why Ajay spends very little time hemming and hawwing before becoming the Golden Path’s golden child. You’ve done this before, right? Ha ha. We know why you’re here. Get to it, kid.
11. The gameplay is just as enjoyable as it was in Far Cry 3, too. The sound design, the huge amount of detail put into the natural environment, the sprawl of the open world map that allows you to spend protracted amounts of time just wandering through the jungle, quietly mindful. These quiet moments pace the game incredibly well, and they make the combat feel even more heightened.
12. In its heightened moments, the game is all about the chaos its various sytems put into place. Violent nature, smart enemies, and realistic fire physics combine to ensure that no encounter goes the way you expect it to. Oh, well, that grenade started a fire and now I’m surrounded by a growing wall of flames. Which seems to have upset some, uh, oh, shit, is that a rhino? There are rhinos in this game? Stuff like that.
13. There’s a lot of joy in this madness, and I’m having a lot of fun so far. That fun isn’t entirely untroubling, though. Since Ubisoft got a hold of the Far Cry license from Crytek, who moved onto other licenses to showcase their increasingly impressive game engines, I think they’ve been trying to use Far Cry’s naturalistic settings and emergent shooter mechanics to tell stories about the intersection of violence and colonialism. Far Cry 2 did this well. Far Cry 3 did not, attempting to parody a Dances With Wolves style Mighty Whitey story by couching it with madness but failing due to a misunderstanding of its own mechanics, particularly in that it’s hard to tell me I should feel bad about getting into fights when you’ve gone and made it so damn fun.
14. Far Cry 4, with a storyline involving a rebellion with multiple factions and a foreign dictator, seems to be taking a different tact to get at similar themes. It’s a good idea, and has potential, but I’m not sure if it’s going to pan out. It’d be easy for the game to get lost in its own love of explosions, or try to push a message about relativism (everybody’s bad! all the faction leaders are crazy!) without selling that message with any actual insight into political strife or our motivations for violence. We’ll see.
15. In the meantime, I just unlocked the ability that lets you ride elephants in this game. I’m about to go HAM (Hannibal as a…) up in here. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to functioning as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on The AV Club, Ovrld, and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.