Far Cry 4 may borrow a good deal from the last game, but it adds enough excitement, fresh ideas and a brilliant new landscape to warrant a return trip.
The best part of Far Cry 3 was the game's massive tropical setting and the sense of total freedom. The snow-capped mountainous landscape of Kyrat delivers the same thrill, but also layers it on top of a treacherous terrain filled with dizzying cliffs and unpredictable topography.
I've never been so pleased to see a game take after its predecessor this much, and in the case of Far Cry 4 it's a welcome return to form -- and then some.
Set deep in the Himalayas, Far Cry 4 is a first-person shooter that challenges players to confront steep inclines, avalanches and new predatorial adversaries like wolves, wild hippos and killer hawks. Some animals can also be used to your advantage -- not just in fashioning equipment but also in baiting other animals that sit higher on the food chain. If you throw bait towards a group of enemies, a ferocious beast, say a grizzly bear, will come out from hiding to eat and likely take care of a pack of baddies in the process. Far Cry 4 also introduces the ability to ride elephants and use them in combat. Take it from me, you will not tire of trampling the bad guys.
Far Cry 4 gives players access to a number of new-to-the-series items, most notably the grappling hook. It immediately becomes an invaluable asset, although it can only be used when a specific icon flashes.
As we learned in 2012's Far Cry 3, Ubisoft Montreal has a special talent in the crafting and introduction of a maniacal villain -- an antagonist who essentially drives the core campaign. In Far Cry 3, Vaas stole the show and in Far Cry 4 the psychotic, mad-with-power Pagan Min fills the same role. His debut is a jarring reveal, but it comes off slightly stale: we've been down this road before.
While Min is a moderately compelling arch-nemesis, the player's identity is more of a disappointment. You take on the role of Ajay Ghale, a faceless and oddly passive hero who travels to Kyrat to fulfil his mother's dying wish: to have her ashes spread in the war-torn locale, her homeland.
Ajay seems to jump into the madness of aiding a revolution all too easily, even if it's to unravel the mysterious narrative that's been spun about his parents' history in Kyrat.
Check out more Far Cry 4 coverage at GameSpot
The star of the game, though, is undoubtedly its environment. Kyrat is the most awe-inspiring location the series has ever offered. Standing at the edge of a cliff will force you to pause to take it all in -- anything you can see can likely be visited. Players experiencing Far Cry 4 on new-generation consoles and PC will obviously be afforded the best visuals, which really shimmer around waterfalls and streams.
If you spent a good amount of time with Far Cry 3, you already know exactly what to do in Far Cry 4. Scaling radio towers will unlock weapons and points of interest in the surrounding area and wiping out an enemy stronghold will offer new activities to complete when not tackling the main campaign.
Making your way around Kyrat can be done on foot, ATV or other vehicle, but I became partial to the rickety, single-seat Buzzard helicopter.
Far Cry 4 has the same crafting and skill upgrade tree as its predecessor, albeit a little more streamlined and organized. The game's layout and packaging is an attractive blend that doesn't overly complicate things even though there's a significant amount of detail and information accessible. Better yet, if you're playing on PS4, the DualShock 4's touchpad can be used to equip items or weapons quickly and can also be used to drag around Kyrat's map.
The game offers a slightly separate co-op mode as well. I say "slightly separate" because players must choose to start or continue their game in online mode, which can then be used to join another player's session or request others to join yours. My time with co-op was limited during my review playthrough, so I'll wait until the game is released to update with more specific impressions.
Most of the game's missions are varied and entertaining, but the real enjoyment out of Far Cry 4 comes from exploring the massive open world it offers. There are countless hidden rewards peppered throughout its diverse and cavernous territory. Odds are you'll never be able to comb every last inch.
Even after my first run-through on PS4, I took Far Cry 4 for a spin on an Origin EON17-SLX high-end gaming laptop and before I knew it I was five hours in again. Nevertheless, the PC version performs slightly better than its console counterparts, but give Ubisoft Montreal credit for crafting a very similarly-performing experience across all platforms. You'll need a pricey rig to get Far Cry 4 to look the best it possibly can on PC and you'll be able to take advantage of resolution increases as well.
Far Cry 4 may borrow a great deal from the last game, but it adds enough excitement, fresh ideas and a vast, brilliant new landscape to warrant the return trip.
Check out more Far Cry 4 coverage at GameSpot