On the surface, Far Cry 4 seems like a fairly simple story. You’ve got your loathsome villain, Pagan Min, and his drug-dealing, deathmatch-staging flunkies. And you’ve got the heroic rebels fighting him, the Golden Path. But the story, once you start playing the game, is a lot more rich and complex. And, to be honest, it actually treats some fairly serious themes and problems in an intelligent way that acknowledges the murky greys that come with a nation’s people going to war with themselves. There will be spoilers beyond this point.
The game itself is more or less Far Cry 3 with a few new mechanics and the challenge amped up. Don’t expect to sit in the woods with a sniper rifle and pick off suckers; you’ll be attacked by wild dogs or an eagle will swoop out of the sky to screw up your shot. The best new additions are, essentially, mobility; it’s easier than ever to get around and explore. But the real draw, it turns out, is the story.
It starts with our hero, Ajay Ghale. Ajay, at first, is so disconnected from the land of his birth, he mispronounces his own name. What starts as a simple attempt to honor his mother’s wishes and scatter her ashes at a shrine becomes an enormous, sprawling story of a culture at war with outsiders and itself.
Within the first fifteen minutes, you’ll discover that one of Min’s top lieutenants has a lovely daughter named Ashley who lives in the US, thinks he’s a banker, and has absolutely no idea what a monster dear old Dad actually is. And as you explore the game, Ajay learns more about the father he never knew, the history of Kyrat, and the rebels he’s allied himself with out of necessity.
In most games, that’d be where it stops: Ajay’s dad is a noble freedom fighter, and Amita and Sabal, the two feuding heads of the resistance movement the Golden Path, would argue, but ultimately they’d be nice people trying to do nice things. Far Cry 4 takes a substantially different tack; right from the start, Amita is harsh, distant, and practical, while Sabal puts lives first and is the more passionate, vocal one.
And as you get to know the characters, and as you explore Kyrat, what rapidly becomes clear is that there aren’t any easy answers. Sabal, it turns out, is a budding right-wing reactionary, and Amita goes beyond practical into the realm of sheer ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Pagan Min, while still a terrible human being, turns out to hate the Golden Path for reasons less to do with politics and greed and far more to do with grief and rage.
Interestingly, the game actually has a morality system. Save civilians, take down military couriers, and so on, and you get Karma; the higher your Karma, the cheaper guns are and the more soldiers you can call in for help. But none of the choices you make to drive the plot are tied to that morality system; it’s not about right and wrong, because there isn’t a right choice.
Too often, when we look at civil wars in entertainment, especially those in the Third World, it oversimplifies what’s often a complex web of religious beliefs, political convictions, and human failings. Back in the ’80s, the Taliban were the scrappy underdogs who just needed a Rambo or a James Bond to help them drive the Russians from their borders once and for all, for example.
What Far Cry 4 acknowledges is that when a nation goes to war against itself, ultimately, it’s not a matter of good guys and bad guys; it’s about trying to limit the damage to the people trapped in the middle. The ultimate message of Far Cry 4 is that sometimes, it’s not about the right choice. It’s about the choice you can live with.