Far Cry 4
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One

Like jazz, open-world games promise the bliss of structured randomness. Developers load up games with multiple systems – traffic, pedestrians, wildlife, etc.  – which players probe to create unique moments.  Ubisoft’s Far Cry series marries this open-world game design to a caricature of guerrilla warfare, the improvisational aspect of which fits well with the player’s need to make the best of whatever is in his or her toolset.

As chance would have it, the toolset I had at my disposal the first time I went rhinoceros hunting in “Far Cry 4” was pitifully inadequate. I’m not really much of a hunter, but I needed a couple of rhino skins to craft an upgrade that would allow me to lug around more gear as I explored the fictitious country of Kyrat, situated along the Himalayas. Alas, the rhino in question withstood my volley of bullets and then trampled me without much ado. That put me off tracking them for a while. So you can imagine why one of my favorite extemporaneous acts involved jumping on the back of an elephant and using it to run down rhinos, which accrued me Elephant Kill points.

These types of tasks illustrate the developers’ awareness that open-world games commonly offer a safe venue to conduct sociopathic experiments, hence the strong psychological flavoring one finds in the series. “Far Cry 3” posed the question of where insanity begins. “Far Cry 4” has players questioning what their willful participation in an incubator for sociopathic behavior says about them.

“Far Cry 4” opens with the main character Ajay Ghale, a young American whose parents were natives of Kyrat, traveling by bus to fulfill his expatriate mother’s dying request to take her ashes “to Lakshmana.” As the bus approaches a checkpoint, a bearded stranger advises Ajay to stay quiet and let him do the talking. After the driver of the bus steps outside for questioning, a couple of passengers try to scurry out the back when the patrol opens fire on them. The bus driver then pulls out a gun, and he, too, is shot. Succumbing to panic, the guards open fire on the bus, causing you and your would-be guardian to hit the floor. In the aftermath, the guards instruct you and the other man to lie on the ground, which is when you see a helicopter land in front of you.

Stepping out of the chopper is Pagan Min, the country’s dictator, who punishes the ostensible leader for shooting up the bus by stabbing him to death. Pagan apologizes to Ajay for the mishap.  And before he takes his leave, he notes that he has cleared his calendar so that you and he can go “tear [stuff] up.” This ironic air of self-awareness is typical of the narrative.

By twists of fate, Ajay ends up being “rescued” by Sabal, a member of the Golden Path, an insurgency group Pagan refers to as terrorists.  (I use the scare quotes because although Pagan’s minions are happy to shoot at you, the boss man never lifts a finger against you.) When Sabal takes you back to a Golden Path camp you meet Amita. Amita is not pleased with Sabal, who has jeopardized the group’s members on your behalf.  As you undertake missions for the Golden Path, which you find out was founded by your father, you learn that Amita and Sabal are locked in a power struggle to steer the direction of the group and that their bickering echoes certain aspects of the troubled marriage of your parents.

If you hope to make it through the main storyline you will be forced to side with either Amita, a ruthless pragmatist with a vision for the country’s future, or Sabal, whose adherence to tradition is unaccompanied by a plan for securing Kyrat’s place in an economically cutthroat world. At a few key points in the story, you will also be forced to decide whether or not to kill main characters. These choices determine which of the game’s endings you’ll see. I chose to not kill as many people as possible, but my choices still left me feeling disconcerted. I wondered if my merciful actions might lead to more bloodshed down the line. Such moral dilemmas were high points in the game.

The low points corresponded to technical issues. I resent the fact that you have to sign up for Ubisoft’s Uplay service to access some of the game’s core features like co-op. I also found it annoying that the game doesn’t save at mission checkpoints so if you are logged into Far Cry’s servers and you lose your connection while on a mission, you’ll be forced restart it. But what I found most egregious, especially for a game that spans such a large area, was the paltry amount of audio recorded for radio-bearing vehicles. I can’t be the only one who inwardly cursed Radio Free Kyrat after listening to the same monologue repeated three times in a row while en route to my objective. Then again, maybe those annoyances were purposefully concocted to rouse my inner sociopath.

“Far Cry 4’s” most notable upgrade from its predecessor is that it runs well on consoles. I didn’t notice any of the screen tearing that marred my otherwise enjoyable time with Far Cry 3, which I played on the Xbox 360. In terms of gameplay, little has changed between iterations. But sometimes the same trip is worth taking with different scenery. You heads out there will know what I am talking about.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

More game reviews: