Far Cry 4 is ostensibly a shooter, but I find that I spend more time looking at and searching for things while I play it than I do shooting things. I still shoot things of course, but that’s not the point of the game. The point of the game is everything that precedes the shooting: walking, running, driving, crawling, scouting, marking targets, listening, watching, planning, hunting—my trek through the world. Even when combat explodes around me, the shooting is ancillary—just a thing to do to keep me alive, not the reason to stay alive. Far Cry 4 is an adventure game, not a shooting game, and I mean that in the classic sense of the word, not as it normally applies to video games.
I probably spend 80% of my time in Far Cry 4 hunting for things. This might sound monotonous, but the game has a great understanding of pacing and level design that makes for an interesting hunt, and it offers enough of a variety of collectibles and discoveries to rarely repeat itself. Sometimes I’m hunting for a treasure chest in a cave or a mani wheel atop a mountain or a propaganda poster in an enemy outpost. Sometimes I’m climbing a tower, and sometimes I’m swimming to the bottom of a lake.
I move from one trinket to another in an obsessive, seemingly endless quest, but I’m not driven by the collectibles, I’m driven by the adventure that occurs on my way to the collectible. Far Cry 4 isn’t really about Pagan Min or the Golden Path or the battle for a free and independent Kyrat. It wears those clothes in its trailers and commercials, but the game is really about my quest for collectibles and the chaos that erupts along the way. It’s about grappling to the top of the highest plateau in the game, too high for the little Buzzer-copter to reach, and accidentally getting between a bear and a yak, who both decide to put away their differences to team up against me.
When I do finally scout the Unknown Location atop that plateau and the question mark disappears from my map, I feel indifferent. This is a game in which the destination is never really my destination. It’s just a moving goalpost. So I discovered a camp. However, before you congratulate me, I’ve jumped off a cliff with the intention of wingsuiting to a nearby tower, but then I’m shot out of the sky over an enemy outpost.
That’s where the game becomes a traditional shooter with me ducking into cover and tossing grenades, but the enemy outposts aren’t destinations in and of themselves. They’re things I stumble across, not literally perhaps, since it’s pretty obvious where they are on the map, but metaphorically: I don’t make a point of liberating outposts unless they stand between me and a collectible. They’re a part of my journey, not the end goal.
I don’t play Far Cry 4 to shoot things; I play it to hunt things and to shoot at whatever I find along the way. It’s a subtle and possibly pointless distinction, but it’s a distinction that I think about a lot while playing this shooter in which I spend half my time not shooting. Far Cry 4 looks and plays like a shooter, but it doesn’t feel like a shooter. It’s focus is elsewhere. It feels like an adventure game.