Far Cry 4 - Review
Unlike most game series, Far Cry has always been somewhat unique for each instalment being radically different than the previous one. The original was a mish-mash of action-movie tropes injected into a PC game, a kind of pre-Crysis shooter, building upon the design laid down by Halo.
Far Cry 2 meanwhile, went for the grim and gritty approach, dumping you in the cloying heat of Central Africa for what was essentially a video game adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Hearth of Darkness. Far Cry 3 twisted things again, shrugging off some of the previous game's ultra-realism and instead opting for a funky, brightly-coloured acid trip with the core structure lifted from Ubisoft stable mate, Assassin's Creed.
Far Cry 4 is the first to buck this changing trend by being almost exactly like the previous game. You've played Far Cry 3? Then you've played Far Cry 4. Animals need to be skinned, radio towers hijacked, camps need liberating. Everything that worked with the last game has been transplanted into this one, and then given a slick, shiny new coat of paint.
This time around, the game takes place in Kyrat, a fictional country bordering on India. After a brief set-up, you're thrust into the game proper as you join a band of rebels looking to take down the self-appointed King of Kyrat, Pagan Min. It's a surreal, rather bizarre world with plenty of strange characters. Pagan Min acts like a cross between Kim Jong Un and The Joker, while Longinus, a former African warlord, is now a Bible-quoting arms dealer following an injury to the head. This is very much the world and tone that Ubisoft set up in Far Cry 3, and Far Cry 4 continues to run with it.
Gameplay-wise things are less weird and conform to the stock open-world games manual. As in all big budget Ubisoft games at this point, areas on the map are unlocked as you complete specific objectives. In this case, hijacking radio towers. They still remain one of the most oddly interesting aspects of Far Cry, primarily because they utilize subtle elements of navigating and platforming, skill sets that aren't used all that often in first-person shooters.
Platforming in general gets a heavier nod this time around. The introduction of the grappling hook, one of the few new additions, allows you to swing from point to point at certain locations, or climb otherwise impassable cliffs and mountainsides. As an overall mechanic, Far Cry 4's platforming make for a great change of pace, balancing out the rapid-fire gunfights with some calmer, more atmospheric moments clambering around the environment.
Still, the gunfights are still there and Far Cry 4 makes it even easier to unlock things. For the first few hours, Ubisoft happily throws rewards at you like it's five birthdays rolled into one. Completing various mission types awards you new guns, items or abilities, and, at the very least, doing practically anything will grant you new experience points to spend in the skills menu.
As with the previous game, skills are divided into different trees. This time, one handles stealth and weapons and the other handles health, defence and crafting upgrades. Whilst the skill tree does offer another dynamic to Far Cry, some of the skills do seem rather tacked-on, as if they're there solely so you have something to unlock. Why do I need to invest three points just to unlock the ability to sneak faster?
Fortunately, none of this gets in the way of a joy of taking down an enemy outpost on your own terms. Ubisoft know what makes Far Cry tick, and this stays almost exactly the same. Different outposts offer numerous ways to tackle them, whether you're happy sneaking in taking down guards piecemeal, or rushing in with a shotgun and risking damage.
Still, AJ Gale, the game's protagonist, is somewhat soft. Taking a few shots, especially early on, is likely to result in you being dead surprisingly quick. It's a subtle but powerful way of ensuring that you at least think about how you engage the enemy; they may go down fast to gunfire but so do you. It's perfectly possible to play aggressive but you always have to remember that choices have consequences, a theme that runs throughout the entire game.
Unfortunately, whilst the "play how you like" aspect of Far Cry 4 is its strongest element, its campaign, and its story, suffer in return. What starts as a simple but engaging plot about supporting a rebel group quickly gets bogged down in weird, fragmented story telling. There's decisions to be made several times throughout the game's runtime, with your choices determining who holds the balance of power in the Golden Path rebellion.
Initially, this is an interesting concept with Sabal and Anita, the two de facto leaders of the Golden Path, offering very different, but relatively complex, ideas. Anita is the cold-hearted pragmatist, willing to turn her country into a drug den (Kyrat regularly exports opium), if it means providing the rebellion with the resources it needs and hoping to free women and children from years of conservative religious doctrine. Sabal meanwhile, is her foil, a man who appears to genuinely care about his people, but also has one foot stuck in the past.
It's an interesting dynamic that works in one sense, but is ruined by the fact that none of your choices have any visible outcomes. It doesn't help that many of the games villains are off-screen until it's time to kill them. One such bad guy, De Pleur, is never even seen until you are randomly instructed to kidnap him.
Just as the story works in concept but fails in execution, so too do the game's missions. Taking on outposts on your own terms is Far Cry 4 at its best, being funnelled down linear paths in its campaign missions is the game at its worst. Ubisoft have tried to make the main missions more interesting, many are set in the Himalayas, giving you a change of scenery, but they suffer from not having the same level of tactical freedom, especially later on. All the decisions you get to make everywhere else are slowly snuffed out, with the game's final level being a dull push up an enemy base, shooting down soldier after soldier.
With a tacked on multiplayer and the return of the map editor there's plenty to do in Far Cry 4 but its heart is in its open world. Whether it's playing around with new weapons, or hunting wildlife, this is the game that's most enjoyable when it finally embraces its freedom. When it looks to be like every other shooter, or worse, attempt to offer a poignant story, only to rehash elements from the previous game and Spec-Ops: The Line, it comes across tiresome and predictable.
Far Cry 4 offers nothing new; it's primarily aimed at those who enjoyed the previous game. Provided you like messing around in big environments completing side quests, they'll be something here for you. If you're looking for something more memorable however, or, god forbid, with a little originality, then you'll perhaps best look elsewhere.
Far Cry 4 was released on November 18th for PS3, PS4, Xbox One, 360 and PC.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2015 LudoLogic