Let’s start with a cliché, shall we? If you liked Far Cry 3 and want more of the same, then Far Cry 4 is the game for you. Great. Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to discuss the law of diminishing returns.
Far Cry 4 is exactly what we’ve collectively come to expect from a AAA Ubisoft sequel. It continues the line of the once incredibly innovative series and just pumps out a new location with very little in the way of differences beyond adding snow to the mix. While this won’t bother many players, the very strict formula used here is likely to be wearing thin for others.
In many ways, the Far Cry games are the modern world equivalent of Skyrim. There’s a main plot—something about overthrowing the evil despot and becoming the sole savior of the land… blah blah—but the real game is simply about exploring every nook and cranny of the map. As Ajay completes tasks, he earns experience points that buy new skills and there are an impressive number of different mission types. So, the game always has something for players to do.
Random events play a much larger role this time around. Government supply trucks appear suddenly and can be hijacked, solders kidnap citizens frequently, and rebel-controlled bases can come under attack at any time. The structure of the game has been enhanced slightly in that you can actively help the rebels and are rewarded for it in both money and “karma” (a questionable term at best for the game to use).
Those bonuses include calling in reinforcements, access to newer weapons and ammo types, and better shop prices. Reinforcements don’t actually change the dynamic much, but Kyrat feels more actively alive than earlier games simply because non-player characters are constantly doing something.
The use of wildlife is another hold over from the last game. A major part of Far Cry 4 is killing animals… lots and lots of animals. In fact, there are special missions to kill “rare” animals, so—that’s right—you get extra goodies for wiping those pesky endangered species off the planet. Killing beasts earns you both karma and the ability to craft things. Just like Far Cry 3, the crafting mechanic is outrageously ludicrous. Why does it take four rhino skins to craft a single wallet? The game is full of hilarious gaping holes in logic like this, but hunting isn’t really optional.
It’s so hard to take Far Cry 4 seriously because every aspect of the game is just so outlandish. Take Pagan Min. He’s a blond, psychotic Asian guy whom we will politely refer to as effeminate and flamboyant. He’s a walking, talking, blood-stained cartoon character. The game’s writers make highly questionable use of gay stereotypes in general (the whole ‘Kyrat Fashion Week’ subplot is astounding in all the wrong ways) and the entire narrative wrapper is pretty stupid. Ubisoft claimed they learned their lesson about bland, unlikeable, stereotypical white boy characters in Far Cry 3. Yet, here we are again with a character who might be ethnically Asian, but still acts bland and pasty white in action.
Ubisoft plays the ethnic game as safe as possible and it’s to the detriment of logic. How, for instance, does a kid from the States suddenly become a master of all weapons? How does he instinctively know how to kill a man from behind with a large knife? Or fly a mini-copter, or use a wing suit, ride an elephant, or a horde of other nonsensical questions. At least if he had been native born and raised, there would have been some back story for how he’s a complete killing machine.
Far Cry 4 is only a slight upgrade from the previous game. There are some nifty little updates—the mini-copter, avalanches, and the option to replay base attacks whenever you want, among other things—but this feels less like a sequel and more like a half step up. The game even still has Ajay taking over radio towers to expand the map. So, while there are a ton more side missions, there’s nothing in Far Cry 4 that you haven’t already seen and done before.
The odd thing about all this criticism is that it only really affected us when we stopped to think about the game. Far Cry 4 doesn’t hold up to intellectual scrutiny. It’s a vast, dumb, testosterone-fueled action game, every bit as clichéd as the tropes Blood Dragon was making fun of. Yet, it’s so much fun that we’re relatively willing to give it a pass this time around. The combat is a raucous, visceral kick and there’s an incredible array of weapons to choose from. The bow is even better this time around and there’s no denying that exploring the world is incredibly entertaining.
The formula is definitely starting to wear thin though and Ubisoft is in desperate need of learning some new tricks if they want the series to truly push forward. As a leading AAA publisher and developer, the company had a real opportunity to break their own mold and create something daring in terms of the protagonist and side characters, yet they’ve once again gone the path of least resistance and given players an entertaining, but standard open world game.
To read Jason's extended review of Far Cry 4, grab the Dec issue of CGM.