“Hey, each to his own. That’s your lifestyle choice to make.”
Developed By Ubisoft Montreal, Played On PC
As I played Far Cry 4 once again, I kept having the same thought bounce around my head over and over, like the sound at the end of a record repeating itself forever: this was basically the same game as Far Cry 3, but better. Name an aspect of Far Cry 3 and I can pretty easily figure out a way in which Far Cry 4 is better. Combat? Well, Far Cry 4 had an expanded arsenal of weapons and new tools to help spread chaos, so that counts. The writing? Far Cry 4 has a far superior villain than the previous game, one who doesn’t end up being replaced in the third act like was the case last time out, and that was on top of all the better character work here both with the protagonist and the supporting cast is superior. World design? Maybe this is subjective but to me, setting a game in the Himalayas is far more interesting and memorable than a game set on a generic tropical island. I mean shit, they even added a crossbow this time around as well as the ability to ride elephants, how could I not sing this game’s praises from the mountain tops? I genuinely love Far Cry 3, but I’ll be the first to tell someone that it’s a video game with obvious flaws, and while I again don’t think Far Cry 4 is perfect, I think it’s better than a game I already have said that I love, so if you need a TL;DR of what’s probably going to be a long winded post where I gush about a Far Cry game, there it is for you. Far Cry 4 is absolutely fantastic and easily one of my favorite games of its generation.
Now if you are interested in some anonymous dork rambling about this rad as hell video game beyond that summary, let’s get into it, shall we?
Far Cry 4 takes us to
Nepal Kyrat, where a decades long civil war is on the verge of heating up. Rather than play as an obnoxious dudebro there to party with his dude bro friends as was the case in Far Cry 3, this time you play as Ajay, the son of a Kyrati woman who has recently died, with her dying wish to have her ashes spread in a holy site in her home country. Already I have more of an emotional investment in this game’s story in its opening cutscene than I did during the entirety of Far Cry 3, so we’re off to a great start. As he enters Kyrat, Ajay is immediately arrested and brought to the palace of Pagan Min, the brutal dictator of Kyrat who has history with his mother and who is fighting a bloody civil war against the rebel movement that Ajay’s father once led. After escaping the palace, Ajay catches up with the rebels and helps them to slowly take control of the country outpost by outpost as he shoots, stabs, and detonates several hundred members of the Kyrati Royal Army while also discovering some of the various insane character who have been swept up by this war, from a gun toting priest to an insane fashion designer whose primary material is the skins of exotic animals. And maybe, along the way, he discovers a bit about himself.
Also he shoots a lot of people, like a comical number of people.
As stated, essentially from the opening frames Far Cry 4 is hard at work trying to fix one of Far Cry 3’s most grievous problems, namely the writing. Far Cry 4 wasn’t going to win any major awards for its script but it was still a noticeable improvement from the previous game. None of the characters are actively insulting or frustrating as they often could be in the first game, there’s never anything that feels as gross as Far Cry 3’s decision of playing as some twenty something frat bro who parachutes into a pacific island and becomes the natives’ warrior king. The choice of making the player character someone actually from our crazy setting is such a simple, smart choice that fixes so many problems here. No longer does his utter dominance of the setting both in terms of its culture and the violence he does feel gross or off putting, it’s literally a guy liberating his own homeland from a murderous dictator that’s turned it into a narco state. But the better writing choices don’t stop here, for one there’s less of a dumb “what does violence do to a man?? Does it make him insane??” shit going on, this game doesn’t do my main writing pet peeve of quoting Alice In Wonderland to represent madness, and instead focuses more on themes relating to what is or isn’t worth doing for a good cause. Again, the script isn’t winning any awards but it was such a marked improvement over the previous game I can’t help but appreciate it.
The game’s villain is another marked improvement over the previous game. Vaas was the dude on the cover of Far Cry 3, the villain that everyone seemed to remember despite being in the that game for all of twenty minutes, but he wasn’t even the real villain of the story, dropping out of the whole affair after the second act so he could be replaced by a very boring human trafficker whose name escapes me. This time out that mistake is avoided, and our new villain Pagan Min is all over this game all the way through. I’m sure if you actually timed his total screen time here it wouldn’t be that much longer than Vaas but his presence feels much more all encompassing, with statues and propaganda posters featuring him dotted around the country, along with him constantly calling your character over the radio to chat. Troy Baker’s voice performance here is fantastic,and it’s kind of amazing to listen to Joel from The Last Of Us chew through this much scenery and do it so well. He’s so likably ridiculously, so needlessly violent in dumb, fun ways. At one point you meet a fashion designer who is on the run from Pagan because he doesn’t want anyone else to wear his designs, and killing that designer is the only way he can guarantee that. That’s the sort of dumb shit that goes on here and I love it. Plus the personal connection Pagan has to Ajay means I immediately cared about their conflict more than I ever did about Vaas and Jason Brody going at it because Vaas killed his brother and Brody banged Vaas’ sister.
Man Far Cry 3’s writing was not good.
Beyond its writing, Far Cry 4’a gameplay can feel like essentially the same experience as Far Cry 3 was. Using stealth, explosives, firearms, and vehicles, it’s up to the player to run across the country as and retake outposts, find collectibles, hunt rare and exotic animals, and do a considerable number of brutal murders to the local military along the way. As always, the core experience that makes these games so good is a commitment to forcing chaos and improvisation onto the player, allowing them to tackle objectives loudly or quietly in a myriad of ways and then constantly throwing wrenches into whatever plans the player may have concocted. You may come up with a seemingly full proof plan to sneak around a camp and assassinate every guard there one by one only to round a corner and encounter a guy with a flamethrower that you missed on your way in who immediately sets you on fire and then starts beating you to death with said flamethrower only for the fire he started to spread and then blow up the trucks parked near where some other guards were hiding, which in turn caused a caged bear to be released, etc and etc. That chaos is in turn full of options that are a blast to engage with, as moving stealthily and slowly is just as fun as going in guns blazing and firing rockets at anyone who so much looks at you funny. But that was the case already in Far Cry 3, if we’re brutally honest here the gameplay really has not changed between these two games. Sure, there are more options here and there, such as a new laser guided rocket launcher and a crossbow pistol that compliments the classic bow that was a revelation to use when playing Far Cry 3, plus a smattering of new guns, but those are minor options, small variations on what had come before.
What, in terms of design, is actually different? Well, as it turns out, not much, and that’s probably the biggest problem we have with this game. If you’re someone who played Far Cry 3 and wasn’t wowed by it, Far Cry 4 will do absolutely nothing to change your mind about this series. I, for one, was someone who loved Far Cry 3, and even these small additions were appreciated as far as I was concerned. Yes, that core experience was largely the same, but I suppose this is a prime example of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Given that it was released relatively soon after Far Cry 3 it’s not wild to assume that 4 wasn’t going to be much of a revelation, it wasn’t going to be the massive iteration on the series that Far Cry 3 had been. But it still is a valid complaint to point to that lack of innovation, even if I’m being a bit of an apologist for this game and this series I will readily admit that there wasn’t much new that was added here beyond a few new side activities and a very simple bait mechanic that allows you to summon predator animals. This system is a welcome change given how the chances of adding the various exotic animals to the fights were rather limited in the previous game, but beyond that I’m really racking my brain for anything really significant that has changed between the two games in terms of their gameplay, and in the end I’m coming up empty. It’s still fun to attach C4 to a truck and drive it into an enemy camp, it’s still fun to play American Sniper and pick off enemies from afar one by one, it’s still fun to go full Rambo and murder everyone with a knife before whipping out a light machine gun and shooting everything like a fucking lunatic. But those were things I could do in Far Cry 3, none of that is really new. I’ve seen the argument with sequels that they need to be bigger, bolder, they need to add something new that the player hasn’t seen before. Far Cry 4, in this sense, is a failure, I will at least concede that much.
What few things have been added just aren’t substantial. As mentioned, there’s a smattering of new firearms but they often will overlap with roles that existing firearms covered, for example we now have not one but two high powered long range sniper rifles, or now we have another high damage, low rate of fire assault rifle, and now a total of four different light machine guns that are all useless relative to the special variant LMG you can unlock later in the game. There’s also a new type of outpost called a fortress, an addition that only serves to pad out the game a bit by forcing you to wait to tackle them until you’ve killed the fortress’ leader in a story mission. These fortresses don’t have any unique mechanics associated with them, rather it’s just the same outposts you’ve taken in Blood Dragon or Far Cry 3 but larger, which does add a bit of challenge to taking them stealthily, but that isn’t much to write home about. There’s a combat arena which in the base game without DLC appears to have all of one map to fight on so that gets real old real quick, and finally they added a mini-helicopter that makes traversing the mountainous region pretty easy, but given the fast travel system in this game that’s mainly a convenience thing and isn’t essential.
Still, considering all of that, I can say with complete confidence that I prefer Far Cry 4 to 3. For one thing, I like the setting a lot more. Kyrat is a much more interesting place to explore than the tropical location of the previous game, with traversing it being much more perilous and difficult but in a way I rather enjoy. There’s much more verticality to the world this time out, and in a few instances you’ll need to use a grappling hook to climb up the sides of cliffs or buildings. Plus I just think this is a much more novel place to set a video game, the Himalayas have not exactly been prominently featured especially when compared to tropical islands, Just Cause and various World War II shooters already have the bases covered on tropical set action games pretty definitively. So that’s another minor point in the game’s favor over Far Cry 3, but really it’s those minor points in 4’a favor that keep me coming back to the same conclusion, again and again.
Take the central conflict of the story. In Far Cry 3, things were pretty simple. Pirates were bad, go kill them and rescue your friends, with the major character conflict being whether Jason Brody wants to stay on the island murder people forever or, you know, not fo that. Here again Far Cry 4 manages to surpass its predecessor, as the game’s central conflict for our protagonist isn’t just whether to liberate his homeland from an insane dictator, but how. Within the Golden Path, the resistance group Ajay’s father once led, there are two main factions here, each led by a different revolutionary. Over the course of the story, you will be presented with opportunities to side with one or the other, giving you a bit of mission variety on subsequent playthroughs while seemingly influencing the resistance in the story. Unfortunately this system doesn’t come through in gameplay in a very meaningful way, but from a writing standpoint I do like this a fair bit. On the one hand you can side with Amita, the more moderate of the two leaders but who also seems perfectly happy with keeping Kyrat the narco-state that Pagan has turned it into, arguing that being a focal point for the international heroin trade is the only way the country can survive. Alright, that sounds bad, but the other choice is Sabal, a religious fanatic who essentially wants to turn Kyrat into a traditionalist theocracy, but if you don’t want Kyrat to be a country run by a drug kingpin, he’s your only choice. Again, this game is not winning any awards for its writing but dammit, this is something! There’s something to latch onto here with the story while the last game’s writing was basically a disaster.
I actually found the conflict between these two militants interesting, and there were a couple of points in the story where I hesitated to make a decision because both options seemed just terrible. I just wish this mechanic had been built out more and had more consequence, as things stand it feels more like a way to have some slightly different missions on a repeat playthrough, whatever value is here comes completely from whether or not you enjoy these bits of writing, this is a system I really wish could have been built out in future games in the series but sadly after this game it was essentially dropped entirely. It’s a shame, there’s a ton of potential in this idea, maybe depending on the action you take the rebel allies you fight with could have different equipment or abilities, or maybe different equipment could be available depending on which faction was in control of the rebellion, but alas it’s just a story choice here, and that’s frankly a shame.
I’m becoming a broken record on this, but there is yet another way I like this game more than Far Cry 3. In that game, due to the numerous narcotics Jason Brody is injected with/forced to take, the game attempted to have something of a surreal edge to it, presenting scenes with strange imagery and hallucinations that tried to obscure what was or was not happening, and in turn trying to illuminate some of what Brody was feeling emotionally. These scenes were… fine, but for me they eventually came more annoying than anything else. The game seemed overly reliant on them to try and do basically all of the heavy lifting when it came to its story and eventually I was just sick of all of it. In Far Cry 4, meanwhile, this aspect is significantly dialed back, rather than be the main source of delivering story revelations they are relegated to a couple of story missions involving a character that used poisons, a set of side activities telling the story of an ancient warrior going to Shangri-La, and a set of missions involving a few drug using idiots that’s played largely for laughs. This seems like an odd thing to go out of my way to praise, but man, for the surreal elements to go from an obnoxious, overbearing chore to a pleasant, recurring change of pace was really a relief. Surrealism in mainstream video games is never going to be anything groundbreaking due to the requirements of marketing a major video game and a desire to run away from anything that might alienate the general public, so they always feel inherently weightless to me. As a result, when a game has pseudo-surrealism but it’s meant to be low stakes and it isn’t taking over the narrative, usually I’ll find that a lot more enjoyable.
Insanity was an element ever present in Far Cry 3, not just in the story but in its gameplay, frankly it is a shame that its narrative simply did not have weight, it was one of the few games out there that at least tried to reconcile the nonsense of its gameplay with its story. I mean, it failed, and failed catastrophically, but at least it tried. With Far Cry 4, this idea of a place changing people, of it bringing up insanity and the very atmosphere of a place is warlike, is essentially dropped and replaced with the violence and insanity inherent to any war, especially a popular revolution against a dictatorship. This then somewhat justifies the inclusion of the same sort of often silly, ludicrously insane side characters that were omnipresent throughout Far Cry 3. Here is once again another area where I think Far Cry 4 is a step up. All of this is probably rather subjective, but to me I found these characters more enjoyable and less annoying like so many of the pointless side characters could be in the previous game. The lunatic fashion designer plotting to make Ajay “fierce” always got a smile out of me, as did the radio DJ who was played by Hasan Minhaj of all goddamn people. I suppose these characters worked for me not only because I just found the jokes funnier than similar characters in Far Cry 3, but also because it felt less like they were there purely to hammer home the thematic elements of the game, thus making them feel less forced and more able to just exist in the game, allowing them to be much more successful.
So where does this leave us? Far Cry 4 is a game I want to call the best in a series I sort of love. Everything I said about Far Cry 3, about how great it often was, is still true here but here things are better in almost every way, adding small things to improve what was good while dumping so much of what didn’t work about the last game. The same chaotic, emergent gameplay that made that game so special and also change the course of its publisher is here but with a few new bells and whistles added on top of it to make it feel like a more enjoyable experience, without changing things all that substantially for better and for worse. The freedom to tackle objectives how you see fit, the freedom to explore an exotic location on the bring of madness and destruction, all of that is still present but with better writing, a better villain, better characters, better graphics, and better world design. Hell, Far Cry 4 even inexplicably ran better on my PC than Far Cry 3 did, as if to hammer home that this is just the better package of the two. Does it change things up enough to warrant a whole new number after the ‘Far Cry’ in the title? Perhaps not to the satisfaction of some people, but as someone who has come around to being a massive fan of this series, I would point to this game as its apex when it comes to a complete and total package. Not an innovation but a refinement, this is the game where everything just worked to the greatest degree across the entire series. That’s not to say that there’s nothing good in Far Cry games after this, but this is the one that’s the easiest to recommend to people, the one I remember the most fondly. Sure, they didn’t reinvent the series like they did with Far Cry 3, but hey, if it ain’t broke, right?
Surely they won’t learn the wrong lessons from this game though, right? Surely publisher Ubisoft won’t take away all the wrong things from how this game was designed and create games full of bloat and meaningless, mind-numbing content that helps to obscure the great things they do, right?