Review: Far Cry 4
As someone who adored Far Cry 2 perhaps a little too much, Far Cry 3 was a bit of a mixed blessing. While 3 was a more polished and varied experience, it lost the grim tone and focus that made 2 such a singular experience. Worse than that, it dreamed up a cast of wild, colorful characters and mostly did nothing with them, when it wasn’t running them through a train wreck of a story. I had hoped Far Cry 4 would find a happier medium between the two, but it seems Ubisoft has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on what 3 was to produce this one. It is perhaps one of the most faithful sequels I have ever seen, refining and expanding on the mechanics of its predecessor while repeating nearly all of the same mistakes found elsewhere in the design.
Ajay Ghale’s mother has passed, and her dying wish is for her ashes to be scattered in her native Kyrat, nestled within the distant Himalayas. Upon arrival Ajay is waylaid by the forces of his uncle, the brutal and fabulous dictator Pagan Min. Kyrat is in the throes of civil war and the resistance breaks Ajay out of Min’s clutches, setting him on the same path his revolutionary father walked. There’s a lot of ground to cover in Kyrat if Min and his minions are to be unseated from power, and that ground will be covered in bodies, shell casings, animal hides, opium, and stranger things still by the end of it.
Right away you’ve got a very different hook from 3, but don’t assume that translates into a better story. The war between Pagan Min and the Golden Path is a straight-forward one that sees you supporting one of two rebel figures as you take back the country. Their aims and means are quite different but the result is the same, toppling regional warlords and building your forces for the inevitable showdown, as well as some extremely predictable plot twisting thereafter. Following the main story isn’t going to run you through anything you haven’t seen before, and while missions are more involved and creative here they still trace a familiar arc from clueless visitor to murder deity by the end.
There’s an actual problem here, and it’s a matter of tone. Far Cry 3 got away with having a hot mess of a story because the theme of the game was essentially hot messes. Far Cry 4 tries to paint a more serious conflict with the soul of Kyrat in the balance, except it fills in everything around it with hilarious hijinks. Outside of the plot missions you’ll be racing cars for an aged sexpot, doing drugs with a pair of ex-pat hoodlums, and fishing with grenade launchers. Even the object of your quest, the great and terrible Pagan Min, spends the bulk of the game on the phone with you talking about tweeting at Kanye and hiring someone to blow out all the candles in the country. It’s a bizarre tonal whiplash that took ages to get used to, and still carries this weird sort of “civil strife is cool and fun” message that is surely unintended.
A lot of this is tied up in the characters, which are every bit the tragic waste they were in 3. That’s not to say the cast is bad, on the contrary the cast is amazing. Every character you meet is quirky and nuanced, and the expert voice acting brings their larger-than-life personalities to life. The character models and animations are just as good, and the game knows it because it loves having them get in your face while ranting about the religion of guns or the importance of bidets. Sometimes the writing borders on too much but that’s easy to forget when you realize these characters are absolutely wasted as talking heads that give you missions. There are no deeper interactions than listening to briefings, no camaraderie besides hearing them on your radio. They’re uncommon characters given common roles, spouting off insane diatribes about their dreams and visions before telling you to collect leopard pelts or shoot some guy and thoroughly diluting their impact.
By now though I doubt anyone is here for big character moments or impressive plots from the Far Cry series. You’re here to assassinate people, hunt wildlife, climb towers, and Batman guard posts, and boy howdy can you do all that and more. Kyrat is a wide-open playground of all the activities you did in 3 and then some, adding more ways to hunt, murder, and race. Among a few of the most notable additions are an arena where you start with nothing and battle waves of foes, a scavenger hunt to follow the trail of a serial killer, hostage rescues and bomb defusals that value stealth over shooting, and a sort of vision-quest B-plot that could (and should) honestly be fleshed out into its own game. For your efforts you’ll level up to unlock new skills, unlock new weapons and attachments, progress along two experience systems, and gain access to a whole host of enhancing syringes, allied support, and throwable goodies.
If you thought you would never run out of stuff to do in 3, Far Cry 4 goes out of its way to make sure you’ll never finish it. Dynamic events like defending captured outposts, hijacking convoys, and aiding rebels in the field fire off constantly while you’re on your way to the next collectible, to the point that it can become tiresome. Ten hours into the game I was still unlocking new customization systems and mission types, which was a blessing for those times I started getting frustrated with the game. It feels like a more annoying game than 3 at times, with how aggressive predators like eagles and tigers can be and how easily you can die from falling or smacking into a tree in Kyrat’s terribly vertical landscapes. And definitely don’t play on hard, which just makes you take enough damage to die in like two hits.
I know this may not sound like much of a recommendation, but it is. Far Cry 4 is every bit as fun as 3 was, with all the best parts ballooned out to provide you more variety and longevity for your murderous antics. The shooting and takedowns are just as solid, and you’ll get the same gratification out of climbing towers and collecting letters. And it’s absolutely gorgeous, benefiting greatly from a more interesting setting and culture. But it makes the same missteps that 3 did as well, because it doesn’t really bother to be anything different from 3. It’s clear now that the Far Cry franchise is no longer interested in evolving, just iterating on its formula. That’s great if you’re here to loot and shoot but whatever you found lacking before is still going to be lacking here. I love these games but they’re getting harder to stick with, and if anything Far Cry 4 leaves me looking to Primal with thin hope and 5 with apprehension for when I finally finish ticking off all the boxes here.