Too Large a Portion
HIGH Flying the buzzer low over the foothills, seeing a herd of deer chased by a pack of wolves.
LOW In the middle of a successful stealth approach to a major mission, I clipped through a rock and drowned inside it.
WTF "Scream for me! Scream so I know how you sound in hell!"
Far Cry 4's greatest problem is that it is a sequel to Far Cry 3.
I had hoped it would be a sequel to Far Cry 2, but in my heart I knew that was unrealistic.
Barring that, I hoped it would at least be a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but, no.
Far Cry 4 takes every cue from the series' third entry—from the design of its open world, to the characteristics of its narrative, to the mechanics of its first person stealthing and shooting—to the extent that it seems like a standalone expansion rather than a genuinely new game.
Unfortunately it's weaker than its inspiration in almost every respect.
It's different of course, following the adventures of kleptomaniac herbalist Ajay Ghale as he returns to his native Kyrat, a Himalayan country with more mercenaries than beds, and proceeds to shoot almost every person and animal he sees. As in the preceding game, the former serve a charismatic villain and the latter produce skin without ever actually getting skinned.
Also in keeping with Far Cry 3, the game heavily favors stealth in virtually every context, supplying powerful silenced weapons and generous sight lines. These, in combination with the incredibly overpowered ‘marking' of enemies, make long-range plinking easier while granting extra awards for pulling off this simple, almost boring work. Blood Dragon demonstrated that FC3's fundamental formula could produce tense, close-quarters stealth if sight lines were blocked and silenced weapons made less available, but FC4's team seems to have disregarded the lesson. With too much ammo and too much control, even a moderately skilled player will rarely see a plan fall apart from his own failures.
Where FC4 does part ways with its predecessor is in the dynamics of combat. The previous entries in the series have generally insisted that enemies must come from somewhere, and planning for this eventuality added interesting dimensions to the tactical gameplay. All too often, however, FC4 is content to stream enemies into an area from nowhere in particular.
This problem was most evident in the random events where soldiers try to take back an outpost Ajay has claimed, but it showed up in numerous side activities and even story missions. I suppose it's no worse than many other shooters in this way, but to the extent that the Far Cry series has an identity, it lies in insisting that the player make a plan, and gameplay dynamics that cause that plan to fail. FC4's overpowered stealth and its decision to spawn enemies willy-nilly around the areas of operation undercut both of those tenets.
That the gameplay hews too close to 3 is disappointing, but even worse is that the story sticks to the template established on Rook Island rather than in Blood Dragon. Being a followup to the retro-sci-fi cheesefest might have prevented FC4 from being serious, but solemnity is unnecessary and probably undesirable in a game that asks the player to skin four rhinos to make a single wallet, then jump off a Himalayan mountain in a wingsuit.
At any rate, a tale of laser cyborgs and fire-breathing dinosaurs would be no more incongruous with the demands of gameplay than FC4's artless and wool-headed musings on tradition, pragmatism, and the madness and betrayal inherent in civil war. Negative critical response to Far Cry 3's "mighty whitey" narrative seems to have scared FC4's writers off from doing anything even marginally interesting with their setting. The resulting neutered narrative feels like nothing so much as a series of setups for twists and gut-punches that never actually bother to arrive, and Ajay shoots his way through all of it without experiencing a moment of genuine emotion.
What little story exists is constructed without apparent regard to quality. Mission dialogue is either dry, utilitarian exposition or unbearably long-winded bullshit. Flavor dialogue is slung around carelessly—several times, the radio operator indicated that a political leader was becoming more powerful long after I had killed her.
This sloppiness is consistent with the game's shabby construction. The existence of Assassin's Creed Unity ensures that FC4 will not be the worst-made of the year, but it could have been a contender. I clipped out of the world several times, including in major mission areas. Utilizing what I assume was the same trick, eagles occasionally attacked me indoors. The theoretically-excellent autodrive feature never quite worked, as my vehicle frequently ground to a dead stop for no apparent reason. Aiming and firing both felt laggy and inconsistent, and the sense I was playing a poorly-made online shooter was accentuated by enemies jerking around the map. Some locations refused to be discovered no matter how thoroughly I explored around the marker. As for the PS4's touchpad control, it's terrible, and although the game remembered from session to session that I wanted that turned off, it wouldn't actually apply this setting, so that I had to turn the touchpad control on and back off again every time I started.
Well, this review has gone long and I still haven't talked about all the crap the player can do. There are chests and demon masks and locations to find, prayer wheels to spin, supply drops to pick up, people to tail, trucks to shoot from, an arena, assassinations to perform, towers to climb, outposts to take over, hostages to rescue, karma to gain, and three or four different species of hunting mission, some of which grant Ajay fabulous handbags. If one of those isn't within two inches of him, worry not. If a player finds any part of Kyrat that isn't covered in busy work, FC4 spawns a random event as quickly as it can. If a player refuses to participate in this junk, well too bad for her—so many of the weapons are walled off behind progression requirements that it breaks the economy, rendering money almost useless.
Even if it had made serious strides over Far Cry 3, even if the gameplay held true to the series's core, even if its story weren't junk, even if it had been put together perfectly, I would still find Far Cry 4 annoying as hell. It's not just that Ubisoft can't execute; it seems like they can't design anymore. To compensate, they've just slapped whatever crap they can onto an open world in the desperate hope that large portions will make up for the flavorlessness of the meal. Instead, I got sick of chewing, and longed for the days when Far Cry just shut up and let me shoot some guns.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail purchase and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately x hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (campaign completed 1 time) and 2 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language, and use of drugs. Look, you're going to be shooting (and up-close stabbing) a lot of dudes in this game, and as weapons increase in power you'll get to actually gib a few (man, do I miss games where you could just gib enemies and not worry about looting their bodies or skinning them). The game also features copious drug use and some topless women because why not, I guess. Anyway, anyone young enough to see the random topless women as anything other than the desperate pandering they are is probably too young to play this game.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Dialogue is subtitled but inane anyway so you're missing nothing. Sound is a very helpful tool in the open world, however, as it is often one's earliest (or only) warning of nearby enemies and animals. Certain missions revolve around finding masks in a general area; a sound emitted by the mask is the only aid to finding it. Overall this will create a modest but noticeable increase in difficulty. Colorblind individuals may also have some difficulty interpreting the minimap as some symbols on it are only differentiated by color.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.