One of my earliest reviews for this blog was Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3, which I wrote a long-winded screed on (this seems to be a pattern with me and Ubisoft games). In it I concluded that the game is very fun if viewed as a playground of hilarious violence, but is also poorly written and extraordinarily racist, uncritically pushing the hoary old colonial Mighty Whitey trope for 95% of its playtime before unsuccessfully trying to subvert it.
Just recently Ubisoft put out a sequel, one that very much borrows the same plot structure, gameplay mechanics and more or less everything else from Far Cry 3. Does it run into the same issues?
Kyrat is a fictional Himalayan nation that’s basically Nepal except…. well, Nepal, basically. For the last few decades its been under the rule of flamboyant tyrant and walking fashion disaster Pagan Min, who seized power following an earlier civil war. Rebels calling themselves the Golden Path oppose him, but at the start of the game they’ve been pushed back to their last stronghold on the southern border and aren’t having much impact.
Into all of this steps Ajay Ghale, born in Kyrat but raised in the US. He returns in order to fulfill his mother’s dying request to scatter her ashes and is almost immediately accosted by Min’s forces. It turns out Ajay’s parents started the Golden Path and his mother had a history with Min, who now wants to turn Ajay into some sort of pawn. Before that can happen Ajay is spirited off by the Golden Path to basically serve as a mascot- his dad is still revered as something of a national hero and they figure having his son around might rally the troops, and there’s always the vague chance that some of the elder Ghale’s combat prowess will have rubbed off on the boy (needless to say this turns out to be true beyond their wildest expectations). Unfortunately the rebel’s leadership is split between the traditionalist and humanitarian Sabal and the progressive and pragmatic Amita, and as Ajay you have to decide which of them you’re going to blow shit up for.
Right off the bat the setup sidesteps a lot of the uncomfortable subtext of the third game. Casting Ajay as a returning Kyrati removes the racist overtones from his ascension to Hero of The Resistance (which is far better handled than in the previous game- Ajay starts off coasting on his dad’s reputation until he does enough badass shit to become famous) and Far Cry 4 is probably the least white AAA game I’ve ever played. There are only a handful of white characters, all of whom play minor periphery roles and none of whom are portrayed as anything close to heroic or likable. One of them, in fact, appears to be a direct parody of Far Cry 3’s insufferable protagonist, a white ignorant dudebro who swans into Kyrat thinking he’s going to be a hero even though he’s a clueless jackass.
…. All of which would seem a lot more laudable if not for the fact that Kyrat itself is a gigantic stereotype, a place where every single vehicle is festooned with lotus petals or beads or a red dangly cord thing, where Holi powder appears to be a naturally occurring resource and the local religion is Buddhism with the serial numbers filed off. Ubisoft appears to have taken every single feature of the broad region of the world the game takes place in that western people would be familiar with and then stuffed them into a box marked “third world”.
At least the characters aren’t fucking annoying this time. Ajay is a little bland and he doesn’t really have much of a motivation at first for risking his life for the Golden Path, but he’s a massive breath of fresh air compared to the douchebag from Far Cry 3. In general the game severely dials back the forced wackiness, playing most of its story straight instead of constantly trying to be funny. There’s still a “hilarious” radio DJ and several scenes in which Ajay trips out on drugs or gas (because those weren’t annoying last time) but in general the humour is understated and sometimes even effective. I particularly like a lot of Ajay’s more deadpan reactions. Sabal and Amita, the two warring heads of the Golden path are fairly well written characters, their conflicting viewpoints and priorities both making sense and presenting fairly complex moral quandaries.
At no point in Far Cry 4 was I asked to collect a magic knife or engage in sex rituals. There’s a largely-optional series of side missions where you play through a legend about an ancient Kyrati hero defending Shangri-La from demons and it’s vaguely hinted at that something supernatural might be going on in a Chosen Protector kind of way, but nothing concrete is ever stated and it’s easy enough to read the whole thing as an allegory for Ajay’s quest. And there’s an invisible tiger buddy!
Unfortunately these improvements can’t change the fact that the game’s actual story isn’t great, suffering from a lot of the same issues that seem to plague open world games. Characters repeatedly vanish from the game for extended periods of time and Pagan Min’s lieutenants each exit the story in abrupt and anti-climactic ways. Not a whole lot actually happens until the very end of the game, which reveals some interesting twists surrounding Ajay’s parents but also severely bungles Amita and Sabal’s characterization. The game decides to go for the most played out cliche in videogame storytelling history- the people you’re working for are kind of dodgy oh no– and has Amita/Sabal (depending on which one you’e sided with) start doing massively out of character bullshit. Just like Bioshock Infinite, the game seems to treat the old adage about power corrupting as implying the existence of some sort of mystical force that seizes the minds of the rebel leaders as soon as they win the war, compelling them to start murdering and executing for no apparent reason.
In terms of gameplay, Far Cry 4 swaps out ocean depths for mountain heights; you won’t be running over sharks with jet skis this time, but you will be jumping off cliffs a lot. The number of airborne transportation options has been increased and the wingsuit is available early, meaning you can drive off cliffs and then leap out in mid-air with little risk of dying. This never stops being fun.
Unfortunately everything else is… underwhelming. Most of Far Cry 3’s gameplay mechanics have been ported over with little or no change, making the game feel like a half-step instead of a real sequel, and Kyrat just isn’t as interesting to travel around or look at as the Rook Islands were. The forested, mountainous terrain has an auto-generated quality to it that I usually associate with MMOs and outside of a few sections bringing the player into the snowy Himalayas it never really looked particularly attractive, with the inescapable limits of the draw distance meaning the high elevation frequently hindered the game’s graphics. If you’ve got a real monster of a PC and you can crank everything to Ultra without sacrificing the framerate these problems might disappear, but played on High I found that Kyrat constantly looked a little rough around the edges.
Ubisoft don’t seem to have done a very good job of balancing Far Cry 4. As soon as I unlocked the first silenced sniper rifle I basically never faced any real difficulty again, as every enemy camp can be conquered by finding a high vantage point (due to the hilly terrain there’s always a high vantage point, a problem Far Cry 3 didn’t have) and headshotting the guards one by one. My only hiccups during this process came from the enemies’ mysterious and seemingly supernatural ability to spot dead bodies on rooftops from halfway across an outpost, a blatant and recurring bug with the stealth mechanics that I don’t remember the previous game having. But even then I could usually relocate and resume sniping, and if all else failed tossing C4 all over the place and blowing advancing guards to pieces generally did the trick. As a combination of all of these factors I got bored with taking outposts about halfway through the game and didn’t even think about trying out the “Outpost Master” challenge mode, which was probably the most requested feature after Far Cry 3’s release. That left the story missions, which are better constructed then previously- there are far less instances of the game arbitrarily forcing you to play a certain style, the game wisely realizing that Far Cry’s main strength is in allowing the player to switch effortlessly between stealth and all out carnage- but none of them really grabbed me. The level of difficulty here, too, seems to be unbalanced as I found myself strolling through these missions with very little challenge.
In the wake of the train wreck that was Assassin’s Creed Unity (which I won’t be playing any time soon because, ludicrously, my current GPU can’t even run it on the lowest settings) many people have pointed out that Ubisoft’s games are starting to bur together, every single one consisting of a sprawling open world in which the player climbs towers to unlock an explosion of icons denoting repetitive side content. I think this is a formula I’m very quickly losing patience with, as I barely scratched the surface of any of Far Cry4’s many, many optional missions. The truth is that for all their colossal scale these games generally only have a handful of actual things to do, which they then repeat in endless tiny variations in the hope the player won’t get bored. It didn’t work for me and I can’t see it working again in the future.
Overall I came out of the game feeling generally underwhelmed and deflated. If you’ve never played Far Cry 3 then the sequel offers a somewhat inferior version of the same game, minus the racism and god awful writing, but if you have played that game then you can pretty safely skip this one. The somewhat improved story isn’t nearly enough to justify the repetitive nature of the game and the ho-hum setting.