Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Far Cry 4 review

    I initially hated Far Cry 3, having difficulty getting into the controls and not at all enjoying the hard-to-use vehicles. I couldn't get into the mood of the game. It wasn't until I retried playing it that it rocketed up to becoming one of my favorite games of all time.

    However, despite this, I recognized the game as having quite a few problematic elements. Protagonist Jason Brody was a "Mighty Whitey" savior-figure who joined the native people only to become better at their ways than them. Ally-character Citra's cult was completely despicable despite being the apparent religion of the otherwise modernized Rakyat. Even the fact the main enemy was a white Imperialist didn't take away from the fact the majority of the game was a white man killing a bunch of brown folks because they'd taken his other white friends hostage.

    So, I was pleased at the possibility of a game where most of these problems are fixed. Ajay Ghale is a native of Kyrat raised in American. He is a non-white protagonist and the religion of Kyrat is neither orientalist nor hiding any dark secrets. While I would have preferred the use of a real-life ethnicity and religion, this is a definite step in the right direction. 

Far Cry 4 is one of the prettiest shooters in video games.
    The premise is Ajay Ghale coming back to the land of his birth to scatter his mother's ashes. On the way, his bus is intercepted by the government's forces. The dictator of Kyrat, Pagan Min, was in love with Ajay's mother and seems to have some transferred affection for her son. The only problem is Pagan Min is a bat**** crazy psychopath who leaves Ajay alone in the upstairs of a mansion, allowing him to escape into the wilds of Kyrat to join up with the resistance.

    Ajay isn't the most interesting character in the story, not going through much of an arc through the storyline. Say what you will about Jason Brody but he definitely changes as he goes through his adventures on Rook Island. Ajay's desire to spread his mother's ashes despite the fact a civil war is going on strikes me as a trifle unrealistic. If it were my mother, I'd be content bringing her back to her homeland once bullets started flying.

     The game makes up for Ajay's rather bland white-bread personality (if not ethnicity) by providing a colorful cast of weirdos every bit as off-beat as Far Cry 3. There's Amita the Marxist guerrilla, Sabal the theocratic freedom fighter, Hunk the American Idiot here to fight, and (of course) the villain. Watching the various characters interact is a source of great enjoyment even if the choice system is kind of ludicrous.

Amita is a favorite character of mine. Reminding me of Bolo Santosi from Just Cause 2.
     A story mechanic is that Ajay serves as the tie-breaker between Amita and Sabal's deadlocked decisions on whether to modernize or isolate Kyrat. Do you want to burn Pagan Min's drug labs or keep them going so the country has an economy to fall back on when he's gone (criminal or not)? Do you sacrifice a group of troops in order to get valuable intel which will warn you about an upcoming attack (which may or may not have already happened)?

    Everyone is, sadly, a little too ruthless so it doesn't seem like there's so much moral ambiguity as there's no good choices. I would have preferred a more tightly written story following Ajay's journey through the Golden Path than the artificial multiple choice story provided.

    The gameplay is virtually identical to Far Cry 3, which isn't a bad thing. I'm a great believer in the principle of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" in video games. Better to have a formula which you slowly refine rather than changing it around with every new game. There's a few new abilities like elephant riding and new enemies like Hunters (silent but deadly bowmen) but the basic structure remains the same.

    Ajay wanders around a very large map, retakes fortresses, and does missions while exploring the island. There's lots of shooting, skinning animals, crafting items, and stealth murder. Vehicle driving is every bit as frustrating as before but this is a small element of an otherwise excellent game. Then there's the fact Far Cry 4 is gorgeous.

The conflict between the modern and the old is a central theme.
    As beautiful as previous entries in the series have been, this entry trumps them all. There are babbling brooks, luscious jungles, and spectacular vistas. Even the buildings are beautiful with the palaces and temples having a "substance" to them, at least on the Xbox One, which is something I rarely say about video games. I wandered around many areas, just looking at the sights, which is something I haven't done since since Skyrim.

   All of this means Far Cry 4 is one of my favorite action games in terms of sheer playability. The combination of shooting and stealth means there's a near unlimited number of ways you can approach combat with enemies. You can sneak up behind them and stab them, run and gun, or make use of the new bait mechanic to summon animals to kill for you. Taking fortresses is an endless source of fun, involving all manner of tactical planning which is never so difficult as to require you to go one way or another. It's challenging but the guards are dumb enough that you can achieve your results however you want without it being easy either.

    One of the most touted abilities in pre-release media was the ability to ride elephants and use them as war mounts. I haven't got a chance to use this power yet and there doesn't seem to be enough elephants around to justify its use. Still, it's there. That's how varied the game is. You can attack your enemies' fortresses on entirely optional war elephants.

The appeal of the games include lots of hilarious oddball scenes like elephants vs. fascist troops vs. resistance fighters.
    The game makes use of a co-op feature where you and a buddy can join together to handle all of the various horrors but, frankly, I've never been a fan of online dual play and that hasn't been changed here. Indeed, I rather resent the game goes out of its way to encourage you to play with other fans online.

    I, thus, left the game's co-op feature offline for the majority of my playthrough. Indeed, one of the game's few flaws along with vehicle driving is the immersion-breaking suggestions you might want to do something "fun" like this every so often. You don't need to tell me what's fun game, I can judge that for myself.

    Ubisoft. *sigh*

Pagan Min wears a pink shirt. He's also crazy psychotic enough to pull it off.
    Another couple of things I'd like to comment on is the addition of a radio DJ to the game who takes on a Three-Dog (from Fallout 3) role of narrating the protagonist's adventures as they go through the game. A hyper-liberal stoner who is a bit of an ass, the Voice of Radio Free Kyrat is a hilarious character even if I imagine he'll annoy some people. He's endearingly offensive, though, and that's what the best DJs are. I actually found myself wanting to get into vehicles so I could hear his latest speeches.

    Pagan Min also deserves a shout-out in the writers having crafted a delightfully hate-able villain. Like Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2, Pagan Min frequently contacts AJ via radio in order to taunt him or speak. He doesn't hate our protagonist, though, but seems to think of him as a weirdly disobedient son. Troy Baker does an amazing job realizing a three-dimensional comic lunatic who is half-Joker and half-David Bowie. It's all too easy to root for Pagan Min and I rarely say that about villains.

    In conclusion, this is a great game and I think fans of Far Cry 3 will love it. Those who haven't played it will find it just as awesome as I did I think. The characters are great, the scenery is gorgeous, the humor is funny, and most of all the gameplay is fun. That's the best part of things, really?



  1. Lets face it Far Cry 4 is basically Just Cause 2 but in first person mode.

    1. Which is why it's AWESOME! What's interesting is the accuracy to the Nepalese Civil War is pretty good. There's some great Escapist articles on the subject.