Some Far Cry 4 spoilers are below.
It’d be a tasteless to ignore that Ubisoft has found its comfort zone with the Far Cry series. After the success of Far Cry 3’s villain-focused forest-island romp in a young frat boy’s shoes, here comes Far Cry 4 — a villain-focused forest romp in an almost-frat boy’s shoes. Let’s not forget this is after the downloadable Far Cry: Blood Dragon, which was a forest-island romp in a cyborg’s mechanical shoes. I’m not surprised to see Ubisoft repeating a formula upon success, though. Assassin’s Creeds have been copied and pasted since 2007. So I guess we’re in for villain-focused forest-island romps in frat boy boat shoes until at least 2020.
I’m perhaps not giving Fry Cry enough credit, here.
Far Cry 3 kept me interested. On a general level, I enjoyed running through the forest greens, shooting animals with my trusty bow, hiding on cliffs to pick off enemies guarding camps with my custom-painted sniper rifle and other things.
Far Cry 4 also kept me interested. However, because it’s more like Far Cry 3.5, I tended to play it on auto-pilot mode. I’m just here for the completion. I mindlessly went from one tower to the next, one camp to the next, one side quest to the next until I unlocked that one next thing I was working toward.
Because Far Cry 4 has limited innovation on Far Cry 3, many of the same issues I had with 3 exist in 4. The villain-focused bit is the first.
Despite Far Cry 3 shoving main villain Vaas in my face here and there, I didn’t care for him. I’m not interested in villains who have multiple opportunities to end your life, yet somehow they don’t take the opportunity, so you can escape. I realize the game would be over a lot sooner if crazed criminal mastermind Vaas actually did kill frat boy Jason Brody early on, but at least I’d take him more seriously.
Far Cry 4 repeats the same mistakes. Ubisoft is attempting to do some sort of James Bond thing where it’s trying really hard to make interesting, memorable villains. So interesting, in fact, that the villains are the face (read: front cover) of the games. Again, in Far Cry 4, just as in 3, I’d take main villain Pagan Min more seriously if he didn’t start the game with a lengthy monologue and then disappear until the final mission. And despite Ubisoft’s best efforts to make him unique, he’s pretty by-the-books. A fancy white(ish) guy in a nice suit who rules a bunch of brown guys. He speaks carefully and then unleashes a violent stabbing on someone just before complaining that the victim bled on his shoes. Well, Min, maybe you should pick a different murder weapon than a knife if you don’t want blood on you, hmm?
Far Cry’s insistence on making memorable bad guys also fails because the villains have zero impact on gameplay. They’re the reason for the gameplay, yet have no impact. They parade around and put on a show during cutscenes, but once the scenes are over, I forgot about them. If Pagan Min, who’s the feared dictator of Kyrat, really wants to kill player-character Ajay Ghale, he could do it easily. He owns a helicopter. Hell, he owns the whole territory. If he doesn’t want to kill Ghale (which seems to be the case) what’s the point of sending armed guards after him throughout the game? His human resources department could use some better communication skills.
On one hand, it makes gameplay action-packed. Mass consumers would short circuit if Far Cry 4 were simply a story-based island exploration sim with light hunting mechanics. “No, no, no, you have to shoot brown people every 5 minutes or no one will play this,” Ubisoft says. Maybe they’re right.
Min calls Ajay’s phone every once in a while to remind the player he exists (and so voice actor Troy Baker could earn his paycheck), but his calls ultimately add up to nothing.
The other Far Cry 3 and 4 crossover issue I have is the healing system. It’s badly designed, and it wasn’t altered in 4. You gather green leaves to craft healing syringes. If you’re low on health, hold a button for about a second to begin the syringe-use animation. Ghale stabs himself with the needle, and his health is back. No big deal.
It breaks down when Ghale is out of syringes. The default healing animation has multiple forms. Ghale might wrap gauze around his arm, he might pop his broken finger back into place, he might use a twig to dig out shrapnel from his arm. However, these animations take about 3 seconds to complete before health is restored. And that’s on top of a full-second button press to start the animation.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m waist deep in enemies shooting at me, I don’t have four seconds to wait for the health bars to regenerate. If fire is thrown into the mix, it only gets worse. The button to pat flames off your arms is the same as the healing button. Smothering flames takes about 3 seconds, and doing it doesn’t regenerate health bars. So if you’re getting shot at and catch on fire, you must watch the 3-second flame smother animation before you can even begin the 4-second healing animation. And you take damage during all these animations. I can’t count the times I was 90 percent through a healing animation when I died. It’s beyond frustrating, especially in 4’s Shangri-La areas, which don’t have healing syringes at all.
Yeah, it’s a pretty minute thing to critique, but it’s also the most frustrating mechanic of the game.
Add to it the fact that in Far Cry 3 and 4, I never felt powerful even after leveling up enough to learn every skill. Sure I’m 40 hours in and can chain-takedown 6 enemies in a row with four guns strapped to my back, but I still die way too quickly in firefights.
Some prefer a challenge throughout the length of the game, and some prefer to feel like a god toward the end. I prefer the latter, which also explains my lean toward Fallout 3 over New Vegas.
I have to hand it to Ubisoft for trying to infuse so much character into the cast, but it didn’t pay off for me. Although some are kind of interesting — a bible verse-spouting religious gun runner, a couple of silly stoners — I found myself picking up my phone and ignoring characters any time a cutscene started. The game sets itself up as such a routine experience, I didn’t care about investing anything into side characters. They solely exist to hand you a mission, then slap your butt on the way out the door to get you going. The relationship ends there.
Even the two main quest characters, Amita and Sabal, with whom you work to get through the campaign, aren’t memorable. You must side with one to progress the story. Amita is progressive and Sabal is a traditionalist. I sided with Amita the whole game, but it didn’t seem to affect much. Yeah, I got a few different missions, but the endgame is Pagan Min, not Sabal nor Amita. So it’s just taking two different roads to the same destination.
Far Cry 4 also throws in token decision-making on letting you kill cast members or let them run away. In my case Amita asked me to kill Sabal late in the game. I confronted him, but let him walk. I thought he might pop up later to ruin some mission of hers, but nope. He leaves the game and never comes back, which gives the decision zero weight. Ajay also never admits to Amita that he let Sabal live. Everyone just goes on as if he killed him. What’s the point, other than to check one more box on token game mechanics?
I admit, I’d be cool with Ubisoft releasing another downloadable spin-off, be it Blood Dragon 2 or something else, after Far Cry 4. Beyond that, some restructuring of the overall game mechanics would be nice. If Far Cry ends up going the way of Assassin’s Creed, I’ll probably stop playing them.
Screenshots from http://far-cry.ubi.com/en-US/home/