Release Date: November 18, 2014
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Xbox One (Review), Microsoft Windows
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: First Person Shooter, Open World
Mode: Single player with some Co-Op modes
Far Cry has always been a series of cognitive dissonance – the outcome of the game is one players often have to convince themselves they’re happy with. As each story continues through its linear progression, there are several decisions players must make that affect the game’s outcome. Initially, the ramifications feel minor and leave little consequence in the aftermath. However, as the player gets to know each character, the question of what’s right or wrong becomes murky. In fact, it very well be that the choices offer nothing but a negative – it’s which of the two is the lesser evil that becomes the new context. Ultimately, there’s one question that is left for the player to answer at the end of each game – which makes me less of a monster?
Specifically, Far Cry 4‘s ultimate question sits in the player’s stomach. The myriad of questions to ask leading up to the answer often times paint a picture that perfectly encapsulates the question of whether or not the player is wrong. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to find nor a black-or-white situation to fall back on to make it easier to decide. Each decision has subtle and obvious outcomes, and there’s no magical reverse button to change what the eventual results will be. Even if there was, is the other result going to be any better? This quality of writing has been one of the consistently strongest suits of the series with Far Cry 4 being no exception.
In fact, even with the weak villain(s), weak overall narrative, and bland various missions, the strength of the writing pulls Far Cry 4 from being a mediocre game to a strong one. Other expected traits, like an open world, certainly help make the game fun. Far Cry 4 isn’t the strongest entry in the series, but it’s certainly worth the time to check out.
All He Wanted Was to Spread His Mother’s Ashes
Ajay Ghale is returning to his homeland Kyrat to fulfill his mom’s dying request of spreading her ashes at a place called Lakshmana. However, his travel is interrupted when his van is stopped and gunned down. When he wakes up, he’s found himself captive to Pagan Min, the tyrant ruling over Kyrat. Ajay is able to escape with the help of the Golden Path, a rebellion group started 20 years ago by Ajay’s father, Mohan. Being the son of Mohan, the Golden Path hail Ajay as “The Prodigal Son”, and meets the two people vying to be the revered leader of the group. One is Sabal, a man steeped in longstanding traditions who hopes to bring the country back to its roots. The other is Amita, a woman who wants to take progressive steps forward to the future.
The goal of the Golden Path is simple; take down Pagan Min’s choke-hold over Kyrat. How? Attack the three regional governors, bring them down, and then take on Pagan Min; Paul “De Pleur” Harmon, Noore Najjar and Yuma Lau. However, as Ajay helps the Golden Path reduce Pagan Min’s forces, the true enemy of the rebellion rears its ugly face: who is the revered leader of the Golden Path? Will Ajay side with Sabal and bring Kyrat back to its traditional roots? Or is the chance of a progressive Kyrat in Amita the right choice? All of this centers around the one who returned home, Ajay Ghale.
Far Cry 4 is a story that’s all about choices and consequences; no matter what’s chosen players have to be ready to accept not only the responsibility, but the consequences from the choices made. Even crazier, a lot of the decisions lack a real distinction between being the “good” or “bad” choice – almost every choice carries both to create a gray blur. That’s the brilliance of Far Cry 4, and even the series in general – a lack of a clear, moralistic choice. With a lack of a true paragon or renegade route (I’m looking at you Mass Effect) it forces players to put more energy and thought into the decisions. In my playthrough, I had to actually pause the game several times to run down why I would choose to side with one person over the other. Which one made me feel less like a monster and would be better for Kyrat? The lack of a moralistic compass, and emphasis on ambiguity helps to strengthen Far Cry 4 as a journey.
That’s not to say that having clear-cut distinctions between good and bad is a bad thing. Sometimes life does present situations that have clear, stark differences between good and evil. However, even those situations can turn out to have the opposite intended effect. Far Cry 4 does have some of these situations that seem clear cut between good and evil. However, the game is clever enough to turn your choices towards the opposite intention you had when making the choice. It’s equal parts brilliance and equal parts infuriating.
In fact, it could even be argued that Far Cry 4 has no antagonist at all because everyone in the game is. While Pagan Min is set up to be the dictator to take down to save Kyrat, the actions of the Golden Path aren’t exactly heroic or lead to a better outcome. In all honesty, by the time the game is done, it feels as if Kyrat has replaced one dictator for another in either Sabal or Amita. Again, brilliantly written and executed.
Lastly, I admire Far Cry 4 trying to do, and for the most part succeeding, is exploring several aspects of Kyrati culture. Notably, exploring the concept of Shangri-La. Shangri-La is a mythical place that equates to what Western Civilization calls heaven. The land is a peaceful place that is harmonious and free. However, in the scrolls Ajay finds we learn of a Shangri-La in disarray from demons invading the place. Ajay takes on the role of Kalinag, a Kyrati warrior, who is accompanied by a Sky Tiger. Together they both take on the demons in order to bring stabilization to Shangri-La. The missions are fun, exciting, and provide a unique challenge in each mission.
Unfortunately, like all the other games in the series, Far Cry 4‘s story feels very weak and drawn out. While the game is meant to be open world and provide various forms of gameplay like sidequests, looting, hunting, etc., the story itself lacked any real punch. In order for players to really get into the story or lore built into the game, they’d have to actively seek out most of the collectible’s in game. It’s a damn shame, because the collectibles like Mohan Ghale (Ajay’s dad) lost letters and journal entries all provide a great in depth look into how Kyrat became what it is today as well as provide insight into Pagan Min. All of it is interesting, but if player’s aren’t that invested into the collectible’s their missing out.
Without that information, a lot of the characters lack dimension or depth. Pagan Min, for example, comes off as one of the worst antagonists in my gaming experience. In fact, he hardly comes off as a villain and comes off more a supporting cast. Also, it doesn’t help when it seems like he wants to attack you and more so just wants to have dinner and conversation with Ajay. In actuality, it could be further argued that the antagonists at play are Ajay, Sabal and Amita.
Thematically speaking, that would be great writing and refreshing…if Amita and Sabal weren’t so one dimensional. While the dialogue may deceive players into believing the characters have depth and complexity, it’s easy to predict how they’ll interact with Ajay. Whatever Sabal says, Amita will go for the opposite and vice versa. Neither of them show any sort of growth in character and remain so steadfast in their fundamental differences. Making matters worse, it becomes very obvious neither of them will be the one Kyrat needs to break away from Pagan Min, but making the choices still carry the emotional weight discussed previously.
Then again, maybe that’s the brilliance of Far Cry 4; maybe there are people that one-dimensional when they are the embodiment of their own ideals. However, much as the writing truly attempts to mirror realistic concepts, Far Cry 4 seems to be stuck being wanting to be a video game and being realistic. Nothing exemplifies this dichotomy further than the gameplay itself.
Ajay = Rambo…I’m Serious
All jokes aside, Far Cry 4 is at its best with its gameplay because it understands and embraces that it’s a game. Initially, there’s an arsenal of weapons at Ajay’s disposal that only scratches the surface of what can be unlocked. However, nothing beats the two essential weapons to make players feel like Rambo…the grenade launcher, and Bow and Arrow. Nothing beats the sheer incredulous, adrenaline-laden ass-kicking of running in grenades blazing, or picking them off silently with arrows. Pair the arrows with the option of having explosive or fire tips and there’s no other reason to NOT use the bow and arrow.
Or, if players really want to spice up the gameplay, they can throw bait they get from skinning animals into bases and watch enemies get mauled by none other than a honey badger. Far Cry 4 wants to assure you that honey badger gives no fucks.
Like all standard weird FPS/RPG hybrids, there are upgrades that are unlocked through gaining experience points and/or meeting certain conditions that feel like a new coat of paint added to the game. Want to know what it’s like to takedown someone from the air, there’s an upgrade for that. Always wanted to know the sensation of hopping from one car to another to take the enemy down? My friend, there’s an upgrade for that.
Furthering the evidence that Ajay is Rambo incarnate are the boosters players can craft by harvesting plants. These boosts range from a focus intensive syringe to one that heightens hunter senses syringe. Depending on the player’s intentions, these syringes can either work to the player’s advantage or disadvantage. Knowing what to use and when to use them requires a good bit of strategy.
For players who want to take a break from the main story there are plenty of sidequests to keep them busy. Some of the quests require Ajay to kill off a commander of the Royal Army, take a picture to show to the person requesting Ajay’s aide. Another one has Ajay filming himself driving for a movie sequence being filmed in Kyrat. Each of the several sidequests provide a new gameplay variant and offer up challenges of their own. These challenges range from completing it within a time constraint or racking up as many points as possible.
However, the problem with the gameplay is this desire to blend both realism and meta awareness of being a videogame into something cohesive. In fact, it feels like a lot of games are trying to find the happy medium to bring the two together. That said, because they’re two extremes it’s very rarely a game is able to accomplish such a feat. Sure, the package of gameplay as a whole is fun. That said, the gun play itself is stale, boring, and offers little to challenge. Essentially, Ajay is Rambo in terms of how big the body count can be versus actual difficult battles. Most battles just needed the grenade launcher and a “guns blazing” approach which became stale, repetitive and boring. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to find that happy medium bridging to distinctive concepts together.
Second, none of the decisions Ajay make really feel like they effect Kyrat. Every quest creates a psuedo outcome indicating that hopefully Kyrat has been changed (for better or worse). Sure, there’s a thank you, an EXP reward as well as monetary award, but the results don’t seem to sway the environment in any real shape or form. It further takes away from Far Cry 4 attempting to add some realistic depth to choices and consequences.
Aside from the contrasting differences being presented within the gameplay elements, Far Cry 4 carries a lot of fun, enjoyment, and playability to it. I’m sure out of my playthrough with the game at least 60% was exploring Kyrat to see what it had to offer.
Beautiful, Beautiful Kyrat
If there’s anything to never doubt about the Far Cry series it’s that it’ll never look short of being beautiful. All of the design – from the various landscapes to the detail within the detail within leaves – are handled with care. All several environments (Kyrat, Shangri-La, the Himalayas) are each unique, exciting and interesting. They all also have their own distinct color palette and tone.
Voice acting is also pretty well done thanks to solid performances from veteran voice actors like Troy Baker (who played Pagan Min). Each character, while really feeling one dimensional, are given some breath of life that would have been missing without such consistent performances. The only problem I had in terms of artistic direction was the music –most of it was forgettable. In fact, if I was asked to name a favorite track I’d be hard pressed to answer.
Otherwise Far Cry 4 continues the franchise trend of sounding and looking great.
To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question!
Overall, Far Cry 4 is a solid game that suffers from an identity crisis. On the one hand, the game provides a lot of scenarios that leave the player having to make tough choices with equally tough consequences to handle. A lof the choices offered aren’t clear cut good or bad which feels more realistic and challenging. It becomes more of a question of “which makes me feel less like a monster?” which is very compelling for a storytelling experience. Even with the awesome concept of no real antagonist, the writing let down by one-dimensional characters and a weak antagonist.
What also doesn’t help is that the choices often feel more like “pseudo-choices” and less like genuine choices. As in, they do little to nothing to effect the game or story and are presented just to give the player a sense of agency. It’s a damn shame, because actually seeing the effect a lot of the choices could have on Kyrat would have been really interesting.
The game also struggles with its awareness of being a game versus the realism it tries to provide. WIth so many weapons at Ajay’s disposal (specifically the grenade launcher) there’s little to no challenge or depth to the gun fights that occur unless if there’s a criteria or condition needing to be met. Most of the time Ajay can go in guns blazing, spam shots, and make it out fine. Far Cry 4’s gameplay is a lot of fun, but it comes at a cost to the themes it tries to present.
Aside from that, there’s a lot of various forms of gameplay to enjoy for many hours at a time: hunting, assassination quests, exploration, and so on. Kyrat feels alive and exciting to explore that offers a satisfying reprieve from the story when needed. After being on the shelves for a year and seeing a price drop, it’s hard not to argue that this game is now worth picking up to play.