Far Cry 4 – Cry Harder
2.5 Stars

Far Cry 4 is the same as Far Cry 3. There’s not much more to be said on top of that. It’s the same. There are places to go, dubiously characterized villains to fight, a mostly silent protagonist, and occasionally, you’ll get eaten by a tiger. The graphics are beautiful, the design choices are mostly brilliant in service of relentlessly pedestrian plot. The writing is decent, but has to cover for a lot of inexplicable choices, so it loses credibility. Overall, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

The plot has the virtue of technical uniqueness without anything really being different than the classic “destroy an empire and assassinate the bad guy” storyline the series is most associated with. Your character is Ajay Ghale, a native of the fictional nation of Kyrat, who was raised in the United States. His mother fled the country with him while he was a small child after a murderous dictator named Pagan Min seized control. Min is still in charge now, but you’ve returned to scatter your mother’s ashes in a specific place in the homeland. The game opens with you on a bus into the country, waiting at a security checkpoint.

Within about a minute and a half, it devolves into a gunfight and Pagan Min shows up, behaves badly, murders a soldier with a knife, poses with you for a selfie, and kidnaps you to a singularly inappropriate lick from “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” It’s an attempt to recapture the energy of the insane pirate leader from Far Cry 3, Vaas, who was a tremendously effective villain, and mostly, it fails. It has a lot of sound and movement and music but it falls flat because fundamentally, you’ve seen this before and you know exactly where it’s going even if you have never played the series.

What is really shameful about this game is how much brilliance is wasted. The Himalayan landscapes and countryside is beautifully rendered and the map is massive; much bigger than Far Cry 3. The writing is good, but it covers about a decent action movie’s amount of time, which in a game that I personally put about 20 hours into, means that it is stretched thin to the point of vanishing for long periods. The aesthetic is a sort of a neon Holi or Diwali- beautiful, hypnotic displays of mandalas and colors, sand paintings and candles, hallucinatory visions of ancient worlds and drug trips and blue skies and death. It’s wonderfully well designed and the artists and design teams are fantastic. The music, too, often draws on Bollywood style including  the Bombay Royale, and the original music is subtle and on point. The game’s design themes- contrasting the poor rebels with the Kim Jong Il/Eddie Izzard hybrid that is Pagan Min- is lavishly drawn, and has a number of clever details, like all the native Kyrati pronouncing the main character’s name one way and non-natives in a more American way.

With all that said, little that is new is tried. The game pulls almost all of its interesting story beats from Far Cry 3 and hammers them into the ground. There was a drug trip in Far Cry 3, so there are about a dozen in Far Cry 4. There was a sequence in which your character is captured in 3, so there are several in 4. There’s a crazy bad guy who talks to you sometimes in 3, so the entire game is built around him in 4. There are animals you can hunt and craft systems in 3, so 4 has more of both. Getting the picture? This isn’t just borrowing from a playbook, this is iterating on a theme. The upgrades and changes to the game are minimal compared to the similarities and usually just represent an expansion, not a change.  

There is a quest system, and moral choices to be made, and without spoiling it, I will say that the game falls prey to false equivalency a number of times. It‘ll leave players either unsatisfied or wondering what kind of person could possibly justify making the other choice. The storyline moves along, albeit at a glacial pace, and while most characters play blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, the voice acting is good, some characters really nail it. I’ll single out Pagan Min, voiced by the ubiquitous Troy Baker, as especially good, with a plummy posh accent that descends into snarling profanity and camp with equal frequency.

The big problem from a writing standpoint is that Ajay Ghale has nothing to do and no reactions to anything. In making a character that leaves room for the player to project on them, the other characters are forced to make up for his blankness with emotion – sometimes tonally inappropriate emotion that makes the other characters seem crazy compared to your stolid silence.

To be fair to the game, Far Cry 4 is not bad. It just takes so few chances that it becomes a tiresome experience after awhile, and with a budget that size, with a team of such obvious skill, it’s a shame that we get what we got. For this reason, Far Cry 4 gets 2.5 stars and a reluctant recommendation. Maybe next time around we’ll get the kind of game that does credit to the franchise and advances the medium – but for now, it’s a decent enough time.

Far Cry 4 is by Ubisoft Montreal. It is available for PS3, PS4, Xbox360, XboxOne, and windows. It retails for about $59.99.    

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