Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Far Cry 4 - Thoughts

[contains spoilers]

Far Cry 3 was easily one of my favorite games that I played last year. It's funny looking back on it—after just the first hour with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, I was ready to give up on the series, whereas after the final hour of third installment, all I wanted to do was sing its praises to high heaven. Therefore playing Far Cry 4 was an absolute no-brainer; I was more than happy to hop back into Ubisoft's hostile world of improv madness, bow and C4 in hand. While the gameplay is not nearly as fresh as it was in 3, the younger Indian sibling improves upon nearly everything else—visuals, content, and story have been refined to create the perfect FPS adventure romp.

The gameplay in the Far Cry series is a well-established formula by this point, and Far Cry 4 doesn't stray far from the ruleset. This can be disappointing if the previous game didn't grab you, but I was personally thrilled to start from square one and amass my armaments and abilities once again. The world feels a bit bigger this time around, and while Kyrat is missing the seawater and tropical mood of the Rook Islands, it comes with its own (gorgeous!) mountainous landscape, riddled with native mystique and an absurd amount of quests. There's racing, sniping, hostage saving, bomb defusing, animal hunting, fortress-taking, and poster-burning, and none of these even advance the main story! Plus, despite the increase in quantity, the quality thankfully remains more or less the same (though many missions will blur together).

The most significantly change in gameplay for me came from the minor adjusment to your loadout—one of your four slots is now reserved for a sidearm, intended to be used during vehicle sections. My beloved tetralogy in Far Cry 3 was the bow, sniper rifle, shotgun, and assault rifle; I begrudged being forced to change up my arsenal, but it led me to experiment around with more weapons. I stuck closely to the sawed-off shotgun as my sidearm for a while but towards the end of the game I became enamored with the portable grenade launcher and various LMGs. Nothing wound up topping the bow however, as that trusty tool still remains the most invigorating to use when silently conquering an outpost (the sniper rifle makes the game child's play, even on the hardest difficulty). Most of my other gameplay insights have already been covered in the Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon entries, so I'll get on to (what I feel) is one of the most important things Far Cry 4 gets right—the story.

Honestly, the narrative was better than it had any right to be. I've voiced my disdain for Far Cry 3 quite extensively; the indelible Vaas deserved more exploration than he got before his untimely demise. The main antagonist of Far Cry 4—Pagan Min—is cut from the same luny cloth that Vaas is, but lacks the same level of appeal... at first. After the wild intro, Pagan Min takes a back seat to your two questionable allies in the game, Sabal and Amita, as the plot attempts to explore the rough paths one must take to ensure the success of a revolution in a war-torn country. Since both of the Golden Path leaders have different visions on how to achieve this (old vs. new), whoever you side with will determine the outcome of Kyrat in a way that's purposely ambiguous.

But this isn't the interesting decision in the game (well, it can be, but it feels a bit too contrived for me). At the end of the game you're given a choice of whether to kill Pagan Min or not—a decision that would be a no brainer to most players. Yet the kicker of the whole shebang is that Pagan Min does nothing to fault you. Sure, he's the leader of an army of people willing to shoot your head off the moment they smell your American cologne, but where you're killing his lieutenants, stealing his treasures, and smashing his idols, all he tries to do is plead with you over the radio to come to an understanding. The guy has done some obviously heinous things since he was instated, but he's never done anything to personally attack you. When I walked into the final encounter I was fully expecting a QTE shootout with him after what I've done, but instead the two of us just sat down to dinner and he asked me to rethink my choices.

Far Cry 4 is brilliant because it succeeded at the subtle meta-commentary that Far Cry 3 struggled with. The ultimate question posed to the puppeteer behind Jason Brody was, "are you trying to play this game realistically or do you just enjoy killing dudes?", but it was abandoned during the Hoyt arc until a hasty revisit at the end. Here, its presence is finely woven into the story. The first (and only) blurb of cutscene text is from your mother telling you where to lay her ashes to rest, and as soon as Pagan Min captures Ajay, the player's very first instinct is to go out and blow stuff up. So when the end of the game comes around and Min poses the initial task yet again—will you do what you came here to do or continue to be a blood-thirsty maniac?—the player is given Far Cry 3's dilemma without the hamminess of slice your girlfriend's throat. Pagan Min is an evil eccentric but would having Sabal or Amita in command be entirely different? The decision is arguably arbitrary but what's more important is whether or not the player feels they have a responsibility to honor their mother as Ajay would; shooting Min brings the player no closer to Lakshmana than at the very beginning of the game, but it instead satiates this weird, unnecessary bloodlust that he/she revels in throughout the entire journey (seriously, watching bodies ragdoll out of an exploding vehicle is pretty entertaining). I just found it so fascinating that the game handed you essentially one objective to keep in mind from the start, but by its closing you're left to decide if you even care what the game (or any game!) tells you to do.

Most of the plot threads outside of the main path are cute, but not nearly as interesting. Hurk and the stoner twins get too much screen time considering how shallow their characters are, whereas I would've liked to hear more from dialogue Noore and De Pleur (I had an especially strange moral dilemma regarding whether to kill Noore or not, and I wish I read more about her character other than her various perfectionist demands regarding the arena). Rabi Ray Rana is the most affable out of the entire cast and I enjoyed piecing together The Goat notes, though it's disappointing that that thread didn't lead anywhere. I was trying to get a better understanding of just who or what The Goat was, at times wondering if we were perhaps the same person, but by the last mask it seemed as though it was nothing more than another checkmark collectible. These activities, like with the holy land segments and drug trips, were interesting diversions that added a little more color to the world at least.

The biggest fault I can find with the game is that it is too similar to its previous title; Far Cry 4 lies somewhere between an expansion pack and a true sequel, retreading ground with a similar core theme and symmetrical gameplay. I can discredit the game for that, but the problem is that it's so much fun that the repetition hardly becomes a bore due to the numerous ways you can go about playing it. The story being as thoughtful and interesting as it was is precisely what I wanted from a sequel to 3, and though I was lukewarm on the plot during the outset I hold no shame in thinking it's one of the best AAA tales of 2014 along with Wolfenstein: The New Order. I think if Far Cry 5 fails to change things up I'll likely burn out on the series (especially since the games contain so much content to wade through), but so far Far Cry 4 hits all the right notes and feels like the definitive experience.

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