Review: Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 revolves around Ajay Ghale, a young man who returns to his home country of Kyrat to spread the ashes of his mother as her final request. Soon you are captured by Pagan Min, the supposed dictator of Kyrat, and forced into a civil war between his army and the Golden Path, a terrorist state intent on bringing Pagan Min down. What saves Far Cry 4 are the myriad of interesting and engaging characters. The main villain Pagan Min could be one of the best villains in gaming this year, due to the game fleshing out his motives, his ideals and his beliefs. Pagan Min isn’t just a shock value villain with a driving goal to be your nemesis; he is a real character that actually draws sympathy in certain aspects. Much like Vaas in Far Cry 3, Pagan is easily the best part of Far Cry 4. Troy Baker gets a lot of criticism of being oversaturated in the VA market right now, but his performance as Min is as memorable as his role in The Last Of Us; it’s that good. Returning characters like Hurk and Willis Huntley are welcome, less due to their performances and more due to their interesting connections to 3. In fact, Far Cry 4 raises some very clever and interesting theories about previous instalments.

Screen_0002_Layer 9
Unfortunately, the downsides come in often and plenty. Min doesn’t show up as often as you’d like him to, and the roster of supporting characters range from interesting, to mediocre, to downright awful. The two tribe leaders, Amita and Sabal are both terrible personalities, and worst of all, you’re forced to follow at least one of them in order to progress through the game. They both have flawed goals, but they treat you with utter contempt if you follow the other’s path. Seeing as how Ajay was literally dragged against his will into the civil war and his only goal was to lay his mother’s ashes to rest, I found no motivation to help the Golden Path outside of a purely gameplay perspective. Both Amita and Sabal are terribly written characters and only further emphasise how much I wanted to side with Min. They seem to forget that Ajay is not meant to be in this war, but that they dragged him in, yet they chastise and hate him for choices he is forced to make. Terribly written motives and terribly written characters combine to make the ‘good’ side look absolutely terrible. There’s some payoff towards the end but it’s not enough to justify the hours we’re forced to spend with such delusional, baffling characters. The writing spends more time humanizing the enemies than the allies; in one scene we are forced to capture a key lieutenant, but we have to sit through a solid five minutes of him calling his family and telling them how much he loves them, before we cart him off to be tortured to death. It’s this sort of two dimensional, unsubtle writing that really drags the story down.

At least the game tries to justify why Ajay is so important to the war. As the apparent son of the creator of the Golden Path, people already look up to him and expect him to do great things. It’s still flimsy, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Far Cry 3’s “because he’s white, he’s our saviour” plot. It allows the plot and setting to get away with a lot more than it usually would have, and while many may find the unblinking violence and culture wars shocking, I don’t fault a game for pushing the boundaries.

Screen_0000_Layer 11
I appreciated the middle eastern/Asian influences that Ubisoft injected into the world of Kyrat. It’s clear the civil war in Far Cry 4 was inspired by the real life Nepalese People’s War, and it’s no coincidence that Kyrat is a dead on representation of Nepal and the Himalayas. All the Asian inspired art, architecture and foliage is all done in good taste and great to be immersed in. Asian culture doesn’t usually take a huge role in AAA gaming, so it’s always refreshing to see a new setting. If it’s something Ubisoft is good at, it’s exploring foreign and exciting places and cultures.

Far Cry 4 is more about the setting than the narrative. While Pagan Min is a memorable and wonderful character, the cast of supporting characters aren’t nearly as fun to watch or engage with. The story flip flops between serious satires about culture wars to silly juvenile writing, exacerbated by a pair of stoners who embody every possible stereotype associated with the culture of drugs. It’s a weak narrative coupled with a genuinely amazing setting.

As a literal reskin of Far Cry 3, the Dunia Engine 2 is starting to look a little old. Thankfully the art direction and vibrant use of colour make the game look incredible. As mentioned before, Kyrat looks pretty damn good, and the setting of lush trees mixed with snow capped mountains and some wonderful Asian-inspired art direction really disguises the aging engine. Shangri La in particular is jaw droppingly gorgeous: a not quite real world that you visit in game when consuming drugs, the world turns into a gold-toned nature walk, where you can command a Tiger to maul your enemies. Gameplay wise it’s fairly boring but in terms of the setting and presentation it’s hands down the best looking part of the game.

After the shocker port of Unity (still unplayable on my rig), it’s almost ok that Far Cry 4 delivers an average port. At least it works, right? Let’s look at Ubisoft’s recommended requirements:

CPU: Intel Core i5-750 2.5 GHz or AMD Phenom II X4 955 3.2 GHz
HDD: 30GB (31GB installed, 26GB without localization files)
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 or ATI Radeon HD 5850; 1 GB of VRAM, DirectX 11 compatible

CPU: Intel Core i5-2400S 2.5 GHz or AMD FX-8350 4.0 GHz
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon R9 290X; 2 GB of VRAM

As an essential note: for the love of god update your drivers.  I was stuck with atrocious performance but after the updates performance was significantly improved. Graphic presets are Low, Medium, High, Very High, Ultra, and perplexingly, Nvidia. Nvidia will automatically max every single setting, and turn on all Nvidia exclusive settings. Strange that they would call it Nvidia, seeing as my GTX 660 performs absolutely awfully on that setting. No doubt it looks gorgeous but I can’t see many rigs being able to maintain a steady 60fps with Nvidia settings.

On low/medium performance was adequate. Images are sort of flat, textures are especially ugly up close (a big deal when a big part of gameplay involves scaling cliffs and rocks) and it just doesn’t look alive. On higher settings it really starts to pop: shadows appear softer, grass looks better and ambient occlusion really makes the scenery look real. Mouse movement felt quite jumpy and skittish, and strangely enough mouse acceleration cannot be completely turned off.

Audio settings are awful: one master volume slider. That’s it. Otherwise the quality of the audio itself is exceptional. Voice acting is superb (as mentioned before), and Troy Baker is consistently fun to engage with and listen to; his radio calls to you are exceptionally well done and always humourous. Weapon sounds are authentic and I especially enjoy the positional audio, which is as impressive as it was in Alien: Isolation. Fire a 50. Cal machine gun up in the mountains, then fire one down on the ground. There’s a definite difference, and it’s a neat touch that really immerses the player.

Screen_0003_Layer 8
Aliasing performance is strange: MSAA will cripple your rig and doesn’t offer enough improvement to justify the hit to FPS, but SMAA will soften the edges well. If you have a Nvidia card feel free to use TXAA.

When driving in vehicles some strange stuttering effects come in. FPS will fluctuate wildly between 30 to as high as 90-144 depending on your rig. Lowering any effects that have a heavy load on VRAM seemed to have fixed the problem slightly. It’s clear the port didn’t take into account PC graphic cards (which at average usually have 2GB), as current gen consoles share a unified pool of roughly 5GB.

Overall the port isn’t spectacular, but it’s a lot better than Unity. You can easily squeeze 60FPS on a mid-high rig. Settings are quite fleshed out (outside of Audio) and you can really tweak most effects to get what you want. The VRAM problem is very aggravating and lazy from Ubisoft, as it shows they really didn’t bother trying to optimize for PC’s. Not enough VRAM will cause immense stuttering during fast action gameplay, especially noticeable in driving. Overall an average port.

Far Cry 4 manages to overcome the flaws of 3 by making the world of Kyrat feel alive. While 3 stagnated from feeling absolutely artificial and empty (furthering my belief that FC3 was all a dream narrative), Kyrat is stuffed with so many activities and life that it feels almost like an open world RPG. Hundreds of locations are waiting to be unlocked (much like in Fallout 3), giving XP and rewards for searching areas. Masks, chests, spinning wheels, letters, propaganda posters are scattered throughout the world, rewarding XP and Karma to unlock skills.

It sounds familiar, because it is. Far Cry 4 is the very epitome of what is now known as the Ubisoft formula. Activities are cut from the exact same cloths of Assassin’s Creed/Watch_Dogs/Far Cry. Outposts, towers to scale, escort quests, vehicle deliveries, gather leaves for crafting syringes, search chests for rupees and climb towers to unlock the map it’s all part of Ubisoft’s insistence of failing to create something truly original, rather choosing to play it safe ensconced in the very familiar formula. It works for Far Cry 4 because the gunplay and world makes it so engaging, but it’s a formula that’s running very thin.

Screen_0004_Layer 7
You cannot deny that Far Cry 4 is huge. Where 3 felt lifeless and empty after a while, 4 is absolutely packed full of content. Destroying propaganda, blowing up patrols, hijacking delivery trucks, freeing hostages, there’s so much to do. Hundreds of locations are unlockable and a lot have interesting notes scattered around giving a bit of backstory to Kyrat. It’s genuinely fun to explore and it feels alive. Hunting and skinning animals to upgrade gear is even better as it’s a genuine challenge this time around. There’s no perk to unlock double skins but using a bow or knife to kill animals will result in a ‘clean kill’ which allows for double skins to be picked up. It’s a great gameplay mechanic that rewards good shooting over simply unlocking a perk. And you can ride elephants now; another great gameplay mechanic that may be culturally insensitive but is undeniably fun. Running down the road and smashing a enemy jeep off a cliff is hands down one of the most memorable things I’ve done in Kyrat.

Infiltrating outposts remains as satisfying as ever, choosing to go either guns loud or stealth it. There are more rewards if you don’t manage to get caught, but it’s inherently satisfying to burst in with a rampaging elephant and jumping on a 50. Cal to kill the rest. Some outposts are genuinely tough, and you have the option to replay any outpost on the spot in order to get a better score to beat your friends.

Fortresses are hands down the best part of the game: four incredibly tough ‘outposts’ that are built like castles owned by each of Pagan Min’s main lieutenants, filled to the brim with enemies, giving a real challenge for the player. Stealth is the best option, as alarms will bring a seemingly infinite number of helicopters and backup. It’s a great feeling taking over a fortress and the best part about them is that you can choose to tackle them in any way you want. Blow open the gates with a grenade, sneak in from below or parachute in like a maniac, these are all genuine options for the player. It’s a shame the open endedness doesn’t carry to the story missions, which are so tightly wound it’s pure frustration to go from unlocking an outpost to a mandatory stealth segment.

Screen_0001_Layer 10
There’s definitely less weapons on hand unfortunately. Far Cry 3 had a genuinely huge mix of SMG’s, Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols, RPG’s and Signature Weapons. Far Cry 4 still has all of them, but pistols and small SMG’s are now Sidearms, and everything else are just labelled as Weapons. It feels like they’ve really streamlined the weapons on hand as there are definitely less available than in 3. Not to mention that most are literal reskins from 3. In a perplexing choice, you cannot carry four weapons anymore. The most you can carry is 3, and one ‘sidearm’.

Perks have been streamlined as well into two paths of 16 skills each and most are just taken from 3. Some are locked behind sidequests and unlockables (smart) but a lot are locked behind story missions (not smart). There’s nothing spectacular about them, except it’s a shame they’ve streamlined them so much.