Far Cry 4 Review – The Hollow Min

Always gorgeous, sometimes thrilling, and overwhelmingly shallow.

06

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Format: PC (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Released: November 18, 2014

If there’s one thing Far Cry 4 has taught me, it’s that jamming random syringes into my arms, legs, and neck is not only perfectly harmless, but the key to a successful foreign trip. Protagonist Ajay Ghale sticks so many needles into himself, you can probably play join-the-dots with his track marks. As well as the multitude of hallucinogenic drugs forced onto him by other characters, Ghale gets to willfully use all the ability-enhancing syringes present in Far Cry 3 and he still finds time to get totally jizzed up on some dank kush. He does all this in a filthy wartorn environment where you can’t guarantee that the tools are clean, and most of the medical cocktails are put together from unwashed jungle plants. I think the game attempts some sort of story with “choices” and a message about consequences that never really goes anywhere, but to me the overall point of the plot was clear – get yourself messed up on every random chemical you come across, because they’ll make you impervious to bullets and you can see through walls.

Ubisoft’s games are so formulaic across the board by now that, good as many of them remain, they’re intensely predictable. Even the idea of a memorable, charismatic villain has been coldly calculated and laid out in blueprint form. Following the critical success of Far Cry 3‘s Vaas, Ubisoft has realized that a strong antagonist is a great way to win praise for your narrative, and Far Cry 4‘s Pagan Min is the cynical result of this revelation. He’s flamboyant, camp, and extremely affable, brought to life wonderfully by Troy Baker. He’s genuinely enjoyable as nemesis, but he does often come across as trying too hard to be “iconic,” which is something Ubisoft products have had trouble with lately – this misguided need to shoehorn in some evocative, memorable characters and events, rather than let them happen naturally. Pagan Min as a character is helpfully indicative of Far Cry 4‘s wider problem – how contrived it all feels.

01

The story, while not quite as “mighty whitey” as the last game’s, is about as subtle as a claw hammer up the arse. As Ajay fights Pagan’s despotic rule of Kyrat and joins The Golden Path rebels, he finds himself “torn” between its two leaders, Amita and Sabal. I use the word “torn” lightly, because neither leaders are exactly compelling characters, and their whole rivalry is spun from whole cloth, given no real build, and escalating to farcical proportions. They seem to hate each other for no decent reason, except to present ass-pull dilemmas to the player, and the animosity is so petty, the only choice I wanted was to let their childish bickering kill them so I could start my own damn rebellion. The dialog is so artificial and obvious in its need to set the player up for a decision, I half-expected the characters to turn directly to the camera and say, “We have two different missions for you to pick in this videogame, please choose one of us to keep playing the videogame!” In moments where I was given a choice between killing someone and letting them go, I just shot them. Not because I enjoyed it, or felt they deserved it, but because I didn’t care about anybody. All the effort went into Pagan, who seems to have hogged all the personality for himself and left none for anybody else. What a tyrant he truly is!

It’s all very forced, is the problem. The tension between Amita and Sabal, the gleeful evil of Pagan, it’s like the writers knew what they wanted the audience to feel before they put pen to paper, and then sprinted headlong toward the quickest and dirtiest evocation of those feelings without regard to subtlety.

02

This cynicism is present in the gameplay too, as it seems to be with practically every major Ubisoft release these days. Like a paint-by-numbers book, this sequel goes through a checklist of things that happened in the previous installment and presents them without much context, letting you get on with it. From the old “climb up a tall thing to unlock sections of map” busywork, to the enemy camps that need to be cleared, right up to the “rousing penultimate battle with cool music” segment that appears in a perfectly affected “epic” fashion, Far Cry 4 sticks zealously to its formula. There’s no spontaneity in the experience, it’s all so intensely obligatory. Naturally, it also offers tons of nebulous content, with an exhausting amount of repetitive tasks to perform, and a deep well of collectible items scattered across Kyrat’s huge environment. Scale and sheer volume are placed above variety and fun – and when fun does arrive, you have to work hard to unlock it. As with the last game, your loot, ammo and even money are constrained unless you hunt animals to craft bigger inventory bags. You won’t get to level up your skills past certain barriers without taking part in “optional” missions first. You WILL respect how much “content” Far Cry 4 has, or by the Gods you’ll have a crap time.

Now, critical as I may be of the game’s artifice and repetition, I cannot deny it’s exceptionally well made, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s not still fun to survive in Far Cry‘s unfriendly, inhospitable world. It’s still immensely pleasurable to drive through mountainous paths before stealthily sneaking around an encampment to stab soldiers in the neck,and using the gyrocopter to hover above the world and see for miles is exhilarating. Everything Far Cry 3 did well, its sequel is just as good at, and while the overtly computed design of the whole thing is getting too obvious to ignore these days, I’m yet to grow tired of what this series offers overall. It does, however, feel less like I’m surviving by my wits in a harsh wilderness these days, and more like I’m in a theme park, where everything is gorgeous, thrilling, and glaringly fake.

03

Far Cry 4 is a game I struggled to play for extended periods of time. Every time I started a session, I was excited and had a blast. I’d hang-glide off a mountain, ride an elephant, get into a fight with a bear and take fools down with my fiercely painted automatic crossbow. For a few hours apiece, it was delightful. Anything more than that, however, and the fatigue set in. As yet more bell towers needed climbing, yet more rare creatures needed murdering so I could have a bigger wallet, as yet more enemies spotted me and dragged me into a fight when I simply wanted to pick up more drug plants, I’d get irritably tired before too long. I started every game happy, and left each one annoyed. There’s something to be said for offering a lot of content, and nothing great to be said about so much content that it overwhelms players, constantly demands their attention, and pulls them in a dozen different directions at once.

The erosion of my patience sadly had a cumulative effect as well. After fifteen hours, I was more than ready for the whole thing to end, with the final few missions being slogged through under the influence of sheer, determined willpower. My tolerance for the game weakened with every session, and it wasn’t that its quality had reduced in any way, it’s just that less is sometimes more, and this was a case of a title firmly overstaying its welcome. Considering how thin the plot really is, it’s not like the campaign needed to be so lengthy. There’s certainly a lot of padding to bump up the runtime, which is at least consistent with all the collection quests and repeated busywork. I get that this has become the standard operating procedure – stuff a game to the gills with things to do, add hours upon hours of playtime, and present an ideal picture of value for money. There’s something to be said for streamlining, though, for not cluttering one’s game to the point where unfiltered maps are impossible to navigate for all the icons littering the screen like so much detritus.

05

While we’re ticking boxes, there’s online cooperative play, now integrated into the campaign rather than cordoned off as its own mode. It doesn’t do much to add to the experience overall, as you’re basically just playing the same game with another guy hanging around. It’s certainly inoffensive, though, and the usual fun one can have with co-op is fully in play here. Just hop into another guy’s game and shoot stuff if you want. There is also a forgettable five-on-five competitive multiplayer mode, which the series insists on including even though it’s really not all that good and the systems of Far Cry seem far, far more designed for solo play than versus modes.

The game looks as gorgeous as you’d expect from a massively budgeted game. The scenery is vast, and one can get a view for miles. The way textures and objects fade in, materializing with a black fog, is perpetually distracting, however. Animations, particular in the faces of NPCs, are fantastic, and I love the rain and lighting effects that make themselves known. One issue I had was that Ajay looks startlingly bad in co-op, especially awkward if you’re sharing a car with him. Otherwise, Far Cry 4 is easily among the most beautiful games to come out of this generation so far.

04

For all its visual appeal, however, Far Cry 4 remains a shallow experience. It has loads of things in it, but having a lot of things is not the same thing as having depth. With a vapid story, activities that rely more on regurgitation than anything else, and a campaign that is exciting only for as long as you can ignore how insincere it all is, this is a game that affects a meaningful experience, rather than manages to be one. Highly polished, structured with ruthless, uncanny precision, and thoroughly hollow for all its prettiness. I can’t deny it’s a quality product, but “product” is the operative word. It’s a pre-planned, pre-packaged, factory standard experience that will thrill and entice, until all the strings make themselves glaringly visible.

6.5
Alright

 

TnTyson
Guest
TnTyson

I reckon I’m gonna enjoy this then. I barely scratched Far Cry 3 due to other commitments.
Then again I can’t remember the last Ubi game I actually enjoyed…

Ninja
Guest
Ninja

“Ubisoft’s games are so formulaic across the board…”

It’s almost like… the definition of insanity.

Orin
Guest
Orin
Technically, Ubisoft is expecting the SAME results from the SAME action rather then a different one from the same action. After all, as the game made a profit making a reskin of it should also get a profit, right? …right? Now, if they kept making the games when the games were becoming a loss, thinking the next reskin would make a profit WOULD be insanity (as it is, just shortsightedness? This could well bite them in the backside after all, like Guitar Hero). They did say that they were going to make an Assassin’s Creed a year until they were… Read more »
Mr.Zombie
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Mr.Zombie

Hey Jim I was wondering if you got to play Shadow of Mordor and was wondering what’s your quick thoughts on it and if it’s worth the purchase, I’m a fan of the Batman Arkham games and the idea of Assassin’s Creed gameplay (just not the series that is now just a chart) I saw some footage of it and it has great reviews but I want to know what’s the word from JimF***ingSterling, son.

Uhuru N'Uru
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Uhuru N'Uru

He played it two weeks running on Jimteractivity @ Escapist
Jimteractivity – Jim Plays Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
http://www.twitch.tv/escapistmagazine/b/573576861

Jimteractivity – Murder in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
http://www.twitch.tv/escapistmagazine/b/575811254

Seemed to enjoy it a lot, don’t leave it too long if you want toi watch as twitch now deletes older vids
Searching escapist for Jimteractivity got no result so may disapeer once twitch deletes.

Psychobudgie
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Psychobudgie

I seem to recall Jim stating it being pretty good during a Jimquisition on an earlier vid on review curfews. Personally I found the camera far too irritating to move beyond and traded it in for Singstar (No, really, I did!)

Battenberg
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Battenberg

Actually less critical of it than I thought he’d be. Literally everything I’ve seen of this game looks like a Far Cry 3 re-skin with a few minor bits of content added. Don’t get me wrong I love Far Cry 3, it’s an excellent game, but a large percentage of the differences between that game and this one look like more like a particularly excellent modding effort than a whole new game worthy of a whole new £40 investment.

Mel
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Mel

This series has never been appealing to me. It’s about shooting people in vaguely topical environments. And it would seem there’s not much beyond this as a draw.

Jon Sher
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Jon Sher

Argh, I was hoping Far Cry 4 would innovate a little more, but as you say, the company that brought us Assassin’s Creed may tend to be repetitive. Watching the Squirty Play, I notice that this map may as well be the map from Far Cry 3… Seems like a tropical biome/island sort of thing. For some reason I thought it was going to be more of an Himalayan theme.

lucimon97
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lucimon97

Sounds like just another Ubisoftgame to me, not bad but not really good either. As you said a checklist of stuff a Ubisoft product has, nothing new or special. Just one more predictable story, fucktons of shit to collect, and towers to climb on so the map gets uncovered. Always the same painting, just with another color and maybe another genre. The actual question is how long it takes untill the casual comsumer starts noticing it and Ubisoft needs something really new and what they will do then.

Frederic
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Frederic

Ubisoft sure has a special talent if it is able of making a story, and all its characters, stale after only two games. I guess they’ve had time to practice with Assassin’s Creed.
That being said, I still gonna pick this one up on a sale a year or something from now, if only for the unusual setting.

James
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James

Well said that man.

Nitrium
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Nitrium

“Considering how thin the plot really is, it’s not like the campaign needed to be so lengthy. “
I read somewhere there is a wonderful easter egg where if at the beginning of the game you simply wait for Min to come back (as you’re told to do), he keeps his promise, you distribute the ashes, and the game ends.

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

I can confirm that. Did some quick Googling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnCed-hb53E

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Realized, very suddenly, that there’s a subscription to comment; oh well. Ignore all my bullshit; sorry about that.

Josh K
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Josh K

“Far Cry 4 is a game I struggled to play for extended periods of time.”

I had the complete opposite experience. FarCry 3 was pretty good, but FarCry 4 is amazing. I struggle to keep playing FPS’s for long periods of time and yet I have had several 6 hour sessions with this and look forward to my next session. Yes, it’s a multiplatform game but just the same, it IS the best game to date on the PS4.

9/10

Belsameth
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Belsameth

Burn! :p

I really, really love it. While the story is flimsy indeed, I’m having a metric shitton of fun just dicking around. Yes, there’s a gazilion things to do, but all but the silly collectibles are a blast. Hell, one could even argue the collectibles are fun because of the random stufff that just happens (Rebels and army fighting, then suddenly a rhino interferes and messes *everybody* up 😀

Zombie Orwell
Guest
Zombie Orwell

The favorite quote of the annoying villain in Far Cry 3 was “do you know what the definition of insanity is?”

When you answer his question you come to the conclusion that, with Far Cry, Ubisoft is commenting on its own insanity.

P45K
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P45K

hahaha. when you add that to the out-of-the-animus portions of Black Flag which is clearly some nod to how Ubisoft runs its franchises, i wonder sometimes if Anonymous secretly took over the asylum…

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Let’s not bring up Anonymous in the comments section of a video-game review. That’s asking for trouble.

Hawkmoon269
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Hawkmoon269

Having somehow managed to miss out on Far Cry 3, I was pretty tempted by 4, after all the good things I heard about its predecessor. Maybe now I’ll just forget about 4 and go for (the infinitely cheaper, by now!) Far Cry 3 instead.

Great review!

Not DavidCage
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Not DavidCage

Go far cry 3 and, if you still didn’t get enough, blood dragon 😉

Rico Penguin
Guest

That’s kinda how I feel about most AAA games now. They are alright. Not offensive but ultimately they don’t do much more than be very pretty and polished.

Sure, that figurine is worth a lot of money but I have much more fun with a fully poseable action figure at a fraction of the price.

option1
Guest
option1
I disagree to a point: I felt like Min really isn’t the villain and the story is more about Mohan than anybody; where FC3 shoved Vaas and the cast down your throat FC4 lets a lot of the subtlety up to the player. Mohan’s story is drip fed to you through each character (including Min, Willis, Yuma) and directly through his journals. The siblings reflect the choices your parents made; Amita represents your mother, who chose something drastic and separate from Kyrati culture, and Sabal as the religiously indoctrinated traditionalist (half his dialog is either telling you about Mohan or… Read more »
The Spearman
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The Spearman

I hadn’t played a Far Cry game since the one where I put my Crosshairs on a guy while hiding in a bush 3 miles away, only to have the entire camp go on high alert before I even shot.

However, this review makes me sad because so many AAA games evoke the exact same reaction in me. Glaringly manufactured fun and no depth to speak of.

Josh K
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Josh K

And which one was that? You are aware that sequels do more than just improve the graphics, right? While I’ve yet to see any game create a perfect AI, I am pretty sure if you can expect some improvements in FarCry 4 in comparison to whatever one you played last.

The Spearman
Guest
The Spearman
I’m sure there were improvements, but the first game felt like a tech demo for the Cryengine, The pretty visuals came at the expense of game design elements that I place more weight in. The second game didn’t really change much from what I’ve read. 3 and 4 added a story and survival elements, but I’m not particularly fond of video game writing and survival elements are better done in non-scripted, and for the most part non-AAA games. Bottom line is that I remain unconvinced that the improvements that were made are worth me buying into. No issues if other… Read more »
Josh K
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Josh K

Yeah it pretty much was a glorified demo. I was telling someone that the other day.

Surun Tunne
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Surun Tunne

Who the hell let craig out of his cage??

Hapexamendios
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Hapexamendios

So, I’ve played a small bit of 3 and it didn’t really gel with me. Looking at the videos and screenshots (and reading this review) it sounds almost exactly like a reskinned Farcry 3, with slightly better graphics.

Is that about the gist of it? Formula + polish == upgrade of older game. Sad. Innovation is required unless you want fatigue to set in (as seems to be happening with Assassins Creed).

I wasn’t going to buy this anyway, but especially not if it’s just a reskin of a game I already have. Thanks for the insight.

Lex
Guest
Lex

Innovation isn’t required, variety between your games and noticeable refinement is though and that is what FC4 is lacking IMO.

senpai-san
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senpai-san

yep, this game feels like Far Cry 3.5..

Craig the Intern
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Craig the Intern

As good as Far Cry 3 was, I smelled repetition from the first teasers as a clearly insane bad guy chews on some well-rendered scenery. But what did I really expect from the company that has released a dozen Assassin’s Creed games that are so similar I’m hard pressed to remember their chronological order.

Kendu72
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Kendu72

Good write up, Jim. To me, the game feels like a prettier Far Cry 3 with a handful of new bells and whistles–hardly an excuse for a full fledged $60 sequel. I already own Far Cry 3 so I might as well play that.

WSwan
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WSwan

You’ve described utterly my recent experiences with the AssCreed series and with Far Cry 3. I always had fun but could only play each for a couple hours at a time before being overwhelmed and having to stop. Far Cry 3 was loads of fun until I realized I was going to keep doing the same thing over and over forever, and eventually I just put it down, knowing that I had my fill and didn’t really miss out on anything. I liked it, but not enough, maybe.

Not DavidCage
Guest
Not DavidCage

Are you sure the story is forced? Maybe they don’t have enough polygons…

(great review btw, it did seem very repetitive)

Mitch
Guest

To be fair, how much can you say about the fourth installment in a series that hasn’t already been said?

I can almost hear Jim saying “S’alright, innit?” after his review score. That makes me smile.

Not DavidCage
Guest
Not DavidCage

Ahahah, I agree!

Lex
Guest
Lex
That would apply to a game franchise which has a storyline and some very specific gameplay mechanics specific or signature to that game. Far Cry has none of that, the only thing common between the games’ stories is that they all take place in exotic locations full of wildlife with a character that is out of their depth. Its gameplay changes between games (though FC3 and 4 have basically the same gameplay when you boil it down to its main parts) but are pretty standard fps, open world mechanics. So there is no real excuse for a game in the… Read more »
GenialityOfEvil
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GenialityOfEvil

Remember kids, always accept drugs from strangers.

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