I can sum up this review in 7 words: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For the fourth game in the Far Cry series, Ubisoft have undoubtedly played it safe. Whilst this leads to a predictable game with similar scenarios to the last instalment, it can’t really be considered a bad thing when the experience was so great in the first place.
This time around you’re exploring Kyrat, a fictional place that’s based on the Himalayas. As you go to return your mother’s ashes to her place of birth, you find yourself swept up in a civil war, helping liberate the country from warlords and drugs barons. Taking a similar leaf out of 2 and 3, the idea of the reluctant hero, an everyday guy who gets dragged into something they weren’t expecting, is played well here, with the history and lineage of the player’s character leading to a good story that’s intrigues as it plays out.
The mass of quests, treasure and ‘collectomania’ factor are all still fully implemented in Far Cry 4, and it felt more than ever that there was always something constantly to do. With events always happening, I found it difficult when I first started playing to actually get anywhere with the main quests, as it always felt like someone needed rescuing, or a convoy needed attacking. Once I learned that these merely added to the flavour of the game and didn’t come with any real consequences, I was able to carry on missions, ignoring them if I needed to. This game really is a time sink on a level of Skyrim, where that ‘one last mission’ turns into a string of things that leave you bleary-eyed in the early hours of the morning.
So why am I not fully convinced? The problem with Far Cry 4 isn’t the game itself, more of a feeling that I’ve done all this before. Ubisoft really hit on something special with the third instalment, and it seems as if they’re acutely aware of this. Had this been a substantial DLC pack, I think this would have blown minds. But as a standalone product, it doesn’t really iterate from the previous game. The environment is too similar to the Rook Islands of 3, and whilst hunting Honey Badgers is insanely fun and the fortresses provide a tougher challenge, I spent a lot of my play time feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
But if so many people loved the third game, why change it too much? The Far Cry experience itself was already fantastic. The perfect level of combat, exploration and craziness was achieved in the third game, and Ubisoft are seemingly keen to repeat the success, even if that means essentially putting out the same game with a different skin.
Far Cry 3 completely nailed the feeling of exploration in an interesting jungle setting, and 4 does the same. There are small improvements to be found throughout, with special attention given to the traversal of terrain. The new grappling hook mechanic helps with the increased verticality present, and the Microlight is a great way to travel when large distances need to be covered. These little tweaks and refinements do add up, making for a game with less frustrating moments when trying to explore every single part of the map.
In the moments where the game does stray from its predecessor, the game becomes properly interesting. I have no intention of spoiling anything for you here, but it feels like these pieces are some of the breakout moments, changing the pace of the gameplay and taking you out of familiar territory. I kept playing assuming that this level of familiarity and repetition from 3 was a simple tool for setting up something major to happen, but it never arrived. I was waiting for the plot twist that was never around the corner, and so left feeling slightly cheated. The series is known for going down obscure and awesome paths (Blood Dragon, anyone?), and it would have been great to have seen it here.
Ultimately, I’ve never been this disappointed in a game I can’t put down. I’m absolutely loving my time in Kyrat, enjoying the varied missions and widespread activities and quests, but I’ve done it all before. The leap from 2 to 3 in the franchise was a substantial one, cementing Far Cry as a force to be reckoned with in the console world. Here it feels that they’ve taken a year off, resting on their laurels.
But for all its laziness, Far Cry 4 is still a brilliant game. One which shouldn’t be judged by those that came before it. If you’ve never played a game in the series, this is the definitive way to experience Far Cry. If you played 3 and loved it, then think of this as a refined expansion pack to quench your thirst. Although I fear there isn’t enough here to convert any non-believers to the cause, this is unquestionably good, solid fan service. Just don’t underestimate those Honey Badgers.