Warning: Brief spoilers for Far Cry 3.
Seeing Citra plunge a knife into Jason Brodie’s chest following an uncomfortable sex scene before the credits rolled wasn’t the only element of Far Cry 3 that displeased me. Yes, the intended satire failed to land on its feet (or even take off for that matter), and yes, the cast featured a gaggle of smug, upper-middle-class pricks who earned no sympathy from me in the 20-or-so-hour campaign. Above all else, however, I also found the game itself to be deeply flawed.
Far Cry 3 was incredibly short-lived for a massive open-world shooter that expected players to get lost in its sprawling tropical island. Many of the euphoric systems that dug their hooks deep within the first six to eight hours quickly lost their grip over time. The exploration, the side missions, and Rook Island itself all became useless and largely irrelevant by hour 15, leaving only the remainder of the main story missions to trudge through until some unsatisfying conclusions.
Far Cry 4 isn’t a significant departure from 3. Heck, it’s at times difficult to differentiate between the two if you’re revisiting the franchise after two years. But the incremental touches Ubisoft has implemented in Ajay Ghale’s adventure make Far Cry 4 a proper sequel. It’s a derivative follow-up that allows itself to be a near-complete conventional success.
Far Cry’s ‘outposts’ have become the franchise’s bread and butter; you’ll find them in Far Cry 3, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and now, Far Cry 4. Sure, Far Cry 4 introduces mortars to avoid and fortresses that are, well… more fortified, however there’s little difference in their structure between the three titles. But while outposts received only minor aesthetic changes this time around, they aren’t one-off objectives as they were in Far Cry 3.
In Far Cry 3, the overworld slowly became more and more boring. The world map illustrated the diminishing threat levels of patrolling pirates as you took over outposts throughout the island, shifting the color scheme from red to green. The more outposts you took and the wider you spread your permanent enclave of dominance, the less dangerous Rook Island became. Though the presence of Pagin Min’s Royal Army faded the more control you had over Kyrat in Far Cry 4, they put up a hell of a fight by carrying out vengeful sieges on your obtained outposts. Disappointingly though, there’s little penalty if you don’t happen to save the outposts that are under attack other than losing the opportunity to gain some experience points, but it was an effective way to keep the setting alive in comparison to the peaceful getaway Rook Island soon turned into.
These distress calls from vulnerable outposts occur only when you’re nearby, very much like the karmic events that emerge at random throughout the game. Both are effective ways to keep you busy even when meandering aimlessly, creating a constant sense of urgency. Of course, danger doesn’t only come from man in Far Cry games. The often damning wildlife proves to be far more aggressive and deadly than ever before. Swooping eagles and relentless honey badgers are but a few of many vicious animals you’ll face in Kyrat. I once watched a rhino give chase to a car before flipping it upside down and trampling over the driver and passenger as they fled. As Randall profoundly stated, “They just don’t give a shit.”
While the wildlife certainly kept me on my toes at times in Far Cry 3, the main draw to the open world was its sheer beauty, rendering the best tropical island that I’ve ever seen in a game outside of Just Cause 2. But Far Cry 4 doesn’t succeed at creating an engaging open world simply through visuals; instead it does so by means of travel. Taking to the skies is as easy as jumping from a high point and clicking the left analog stick to activate your wingsuit, which is readily available at the store from the beginning of the game. Hang-gliders are high in number throughout Kyrat, each allowing you to extend your air-time even further. But if I were to label one game changer in this sequel, it would be the Buzzer.
The ways in which you get from point A to B can make or break an open-world game, and the new Buzzer certainly makes navigating Kyrat seamless and satisfying. The amount of collectibles, side objectives, and undiscovered locations throughout this setting is daunting. But being able to fly over the countryside makes Kyrat itself much more digestible, striking a nice balance between aenemic and overwhelming.
It’s important to keep the Buzzer around if you want to find an easy way to grind money and experience in peripheral activities while exploring Kyrat at the same time. In Far Cry 3, I soon gave up on chasing side missions and collectibles as there was no tangible incentive to continue doing so after I quickly filled up my skill tree. Far Cry 4 doesn’t expand its skill tree by much, but it more than makes up for it by adding a bevy of signature weapons that are primarily unlocked by completing a series of side objectives. It all amounts to a very long carrot on a very long stick that continues to torment me even after putting 43 hours in Far Cry 4.
Other neat little touches that were added to the game include the Ghale Homestead, which could very well have been inspired by Assassins Creed’s villas. Here, it provides a safe haven where you can pick up free armor, have immediate access to a Buzzer, and help yourself to your very own garden that sprouts ingredients for syringes. Speaking of syringes, many of them have been augmented in Far Cry 4 with new effects. The Hunting Syringe, in particular, got a significant upgrade from Far Cry 3 where instead of only highlighting animals through walls, you can also locate patrolling enemies. Because of this, it renders the camera obsolete, making you into a stealth god among men capable of exterminating entire outposts in a fraction of the time.
Though Far Cry 4 felt like a game that could have been released just one year after Far Cry 3, it is excused by remedying many of the issues and shortcomings that plagued its predecessor. It is a by-the-books sequel that does a whole lot of fine tuning, but very little innovation. We will see Far Cry again, and it’ll likely be this console generation. However, if it’s a stencilled follow-up that can easily hide behind the outlines and details of Far Cry 4, it would be completely unforgivable.