Monday, 8 February 2016

Now Playing: Far Cry 4

I can’t remember the last time I was this bored or angry playing a video game. And I really shouldn’t be. Far Cry 4 has a lush open world map, solid and entertaining combat, a hefty amount of content in the form of various missions and objectives, and a narrative full of unique, quirky and fun characters. So why, when playing FC4, was I mostly either bored or irritated? I suppose it’s because FC4 feels very by the numbers. It’s not so much Far Cry 4 as Far Cry 3.5.

Like its predecessor, FC4 is a perfectly competent, open world first person shooter. You play as Ajay Ghale, who may be less of a prat than the protagonist of FC3, but is sadly just as bland. The game is set in the fictional country of Kyrat, and at the heart of the story is a civil war between the Golden Path rebels and the Royal Army of Pagan Min. As far as the narrative aspects go, FC4 is interesting enough, but that’s mostly thanks to the oddball characters who populate the story rather than the overall plot.

Unlike FC3, FC4 has something of a branching mission/plot structure, whereby you get to choose between two characters each with their own set of missions and overall objectives. This sounds great, but in reality it doesn’t make much difference to the overall experience. In terms of major deviations from the FC3 formula, the ‘mission choice’ system is the only new mechanic of note. Aside from that, it’s pretty much business as usual.

 
You traverse a large open map, climbing radio towers to reveal and unlock new locations and missions. These include races, hunting challenges, assassinations and hostage rescues. You can also capture enemy outposts either by stealth or force. Everything you do rewards experience, money and skill points. You have two separate skill trees, one relating to combat, the other to health and crafting.

Yes, crafting. Because like FC3, you’ll collect animal skins to craft new holsters, ammo pouches and…wallets. Yes, the upgradable wallet returns! Thankfully, I found it fairly easy to upgrade most of this nonsense fairly early on in the game. It’s like the developers felt the need to include it (it’s part of the formula!), but realised it was just a waste of the player’s time, so they made it a lot easier to knock the upgrades out.

So far, so familiar. The world of FC4 is large, very pretty and certainly enjoyable to explore, although due to its mountainous nature, it can be a chore to traverse, especially if you don’t have an air vehicle at hand. There’s a new addition of an ‘auto-drive’ feature which is nice, but feels more like an acknowledgement that it’s pretty f**king tedious driving from A to B. Speaking of the auto-drive, it’s reliable in the sense that it will get you to your destination, but it’s also quite amusing how it will happily run over any unfortunate civilians on the way.

There’s new animals to murder in FC4, although once you’ve upgraded all your stuff, there’s not much reason to bother with them. You can use bait to lure wild animals to attack enemies, but the system is so wonky I rarely bothered with it. Half the time the animal would get shot before it even did any damage, or it would ignore the enemies and charge straight at me.

This also occurred when I’d try to free an animal from a cage. Even when doing so from stealth, the animal would often come straight at me, revealing my position. One time I climbed onto a roof to avoid a tiger, only to turn around and realise the animal had teleported onto the roof with me. Either that or the tiger knew how to climb a very tall ladder.

 
Oh, and I couldn’t not mention the animals without talking about the bloody eagles which randomly swoop down and claw at your face for no apparent reason. I started having flashbacks to the cliff racers from Morrowind. It’s an annoying ‘feature’, especially when it happens inside a building in the middle of a fight. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to be slapped with a dead fish.

And this seems like an appropriate moment to explain why FC4 irritated me so much. It’s not one thing, more lots of little things. I was irritated at receiving radio messages during cut-scenes when other characters were speaking, meaning I couldn’t understand either. I was irritated every time the ‘mission zone’ alert popped up because I’d dare stray a little too far from my objective. In an open world game. I must have told the game to f**k off more than once because of this.

I was very irritated by how only some ledges could be climbed but not others, or only from a very specific angle, and for no apparent reason. I was also incredibly irritated by the wing-suit, which had a wonderful habit of triggering even when I was simply hopping down from a box, resulting in an instant death as I crashed to the floor. Like FC3, FC4 also has the problem of assigning ‘pick up’ and ‘search’ to the same key, resulting in you continually tossing away your weapon when looting dead enemies.

Another issue, although not gameplay related, is technical performance, which is best described as ‘inconsistent’. I actually had the same problem with FC4 as I did with Black Flag. Upon loading the game one day, I’d get a stable 60FPS. Yet the next day, my framerate would be all over the place on identical settings. The games I’ve had this happen on have all been Ubisoft games, so I doubt it’s a coincidence.

Okay, let’s take a breath and try to talk about some positive aspects of FC3. I mean 4. The combat is fun. It has a nice flow to it and a decent selection of weapons, all of which can be customised to a degree. They feel like they pack a suitable punch, and explosions hit with an appropriate level of force. Stealth is still a little too easy, but certainly enjoyable if you like to plan an attack and take down an outpost without raising an alarm (although it’s usually quicker to just run in and shoot everyone).

As I’ve already mentioned, I liked the characters and the world/setting as a whole, it’s just a shame there’s nothing particularly interesting to do in it. But you can ride elephants! That’s new. Uh…and there’s new collectibles to find, I guess? Honestly, it’s hard to think of anything FC4 does that makes it stand apart from its predecessor. There’s some new climbing mechanics which I liked. The new environments look nice. Yeah. But that’s the real problem isn’t it? Despite the number slapped on the box, Far Cry 4 isn’t much more than Far Cry 3 in a new location with a fresh lick of paint.

 
Which means that although it gets all the things right that FC3 did, it also gets all the same things wrong. Because like FC3, FC4 is ultimately a rather shallow and repetitive experience. Outside of a few unique and engaging story based missions, there’s nothing here to get particularly excited about. You’ve seen and done this all before. It’s fun in short bursts, but only in short bursts. Whenever I tried to play for longer, I grew either very bored or very irritated by it all.

Because although there’s certainly a lot of content on offer, like FC3, it’s mostly meaningless, repetitive content and really not worth your time. That said, if you liked FC3 you can be fairly certain you’ll like FC4. Because it’s pretty much the same bloody game. And maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on it for that. Why f**k with a formula that worked out so well the last time? And if you liked that formula, maybe that will be enough for you.

But for me, FC4 plays it far too safe. It doesn’t attempt to do anything new or interesting outside of a few minor additions. It doesn’t attempt to innovate, or introduce new features or dynamics to the gameplay. It’s by the numbers. It’s a game built to a formula I grew tired of before I was even half way through the previous game. But does that make FC4 a bad game?

No. FC4 isn’t a bad game. But it is very bland. Very safe. Very boring. Maybe if I hadn’t played FC3 I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. But I did play FC3, and now I feel like I’ve played it again, only this time with the addition of a lot of irritating bugs and features that don’t quite work. And although, I must admit, there were times I genuinely had some fun with it, a lot of the time I just wanted to punch it in its stupid face.

5/10

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