Game review: Far Cry 4 for PS4

“Wait, Zoe, how can you do a game review RIGHT AFTER you said the Watch Dogs review would be your last for a while?” you may ask. Well, silent commenter who may potentially live in my head, I took the rest of my old games up to ye olde game shoppe and traded them in for a pair of “new” games because with the change of seasons, my brain isn’t up to the tasks of reading or creative writing. The alternative was sitting on my couch all day blowing raspberries, and while I like raspberries as much as the next random non-offensive example person, I can only do that for an hour or so before it becomes tedious. “But you lied to me, Zoe!” you say. “How can I ever trust you again?” Well, helpful commenter who helps keep these things moving along, life is full of bitter disappointments. For example, there’s Far Cry 4.

There’s so much in this messy little package that left me groaning “this game sucks,” and I did so often enough that my long suffering hubby was asking “then why don’t you stop playing it?” And that’s a fair question, but once I’ve got a game, I’m honor bound to see it through…no, wait, honor bound isn’t the right term. I’m flat broke and can’t afford to drop a game right after I buy it, even if I hate it. On the plus side, it means you get more reviews out of me, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I started out by doing the so-called secret ending, which isn’t much of a secret and hasn’t been since the day after it came out. That more expedient ending provides some much needed context for everything else that happens in the proper game. You are Ajay Ghale, a young man tasked by your dead mother to return her ashes to Lakshmana in Kyrat. You’ve barely crossed the border into your home country when your bus is detained and you meet the king of Kyrat. And cue the secret ending. (To get said ending, just wait a few minutes when the king tells you to stay put. Yes, it’s boring, but it is quite enlightening, too.)

If you play the game right, you will spend almost the entire romp thinking Lakshmana is a location. Not so. For those who hate spoilers, let me stop you now. After the cut, I’m going to spoil this game like a spoiling thing left on the kitchen counter to spoil forever. Or something.

Still here? Lakshmana is Ajay’s half sister. His father, Mohan Ghale, decided he didn’t like his wife whining about the war, so he shipped her and Ajay off to King Pagan Min to act as a spy. The plan backfired and Ishwari and Pagan fell deeply in love and had a child, Lakshmana. Mohan found out and had Lakshmana (still a baby, by the way) murdered, and in a rage, Ishwari murdered Mohan and fled to America to avoid getting killed by Mohan’s army, the Golden Path.

Still with me? Okay, so now Ajay has returned to Kyrat, formerly the world’s biggest importer of bunting flags, and now a country where the most commonly uttered phrase is, “Hey, I’m going out for milk, cover me.” Kyrat is in the grips of a civil war between the Golden Path and King Min’s royal army. To put this in context, it’s like you went to Iraq and had to choose whether to back Al-Qaeda or IS in helping to overthrow Saddam Hussein. There is literally no right choice because every choice sucks. This is like being asked which STD you prefer to contract, and “none” isn’t an option. You either take the “secret” ending and walk away or commit yourself to fighting for the army of a baby murderer.

Your choices in the game come down to specific missions that must be taken for Sabal, the dude who thinks the sun rises and sets on Mohan’s grave, or Amita, who thinks religion and tradition have no place in rebuilding a new Kyrat. No shock, I chose Amita, a choice I only felt bad about at the very end of the game. But knowing that Sabal is just as shitty a leader at the end…again, which STD did you want to contract?

Kyrat itself is a foreign country portrayed through the eyes and ears of a tourist. It’s all stereotypes and little substance, a place of strife where the “answer” to the country’s problems lies in good old American “superior firepower.” This is not a game that will let you stop and take in the view, either. Oh no, you will spend every single minute shooting at something. If it isn’t troops from King Min’s army, it will be the animals. Sometimes you won’t even be doing it because someone attacked you. You’ll do it to get them before they get you. Or sometimes, you’ll kill animals because you need a new wallet.

This is a huge, HUGE sticking point for me. It’s not enough that I kill some tigers or leopards, something that’s trying to kill me. To upgrade the various loot and ammo bags and your wallet, you have to kill even the most harmless animals. There’s even a wallet upgrade that requires killing four rhinos. Pause for a minute and let that sink in. Four huge-ass rhinos for a fucking tiny-ass wallet. If that wasn’t bad enough, the top level upgrades require killing “ultra rare” animals. What’s another word for ultra-rare? Oh, I know. It’s endangered. This shit has to have been thought up by an upper middle-class white guy with no appreciation for what he was tasking players to do.

Now to be fair, some of the animals will attack you on sight, so that makes the choice to kill them somewhat easier, but my god, this game goes to extreme lengths to make almost all the animals assholes. You cannot go anywhere without hearing these phrases every two hundred meters:

“Look out! Wild dogs!”
“Look out! Tiger!”
“Look out! Yak!”
“Look out! Honey badger!”
“Watch your heads! Eagle!”

Wait, eagle? Yes, the fucking eagles in this game are the biggest assholes of all time, dive bombing and murdering everything. I watched eagles swoop down and carry off animals four tines their size, only to drop them from a great height. To eat their splattered guts? Nope, they’re just assholes like that.

Don’t even get me started on the honey badgers. Those things are pure evil. To give you an appreciation for how bad they are, I once saw a tiger and a honey badger in the same area, so I tossed out some meat to bait them. The tiger went for the meat, saw the honey badger, and turned tail and ran like demons were chasing him. That’s how dangerous honey badgers are. Even tigers won’t fuck with them.

Now, one could get into a car or truck to stay away from the animals, but getting in most vehicles presents another problem: the radio. Not the music, which is fine. Compelling, even. No, the problem is Rabi Ray Rana, who will talk over every song every thirty seconds. I never thought I’d say Bethesda got something right, but when it comes to the game radio for the Fallout games, they got this right. DON’T TALK OVER THE MUSIC. Let the song play, fade to quiet, and then give me the same status update for the umpteenth time. But don’t ruin the song by talking over it. That’s the dickiest dick move in the whole bag of dicks.

Let’s talk about the combat. Every gun sucks and lacks a sense of impact. It would be one thing if the enemy soldiers wearing body armor and battle helmets were the only bullet sponges, but the bare chested dudes with a rolled bandana on their heads take almost as many shots to put down, and I have emptied whole clips into a single medium-sized dog before finally putting it down. It makes every gun feel ridiculously wimpy. It doesn’t help that the “good” guns aren’t unlocked until very late in the game and require some seriously ridiculous requirements to unlock. (By the way, even the good guns can lack any sense of impact unless you do all head shots all the time. Just try making that happen on a running target with an automatic weapon. And good luck with that.)

Oh, and here’s a fun fact. Even after you unlock the ability to put a silencer on weapons, it doesn’t change the enemy’s ability to hone in on your location. You used a sniper rifle with a silencer from half a mile away? Doesn’t matter, everyone knows where you are. Every. Single. Time.

The main repetitive task of the game is liberation of outposts and fortresses, which involves taking out the alarms to prevent reinforcements from being summoned, and then killing every last enemy. You can try the stealthy approach, but as that’s typically doomed to failure, I usually just found a good place to hunker down with a rifle and plow through everyone. If the reinforcements happen to include helicopters, well that’s what Mister RPG is there for.

What’s really amusing is how if you get the soldiers outside the fort or outpost, and then they see you, you can still get an award for being undetected because technically they didn’t detect you inside their fort. Stupid? Oh, absolutely, but that’s par for the course with this game.

If for some reason a mission seems too tough for one person, there’s supposedly an option to call in some guns for hire, but I never got this to work. Each time I felt like I needed help, I would press down on the d-pad and find the option to summon help inactive. I don’t even really know when and where these guns for hire tokens come into play because I could never use them. So to me, they were completely useless. If you got them to do something useful, please tell me.

As this is an open world game, you also must complete side quests, and most of those are pretty much the same thing. Kill everything, rinse and repeat. Well, no, there’s races too, because of course there are. But mostly it’s all shooting all the time. There’s a set of missions where you go to Shangri-La, and even then, your assignment is killing everything. I didn’t think it was possible to make a visually stunning location boring, but kudos to Ubisoft, because they managed that trick quite handily.

These side quests have to be done at some point to unlock Ajay’s underwhelming set of abilities, and this is another sticking point for me. There’s a dude in this game who can tame any animal and make them attack you. Do you ever get this kind of neato power? Nope! You get stuff like collecting double rations of “leaves” when you pick flowers. (They’re called petals, by the way. Some moron at Ubisoft couldn’t even sort out what those things flowers make are called, so he just called them leaves. And while I’m bitching, how is it that every plant of the same color has the same beneficial qualities? Are no plants toxic in this part of the world? I find that hard to believe.)

There’s a section of the game where a villain doses up Ajay with a hallucinogen, and I was violently nauseous trying to play during this section. The drug makes Ajay think a demon is attacking him, and each time the demon was near, the controller vibrated. It vibrated so hard my palms were itching. So, this was a half hour of game time that made me sick to my stomach and suffering from vertigo and itching palms. Who thought this was a good idea?

I want to try and find some nice things to say, and I actually do have a small collection of items to highlight. First of all, when the game offers up something culturally different for music without Rabi Ray talking over it, it’s catchy and worth stopping to listen to. One mission where I had to drive a truck had a great song that I just pulled over and jammed out to for like ten minutes. That happens maybe four times in the game, and every time it happened, my mood perked up.

It’s a shame that so many missions offer up the same bland 80s movies soundtrack to work with. I mean sure, it’s not bad, but there are missions that give you an enticing alternative before going right back to the same old soundtrack you can hear in most every action game or movie in the history of ever.

The enemy patrols aren’t just walking circuits, and I’ve seen guards wander off to have a smoke break, sneak a sip from a flask, or even wander around the back of a building to pee. At a party, some drunk guards had to stagger off to vomit. It makes them feel more real and human, and it’s something I wish more games would do. Furthermore, once an outpost has been alerted, they don’t go back to their old routines. Even after they go back to patrolling, they remain more agitated, looking around and making sneak attacks much more difficult. They also don’t return to their original circuits, so they have to be watched to make sure you aren’t going to stumble into a mess of them at what was previously a safe blind spot in their defenses.

(But I would like to mention that like most games, they continue to shout at each other about where they’re going and what they’re doing. I get that this is a feature of combat games to make them less difficult, but I would love to see a game where trained military fighters used hand signals and didn’t constantly spout lines from The Big Book of 80’s Movie Cliches.)

When you can get a four second chance to look around between attacks, Kyrat looks pretty good. The sky boxes for the night sky are crap, but the mountains and forests are really something to behold in the few moments of quiet that the game allows you to have.

Eventually you take out all the outposts, liberate all the radio towers, and kill all of Pagan Min’s governors, leading to a big final fight. You choose to side with Amita or Sabal, kill the other, and then head off for the last fight with Min. If given a chance to speak, Min names you the king of Kyrat, tells you the truth about your family, and then attempts an escape that can be thwarted. Then after the credits roll, you find out nothing has really changed. If you sided with Sabal, he’s having people put to death for not joining him sooner. If you sided with Amita, she’s forcing children into service and probably murdered a girl who had supported her throughout the game. I chose Amita, and after she tried to walk away, I shot her. After that, it’s all back to normal. Min’s men are wandering around shooting people. The Golden Path doesn’t seem all that bothered by me assassinating both their leaders, and no one is bowing down to me as king. Rabi Ray doesn’t even have anything to say about this new Kyrat. It’s literally the same shit on a different day.

I had this same feeling about Watch Dogs at the ending, and it’s like Ubisoft can’t be bothered to come up with a decent ending to their games. Once the credits finish rolling, you’re plopped back into each world to do mop up operations, but no one in the game seems capable of recognizing that the big bads have been taken care of.

But in the case of Far Cry 4, the return of the status quo has me feeling even more disappointed than I did with Watch Dogs. I’m supposedly the king of the country, but I’m running around to do petty mop up operations? No, mang, it’s a crap ending to a game full of crap.

I’m giving Far Cry 4 a measly 2 stars. It’s a lousy game that feels shallow and pointless throughout its entire run, and the ending only reinforces that feeling. Given that I’ve now played two Ubisoft games in a row that felt so hugely disappointing, it may be a long, long time before I pick up another. Pretty graphics are meaningless if the gameplay is weak, and that’s my biggest problem. I didn’t have fun playing this. I spent a lot of time bored or annoyed, and that’s a much bigger sin to my mind than having sub-par graphics.