Today we have a special Christmas treat. Mike Lake from Slandering Others Anonymously, and newly named Editor-In-Chief of The Geek Infusion is here with our first full-fledged review to finish off Ubiweek: Far Cry 4. Happy reading and happy Christmas.
(Editor’s Note: Greetings friends! I thought about writing something to introduce myself to start off this review. But then the review wound up being really long. And I don’t want to waste your time. So I’ll just say I’m really pleased to be onboard here at Geek Infusion. Looking forward to talking to you all more in the future! – Mike)
By the time you read this, Far Cry 4 will have been out for a little over a month. So I know what you’re thinking: why do a review now? Well, given the sorry state of many of Ubisoft’s recent games at launch, you might’ve been scared off from purchasing Far Cry 4 right out of the gate. And rightfully so. I myself was keen to play, but chose to wait out the first several rounds of patching, because I kept reading about so many players having issues getting the game to run properly.
So think of this as a check-in. A month after launch, how are things? Is the game finally ready to go?
I’ll get to all that in a second, but before I move on to the review proper, for comparison purposes I’ll fill you in on some information about my system, as well as the game and driver versions I tested. I played the game patched to version 1.5, with AMD’s newly-released Catalyst 14.12 drivers. If you’re interested to know my PC’s full specs, I’ll list them at the bottom of the review.
That out of the way, let’s talk performance. Things are generally looking pretty good. The black screen bug some users experienced earlier was nowhere to be seen for me. The hitching many noted when driving (or even running) around the world was virtually non-existent. On rare occasions, I felt like I noticed a slight hitch, but this was most often when things were extremely chaotic in game. Any hitching I got was certainly nowhere near as pronounced as what you saw in earlier versions of the game, like here.
I did on rare occasions run into extreme lag, and once an outright crash. Each time, the problem occurred after I’d been playing the game for several hours straight, which makes me think a memory leak is the probable culprit. This is obviously not optimal, but in general I could play on the “High” graphics preset and expect to run at a fairly consistent 55-60 FPS, with rare drops down to the high 40s at the absolute worst. Given that my Radeon HD7800 lies between the minimum spec HD5850 and the recommended R9 290x, I’m not too bothered. If you’re one of those people who can’t tolerate anything below 60 FPS and your rig is anything like mine, you may find yourself underwhelmed by the performance, but I was satisfied overall.
Wait. I want to move on here, but let me just add a qualifier to that “satisfied overall” statement. The bottom line is this memory leak issue is still a significant bug, and while it doesn’t ruin the game, it’s really not acceptable. Ubisoft, you’ve asked people to give up seventy hard-earned dollars (that’s CAD, but regardless of your exchange rate, it’s not cheap) for an unfinished game, and frankly that’s just not cool. You’ve put out a bunch of patches already and while I didn’t play the game at launch, given some of the flaws I saw in v1.5, I shudder to think what things looked like back then. And it’s not like this is a one-off. It’s a clear pattern. First Watch Dogs, then Unity, now Far Cry 4. And that’s just looking at this year. If you expect gamers to keep buying your stuff, you need to get your shit together. Now.
Ahem… Where was I?
Oh, right, so hooray, at this point the game (mostly) passes the basic test of actually being a functional piece of software! Dandy. But is it any good?
Yes! And no! The simplest way to put it is if you loved Far Cry 3, you’re going to find a lot to enjoy here as well. They are extremely similar games. You encounter new characters. You unlock different missions which you can do to gain money and experience to buy better weapons and gain abilities. You hunt animals to get skins and craft upgraded gear. You climb radio towers to reveal the map and nearby areas of interest. There are a bajillion side quests.
My biggest gripes have to do with the story. It’s not all bad, but I would call it a mixed bag. This time around, the action is set in the Himalayas, in the fictional country of Kyrat. You play as Ajay Ghale, who, on paper, I expected to be an improvement over Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody. For starters, Ajay’s backstory feels more weighty. In Far Cry 3, you were basically kind of a douchey jock who was partying it up with his dumb friends in an exotic locale, and wound up running afoul of some pirates. Here, you’re a man returning to the place of his birth with his mother’s ashes, as per her last request. There’s an aspect of mystery surrounding your history, and the pieces get doled out as the story progresses.
Like I said, this sounds good on paper, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Take the way characters are introduced, for instance. New people often appear in the story with little fanfare, and they invariably want you to do things for them. And Ajay never really pushes back, he just goes along with everything. In Far Cry 3, a lot of what you were doing was in service of rescuing your friends. Your character had a clear motivation, and there were emotional stakes. Here it’s often just a series of people telling you to do stuff.
I also felt the story didn’t have a proper villain. Pagan Min (voiced by the ubiquitous Troy Baker) fills this role in theory. He’s Kyrat’s flamboyant dictator. Most often cheerful and seemingly friendly, he’s prone to fits of violence (as seen in the excellent opening cinematic). And he is a fun character when he’s onscreen, don’t get me wrong on that. There’s a reason Troy Baker is ubiquitous – he’s damn good at his job. The problem is he’s not given all that much to do here. You don’t see nearly enough of him. Compared to Far Cry 3, where you had Vaas and Hoyt Volker causing havoc and generally being psychos throughout the length of the game, here it feels like you’re lacking a proper antagonist for long stretches.
Far Cry 4 does try some things to make the story more involving. You wind up mixed in with a group called the Golden Path, essentially freedom fighters looking to disrupt Min’s regime. At the head of the group are Amita and Sabal – two leaders vying for control, with often contradictory plans for the future. Periodically you’ll get a choice to do one of two mutually exclusive missions, supporting either Amita or Sabal. Sabal tends to be more traditional in his way of thinking, while Amita prides herself on adopting a more practical and realistic approach. The back-and-forth between these two provides the story some nice momentum, absent from the side quests where you’re doing errands for random people.
Separate from the main story, you also have a series of optional side quests involving a legendary warrior named Kalinag, who quests through Shangri-La to rid the land of an invading horde of demons, armed only with a knife and a bow and arrow. Oh, and a tiger you get to command to attack enemies, which is just awesome. This mythical stuff is all neat and it provides an opportunity for the game to throw you into some different environments with different mechanics. But it’s not all that well connected to the main story. And when you do eventually get back to said main story, the game ends on an odd anticlimax. I’ll leave you to discover the details for yourselves, but I will say I was underwhelmed by the wrap-up.
While the story is a bit of a letdown, I found for the most part the gameplay is all the stuff I like from Far Cry 3, but with enough fun tweaks and changes to keep it fresh. Let’s talk about some of those changes.
Probably my favourite change is the ability to equip certain special weapons as sidearms, which you can use while driving. I hit upon the grenade launcher pretty early and stuck with it basically throughout the entire game. In Far Cry 3, the best you could do for a weapon when it came to vehicles was to find something with a turret. But that left you a sitting duck. In Far Cry 4, some of the most satisfying moments for me were rolling up on a convoy in an ATV, popping off a few quick grenades, watching the whole thing go up in flames, and then speeding away. Fun stuff.
This time around you also have a grappling hook, which sounds awesome at first. There were so many times in the previous game where I’d find myself having to do a massive detour just to get where I wanted because the terrain was slightly too steep to walk up. So you’d think a grappling hook would solve all that, right? Well, in practice, you can only use the grappling hook on predetermined grapple points. This would be alright if they were all over the place, but they’re surprisingly few and far between. The grappling hook does get some use here and there with some light environmental puzzling that has you swinging from point to point, but overall it feels like a missed opportunity.
To be fair though, I see the rationale by the developers. By forcing you to take the long way around, they expose you to a lot more of the game’s random events. Whether it’s a group of friendly rebels engaging in a skirmish you can assist with, or an eagle swooping down from the sky to carry off a pig, or one of the aforementioned convoys, there’s stuff going on absolutely all the time in Kyrat. I felt like I never really just went from point A to point B. Even if I set out with a clear goal in mind, I frequently found myself getting caught up doing all sorts of other stuff in between.
I mentioned eagles a moment ago, and they’re just one of the many new animals introduced in Far Cry 4. Elephants are probably the coolest, since you can ride them around and smash into enemy vehicles and such. Then there are rhinos, which are just absolute tanks. If you haven’t managed to pick up a pretty beefy weapon before you run across one, you’re going to be in for a bad day.
In terms of enemy types, there’s nothing too new here. Your basic enemies will attack either with knives, molotovs, or assault rifles. Then you have the heavies, which are extremely durable and attack with either machine guns or flame throwers. Snipers are still around, of course. One interesting addition is the hunter, which is a stealthy unit that attacks with a bow and arrow, and can also charm animals to attack you. And unlike all the other enemies in the game, they cannot be “marked” on your minimap. So they can surprise you if you’re not careful.
Another significant change to the gameplay lies in the outposts. In general, the outposts are more sprawling. In Far Cry 3, there were instances where you could wipe out virtually all the enemies in a given outpost with a single grenade. This is no longer the case. Like before, there are alarms, which your enemies can ring to bring in hordes of reinforcements. Here again, the game introduces some fun twists. In addition to the regular outposts, each region contains a larger fortress, which has multiple independent alarms and more guards. When your enemies control the fortress in a region, they will periodically launch counterattacks against other nearby outposts you’ve captured. So it’s not all sneaking around capturing stuff, you sometimes need to defend as well.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. All in all, there is no end of stuff to do in Far Cry 4. I took my time moving through the main story. I did a lot of the side quests (including all of Kalinag’s story), climbed all the radio towers, captured the majority of the outposts and so on. And in 28 hours, I’ve still only completed around 47 percent of the game.
I’m not going to give Far Cry 4 a precise score, because that’s just not how I do things. I would rate it “slightly above average” to “above average.” If you’re an FPS fan like me, I think you’ll have fun with it. As a shooter, it’s got solid, fun mechanics. Just don’t go in expecting a fantastic story, and be prepared to tolerate the occasional performance issue.
Review system specs:
Windows 7 64-bit
Intel i7-3770k @ 3.5 GHz
16 GB RAM
2xAMD Radeon HD7800 (note that Far Cry 4 does not have a working Crossfire profile yet, so only one of these cards was actually being used by the game)