Firstly, know ye this: we loved Far Cry 3 a little bit too much. Blood Dragon was alright and stuff, but it did little to satisfy the island-shaped hole in our lives.
We appreciated the effort, but it was like hooking up with someone you’d had a passionate, gap year fling with, only to find they’d turned into some ironic hipster type. Where once you’d watched the sun setting together, now he just wanted to show you how he could play The Imperial March on his stupid little ukulele. Oh! And he's got the complete series of Twin Peaks on Betamax!
So, as you might imagine, Far Cry 4 has been hotly anticipated around our parts. And now that it's here, and we done virtually completed it… dunno. Yes: dunno. We actually went there.
Not that you care, but you play the role of A J-Hole (AJ Ghale) – who has come to the mountainous Kryat region to scatter his mother’s fag ashes. You end up enlisting in The Golden Path, a revolutionary/terrorist movement aiming to bring down the regime of Pagan Min – a pink-suited, bleach-blonde dandy, who does all the sorts of things erudite videogame psychopaths tend to do. He prances, and poses, and flips from being nice to being insane, as he suddenly stabs NPCs over his dinner table.
Frankly, the story - and its characters - are not anywhere near as interesting as they want you to think they are.
However, what this translates to in gameplay terms is much of what you got up to in Far Cry 3: it’s a large open world environment with campaign missions sitting alongside the usual Ubisoft bundle of extras and side-quests. It's an almost overwhelming menu - sometimes you just can't find the chips for all the foie gras and mushroom ketchup-seared tilapia.
You can raid enemy camps, uncover parts of the map by taking over radio towers, embark on drug-fuelled, hallucinatory trips to Shangri-la, hunt animals to construct new equipment, engage in vehicle races, and obsessively scour the land for every single last collectible. Forget the story, and its un-skippable cut-scenes: all this is the real heart of the game.
New features include the option to harvest meat from the corpse of a recently immolated creature, and use it as bait to lure more animals towards your enemies. You can ride elephants, and attack bad guys with them. You can take to the skies in little helicopter things or a wingsuit. There are random enemy encounters which demand your attention (frustratingly, often as you’re on your way to do something else).
And there’s climbing – lots of it. Early on you’ll become equipped with a grappling hook, and use it to scale mountains and cliffs (where the game allows it anyway). And… other stuff (including online modes – exploring the landscape in co-op is particular fun). If anything there’s probably a bit too much going on. The game doesn’t want you to get bored, but ends up a bit like being stuck on a group holiday with someone who keeps trying to instigate sing-alongs.
You can’t deny you get your money’s worth, and yet… the whole time we were playing we couldn’t quite shake off the Badger of Disappointment. While we'll concede that there’s a lot of new stuff, somehow it all still felt a bit too familiar, like it was just an extension of Far Cry 3.
The new ideas broaden out the world, but don’t go quite far enough. Consequently, it lacks the impact of the new. Plus, while there’s no denying it’s a good-looking game, it lacks the tropical beauty of Far Cry 3. This might be really controversial, but we actually found the setting less compelling than Far Cry 2. After a while, one tree-lined slope just looks like all the others. We were genuinely gutted when we finally unlocked the north of the region to discover it was basically the exact same sort of landscape… just more brown.
There are other little niggles too – the random animal attacks seem to happen at the most inopportune moments. It’s difficult to celebrate your victory, having just defeated an enemy outpost, when, without any warning, you find an eagle thrashing about in your face, depleting your health bar without any degree of negotiation.
So… it’s a weird one. It’s a game that’s difficult to find fault with; it looks great, the gameplay is solid (though vehicles still feel a bit on the light side), and there's tons to do. And yet... it also seems strangely formulaic.
We get this sort of open world busy business thing in so many games now, and UbiSoft is trotting it out in everything from Assassin's Creed to Watch Dogs. It’s starting to show its age, and the padding is starting to look like padding.
SUMMARY: Difficult to complain about, but over-familiar and slightly less interesting than Far Cry 3 as a result.