The most common criticism leveled against the recently released Far Cry 4 is that it is basically just Far Cry 3, except more of it. While entirely valid, there is a lot of meat left on that bone to chew on. The most superficial counter—while still being significant—is that this is only the second of this style of Far Cry that has been put out.
Even if you counted the Blood Dragon DLC for Far Cry 3, that still is a fa—nope, not gonna say that joke—that is still peanuts compared to the saturating product Activision has been pushing for the past seven years. (I’ll give them that Advanced Warfare is interesting enough to warrant differentiation.) Creatively and commercially, it’s worth revisiting something successful to divine something’s true value.
It allows the mining of deployed tactics to determine more discretely what concepts and philosophies to carry forward with and what to discard. The first go-round is more or less a stab in the dark. Via the tried and true scientific method, variables can be tweaked to see if a hypothesis was correct. Was it worth putting in more missions like that one? Should we have brought back that one vehicle?
Of course, that means that even with entirely new ideas being injected into the resuscitated product, there is going to be some wholly unchanged and eerily familiar bits and bobs floating around. In Far Cry 4‘s case, it is the game’s entire structure. Missions take you all over an enclosed and expansive territory while you hunt animals to collect furs for crafting; you climb towers so as to reveal previously fog-covered parts of the map; and you take over enemy outposts to prevent bad guys from harassing you and your local war buddies.
It is Far Cry 3 except in the Himalayas. But important differences crop up when you hold that Venn diagram a little closer. A lot of this sequel felt like it was a test, an experiment to verify the designers’ beliefs as to what succeeded and what didn’t in its predecessor. The wingsuit, for example, was a super cool part of Far Cry 3, but it came way too late in the game to be of much use (or much fun). This time, you can get it pretty much right off the bat.
More than that, they tested the theory further by making Kyrat much more vertical than the Rook Islands. Not to say there wasn’t a lot to climb in the tropics, but Kyrat is much more obviously designed around the idea of moving up and down with purpose, not just to be higher for fun. The tools given to you such as the grappling hook and the buzzer both are additional litmus tests to see if it is indeed better being able to move easily in all directions.
It wasn’t just that the wingsuit was a neat idea and helps us fulfill an incredibly dangerous fantasy but it made traversing down cliffsides a breeze. It’s a message that surprisingly didn’t make it from the Assassin’s Creed hall in the Ubisoft offices. In that game, it’s fun figuring out how and then watching your character climb up huge structures, but getting back down when there isn’t water or a hay pile nearby is a nightmare.
Far Cry makes the descent exponentially worse by not having any purely dedicated mechanics for climbing downwards, save for falling and hoping for the best. These implements eliminate the nearly punitive experience of backtracking down to the ground after scaling up high for the absolutely necessary prep stage of scoping and tagging an entire outpost.
And then there are touches like allowing you to replay a whole outpost anytime you’d like, which is probably one of the best parts of the games. And automatically crafting syringes by culling the types you can create, which is quite literally a lifesaver when you have to hunt a bear with a bow. And speaking of that, allowing for clean harvests of furs and skins when you manage to skillfully kill critters with arrows and blades instead of bullets and bombs is a great change.
The game wants to still have the carrots in there, but these streamlined processes for either removing processes that add obstacles to gameplay (having to pause to craft syringes) or adding a layer to eventually bland activities (sniping animals for their fleshy interiors and valuable exteriors) improve upon already proven concepts. And they make such a sizable step up that it makes these old acts new again and, more importantly, more rewarding.
Far Cry 4 also takes more squarely compartmentalized bits and remixes them. For instance, the animals this time around don’t feel as intensely dangerous. Looking at a shark or a crocodile around the Rook Islands, you definitely get that they’re violent and should not be fucked with. Far Cry 4 has scary wildlife, too, in its tigers and wolves and bears, but it also has far more dickish critters.
Animals like dholes and honey badgers and eagles and definitely kill you if you come across them unawares and in dire straits, but they are generally just there to fuck with you. They take a well-laid plan and minutes of careful tagging and throw it out the window. Either you try to knife something to death while taking minimal damage (good luck) or you run like an idiot into the outpost with guns blazing and let the animals do some of your dirt. And try remaining calm when you hear growling come up behind you while peering through your binoculars.
They’ve become far more about mixing it up than being fodder for loot or making the rivers less than ideal to swim in. The same could be said for how the weapons are meted out this time around. Just as before, you get free weapons for taking back towers. This time, however, it feels like they are much more organized around the idea of engaging progression. You can still buy weapons if you have the cash, but finding and earning feels much more organic to the game.
By going the route of getting guns as I looted them or was reward them, I stepped into using a lot of guns I wouldn’t have used otherwise. Almost right out of the gate in Far Cry 3, I was stocked with an entire arsenal of silenced armaments including a potent and accurate assault rifle and an insanely powerful sniper rifle. While still fun for the majority of the time, it made every outpost the same thing over and over again.
This time, I was forced to use a crude bow for far longer than I would have liked for stealth. And once I got a silenced weapon (a pistol), the range was so short, I was still locked into close encounters. It forced me to take on the side missions that earned me more takedown skills. It also made me appreciate that silenced Z93 sniper rifle that I eventually got all the more.
It provided context and contrast for the luxury of being able to sit back and deal with those heathens from afar while making the early parts of the game feel appropriately raw and savage before allowing the refined ability to choose how you want to eliminate fools. And given the size and the scope of the game, it would have been hard to nail that sort of pace the first time around. Even the differences between the first and second Far Cry games were dipping toes into the waters of the extremes.
Then they found middle ground, and Far Cry 4 is the refinement of that calibration. Not to say they should continue on with this iterative production line for another five years, but this moderate repetition was well worth it if it means the designers gained insight for future games in the process. More ideas for how to make a game engaging is never a bad idea so long as innovation comes along for the ride.