Game Pile: Far Cry 4

At what point do you let a story end? I’ve ruminated on being done with games well before their end points – games that fail to keep me entertained and engaged, games that want to be treated with veneration as whole works but don’t even themselves know what in their work counts as part of the text.

I’m going to avoid specific spoilers for Far Cry 4, but for those who are curious, I played up to the ending credits and stopped. There is More after that if you go looking for it, but the game themselves describes such extra information as ‘secret.’ I personally don’t feel they’re necessary or meaningful to the text of the game where you have agency.

Standing Still Excellently

Far Cry 3 was one of those points where I realised that there really was no need to care about new games because even games that were two or three years old were still effectively so vast and novel you didn’t lose anything by waiting around. There’s a sort of technical plateau: how much prettier can a game look and how much more stuff can they have to do before you just give up. See also: Just Cause 2, a pair of games that kind of defined a parameter of extra-ness for a videogame generation.

In purely mechanical terms, Far Cry 4 is Far Cry 3 3. If it uses a different engine it doesn’t feel meaningfully different, the weapons mostly behave the same way, it has pretty similar controls that feel like they were designed for a controller first and a mouse second but in a fairly forgiveable way, and it’s more true to Far Cry 3 1 than Far Cry 3 2, Blood Dragon was.

The mechanical systems are all mostly intact. Weapon wheels, storage crafting, hunting, stealth and gunplay, heavy and light weaponry, fast and slow methods of dealing with opponents, bombs and grenades and gunplay and tripmines and weapon satchels, along with the previous games’ ability to unlock and encourage animals and mercenaries to @ your opponents most thoroughly. There are even a few additions – like the grappling hook gives the game a very different take on verticality, and the gyrocopters mean you don’t have to rely on the hang gliders (that suck) to fly, either.

Also the game is just briefer with everything. There’s no extensive tutorial segments for things – most elements of the game are explained in a single-screen explanation. It does mean the game also tends towards a You’ll Work It Out attitude when it wants you to experiment with emergent play.

A complaint I had about Far Cry 3 mechanically was the game got worse as it got more linear. When it wanted to force you into things in a particular way, as it forced you to set aside the tools you were used to, it got a lot worse and the solutions became more annoying. Far Cry 4 doesn’t really do that – it instead makes its linear ‘one solution’ segments mostly (mostly) about optional subgoals, which means hypothetically you can always find the kind of content you want.

That said there are some bottlenecks in the story. There’s a forced vehicle battle, and a forced stealth section and also a section where you’re deprived of all your gear and have to climb down a mountain and they’re all unpleasant.

If all you want out of a game is Far Cry 3, More Of It, then yeah! Far Cry 4 gives you what you ask and it’s pretty great at it.

Doubt & Diaspora

I know I carry a lot of water for Far Cry 3, which is a privilege. The game has a lot of people aware a bit of culture, almost but not quite communicating their ideas about the place they’ve constructed, and when the creators spoke about it, they called it satire when they probably meant deconstruction and there are some plot points that aren’t well handled.

Basically, Far Cry 3 tries to make its story arc about recurring loops of colonial oppression and represent those ideas as destructive. Yet because it uses as its vessel the white protagonist, and he does mechanically justify being able to take over the island by killing the everloving hell out of everyone else on the island, it’s a muddied message. What’s more it’s far too possible for the story to undersell some of the details, like that Citra and Vaas are outsiders too.

Far Cry 4 wants to offer a similarly large story to Far Cry 3 and the story it offers is made in response, I think, to the criticisms of having made Far Cry 3.

First things first, almost nobody in Far Cry 4 is white. There are precisely four characters in Kyrat who are tangibly and conventionally obvious as ‘white.’ The cultural context of whiteness and supremacy is an outsider’s perspective. Oh, there are white characters – from Britain and America, and they are totally unreasonable dicks. They are also absolutely outsiders, characters who are interfering with or exploitable by the existing scenario of Kyrat, and they are not the people important to the problems. Pagan Min did not create the disruptive monarchic collapse that led to civil war; he exploited it.

Speaking of disruptive collapses, Ajay Ghale.

Ajay is the player protagonist’s perspective. A prince of violence. An insider outsider. Ajay is from Kyrat, but the relationship to violence, guns and a willingness to act comes from growing up brown in America. Ajay has a background in the states that’s almost too much – he was poor, so he fell into crime, from whence he got his proficiency and comfort with violence – but he couldn’t bring himself to deal with the guilt of an innocent death. Providing information on the actual killer in a convenience store robbery, Ajay got a reduced sentence –

but he did get a sentence.

The man that comes to Kyrat is therefore unaware of Kyrat (as most Americans would be), yet not unaware of how to drive, how to fight with a knife, how to avoid a cop, or how to fire a gun. The starting package Ajay, then, is a really excellent representation of a marginalised American starting out in a strange place where he knows the language but he’s immediately desperate. Ajay needs no incentive or explanation for how to fight, whether or not to fight – he immediately knows to reach for lethal force, and thanks to the game’s lack of time-sink tutorials, he just gets straight into it. I love that.

There was a plot point about Ajay’s name I was really happy to show off but then the in-game radio made a point of it, so pffft to that. If the character of the radio can notice it, it can’t be that clever.

All that talk about Ajay aside, we are forgetting the other protagonist of the story. The game has two protagonists – kind of. It’s got one and a half, with the secondary protagonist being Hurk, the character they offer you for co-op, who eagle-eyed fans will remember from Far Cry 3. Crucially, you never play Hurk. Your co-op partner, in your game, plays Hurk. In their game? You’re Hurk.

This is a really interesting decision because it means definitively, nobody is Hurk, but Hurk is always reflecting to some extent, you. And when you look at who Hurk is, what he’s trying to do… Hurk is a colossal idiot. Constantly getting you into scrapes, mixing up even basic facts of the setting, thudding face-first into his own ignorance, and constantly trying to engage with Ajay, Hurk is Guy Fieri’s self-insert character, played by someone who isn’t paying attention.

I kind of love Hurk.

Hurk is a tool, and Hurk screws up, and Hurk’s plans are really silly and go badly because he doesn’t think about how monkeys are not actually smart enough to throw grenades but Hurk is also a broken wreck of a man who emerged through poverty and homeschooling and medical trauma and came out of it to find a cause to fight for. He wants to fight for the Golden Path. And why?

Because the Golden Path make their symbol the elephant, and Hurk likes Elephants.

Hurk is a doofus, but he at least can find himself on the site that shoots fascists.

Yet that’s just place and players and like, overall theme, what’s the story like?

Without going into spoilers, I only want to say that Far Cry 4 is a story about the choices women make in response to men’s privilege. There are four major women in the story, and the three arcs of the story flow around your discovering who they are and what choices they’ve made.

I don’t want to tell you how to feel. You might feel, after all, as you play the game that the choices I made were the wrong ones because of potential consequences. I didn’t at all hesitate for what I did, because at every step, the story showed me a woman rebelling against something terrible, and asked me how willing I was to be complicit in that terribleness in the name of order. It doesn’t even ask you what you’d do – it more asks you what you’d feel bad about.

The game doesn’t use the word privilege, but it really is a story about privilege. It is a story of men being able to make orders and choose futures and the women around them, denied those options, and what extremes they go to in order to address them. Huge amounts of this story wouldn’t be the way they are, the tragedies of Kyrat, would not be the way they are if people just listened to the women in their lives.

The story kinda wants you to feel bad about it, because it wants to make all your choices feel bad enough to not be easy.

Not really how it went for me, though.

Verdict

There is more, of course. First of all, Far Cry 4 is system intensive, even for the day it came out. If your computer is five or six years old it’s a bit rough. Also, it does use uPlay, though it’s a particularly unobtrusive use of the application. While the game handles multitasking well, by pausing when you alt-tab, it is a little sluggish to tab back in.

I think that’s the really fascinating thing about Far Cry 4 as opposed to 3 or Blood Dragon. When I hit the conclusion to my story, I was genuinely content to let it end there. It was a Far Cry that had, despite its promises of thousands of slightly-satisfying systems, despite the undiscovered mysteries, despite everything it wanted to do with tendrils of tantalus, was still able to let me set my plate, and say I’ve had enough, and be content with the ending.

One last thing is, the game bombards you with mechanical options to do. Outposts and towers and side missions and randomly instanced activity – it is very easy to get started on something and for the game to distract you. If you have a problem with executive function, or if you have heightened empathy for game actors, this game might slow you down too much to play it.

Far Cry 4 is available on Steam.

Verdict

Get it if:

  • You want a big More Of Far Cry 3.
  • You like huge games of exploration, with lots of different stuff to do

Avoid it if:

  • You don’t like forced choices and story bottlenecks
  • You tried other Far Cries and didn’t like them or their stealth systems

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