Sunday, March 15, 2015

xBox One: Far Cry 4

This falls under the "...and other stuff" category that sub-titles this blog.

Just around the Canadian Black Friday of last year, I acquired an xBox One after noticing I had a bit of excess in my bank account. That doesn't often happen and I haven't treated myself to anything for a couple of years, so I took the opportunity. Who am I to deny myself the never ending cycle of living paycheck to paycheck? Now, I was a bit frugal as I made use of a great sale they were promoting, and after a bit of back-and-forthing with Microsoft Store managers, I got the version of the console I wanted -- the Sunset Overdrive Edition, white with the include game of its namesake. Combine that with a $100 trade-in of my dust gathering xBox 360, and a free copy of Far Cry 4, and I was a happy gamer.

In case you are one of those few readers who are in the other camp, wondering, "Why not a PS4 ?" One simple answer. No media centre. My PS3 is my media centre, even more so since I cut the cable years ago. We pump all media through it -- music, TV and movies. From the legal uses of Netflix and disk media, to the *cough* less  than legal download TV and movies. I want my consoles to be more than just games and the while media capabilities of the xBox One may be curtailed by me not having digital TV, at least its possible. I am not having a PS3 sitting next to a PS4.

Far Cry 4 is the latest in the series which, so far, have been entirely unrelated to each other. In fact, the only real thing that has connected the games, other than FPS genre, has been a revolutionary use of foliage. The engine behind these games is impressive, even looking back at the first 11 years ago, I remember marvelling as my crouched character moved through the tropical undergrowth, fern fronds moving separately and hiding me, as I snuck up on bad guys. Far Cry 2 abandoned the story of genetic monsters and tropical island bad guys for the African savanna. But it introduced an open world style that set the tone for the rest. Far Cry 3 expanded upon the game play style but was back on an island -- no genetically enhanced super soldiers though, just red bandannaed bad guys who oppressed the countryside. But still, throughout them all, I was marvelling as I crept through the underbrush.

The new game looks remarkably like the previous one. It runs on the "if it ain't broke..." mantra. The game play and look & feel are very familiar, but we toss Ajay Ghale into a remote mountain Tibet analog called Kyrat. Ajay is returning home to deliver his mother's ashes when he gets mixed up in the civil war between Kyrat's usurper, Pagan Min and the rebel Golden Path. We are exposed to Min's leadership in the opening sequence when he stabs someone to death with a gold pen. And then we are rescued by the rebels, and asked to become one of them. Ajay's father was a founding member of the Golden Path and they expect his son to take the mantle.

Like the previous game, this one wants us to take on the role of a protagonist not familiar with warfare and its moral dilemmas. Like with most FPS games, you start off rather weak and progress into a killing machine. This is entwined into the story that you are to be the rebirth of a mystical figure from Kyrat's past.

The game loves its moral gray zones. The rebels are led by two people, each with their own idealistic views and immense failings. You are expected to choose sides. Meanwhile Pagan Min, ever cheerful and maniacal, continues overtures to you while seeking to eradicate the rebels. But he is very honest that things are not quite what they seem. As the story progresses, you trust your allies less and less and you might just be charmed by Min's antics.

But its a game. You are molded into a ruthless killer. And like all  these games, you slaughter hundreds if not thousands of enemy soldiers. And animals. And the occasional peasant. You move from hesitant American uncomfortable with the guns in his hands, to an expert with heavy weapons and the skinning of countless rare animals. Even so, I never felt comfortable shooting rhinos, even after they constantly tossed me into the air in a fit of rage -- rhinos were easily enraged. But not honey badgers; no remorse there, the goddamn motherfucking honey badgers can all die. Yes, the game was liberally sprinkled with meme references.

The play does become a bit repetitive as you get deeper in, being that it has tons of side quests and collectibles. That is sort of intentional, not only for a full game feel but also to impress upon you what you are becoming -- a bored killer of men and beasts.

In the end, you are left with the decision of which side to take. Do you kill Pagan Min or do you accept the truth in what he is saying, that you were just a pawn in many people's hands. There are no good choices here -- Pagan as the psychopathic usurper? One Golden Path leader who wants to become a drug lord? Or the other, who believes in the old Kyrat, but that also means oppressing women and slaying anyone who disagrees with him. But I committed to my perceived path and slew Min. I doubt I left my father's country in good hands.

I really enjoyed this game, as much as the previous. I would have preferred a bit more radio content (as you drive around, you listen to a loon of a radio DJ) as that became 4th wall breaking repetitive. There was almost too much to do, and after I finished the main story, I realized I had some lingering questions with the side stories. But by then, I was over it. I will have to return and find out what the mask wearing killer was up to, and see the rest of the mystical otherworldly stories. And I was disappointed with Pagan's lieutenants, as their interaction was very minimal until you hit the cut scenes. Still, a solid game that looked great on the "next gen" hardware.