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Critical Consensus: Far Cry 4 lives in its predecessor's shadow

The critics are delighted with Ubisoft's latest, though comparisons to Far Cry 3 expose some telling flaws

The Far Cry 4 reviews are out.

Well, actually, only some of them are, and the sites that came late to this particular party are keen for their readers to know why. Polygon, surely one of the outlets at the very top of the list in terms of access, posted a story explaining that the "non-final 'debug' version" it received wouldn't work with it console hardware, and resisted any attempts to find a solution.

"Meanwhile several outlets received retail copies of Far Cry 4 earlier this week for both Xbox One and PS4," Polygon added. "We did not."

PC Gamer, another influential publication, shared in Polygon's plight, though for slightly different reasons. In this case, the only pre-release access offered by Ubisoft was a console-only review event, with PC code available no earlier than launch day.

"If you're getting a sense of deja vu, it's because exactly the same thing happened with [Assassin's Creed] Unity," PC Gamer told its readers. "As the gap between high and mid-range PC specs widens, as system requirements become increasingly more demanding, and as pre-order bonuses are marketed more aggressively, to also restrict reviews to being conceivably days after a game's launch is a worrying trend for consumers."

Less than a fortnight after Assassin's Creed Unity's launch-day embargo prompted a number of prominent critics to compose odes to their frustration, such complaints will surely be disappointing for Ubisoft. With Unity, there was a clear collective sense that the restrictive embargo was in place to safeguard against tepid review scores - right now, the game has a Metacritic score of 76, the lowest in the series' history - but Far Cry 4 has no skeletons stacked in its closet. Indeed, by all accounts the game is a technical marvel, currently sitting pretty with a Metascore of 87.

In part, that's down to Ubisoft's successful recreation of the chaotic spirit that made Far Cry 3's sandbox such a joy to explore. For The Guardian, which awarded the game top marks, Far Cry 4's Himalayan backdrop "swarms with activities," many of which will be familiar to returning players, but no less enthralling when those different systems combine to create emergent mayhem.

"Kyrat feels like a living, breathing country and one that encourages and rewards exploration"

The Guardian

"These pursuits continually crash into one another - one minute you're on your way to unlock a radar tower and the next, a herd of animals... run into view and you're off and running in a new direction. The player's hardest task, really, is staying focused on the matter at hand - not that Far Cry 4's developers offer any help in this department. The dynamics in the game's environment make Kyrat feel like a living, breathing country and one that encourages and rewards exploration."

The Guardian didn't offer a direct qualitative comparison to Far Cry 3, but Eurogamer did, and while it found much to enjoy in the sequel its world is highlighted as a significant flaw. The mountainous Kyrat was neither "as compelling" nor "as striking" as the lush tropical islands of Far Cry 3, driving the emphatic 10 that game received down to a more measured 8.

"The vast expanse of land at your disposal gets quite samey. After a few hours skulking along its grey cliffsides and grappling down another weathered rocky outcrop, you begin pining for Rook Island's glittering coves and vivid, azure lagoons. In Far Cry 3, the landscape was so expertly crafted that I could eventually identify individual landmarks and find my way around through exploration rather than simply following a waypoint. Far Cry 4 actually feels like it suffers from being bigger, with overly lengthy treks needed to get from one place of interest to another until fast travel points are unlocked."

For Joystiq, those arduous treks are made easier by Far Cry 4's narrative, which manages to remain interesting even when its flamboyantly evil villain, Pagan Min, isn't around to supercharge the drama. Far Cry 3 suffered whenever its own unhinged antagonist, Vaas Montenegro, wasn't involved, but an internal struggle at a rebel faction known as "The Golden Path" offers another source of conflict - one that allows the player to exert some influence on the direction of the story.

"Far Cry 4 rings a little hollow, and doesn't fully achieve the spiritual heights this series is capable of"

Games Radar

"This also means picking sides and mission goals between the Path's two horn-locked leaders, Sabal and Amita. The venom between these two as they plot a well-meaning future for Kyrat is really the most interesting part of Far Cry 4's story. Sabal wants to preserve the country's cultural foundation and burn all corrupt elements, while Amita has an eye for funding the war and demolishing traditions that treat women unfairly. Both are convincing (with great performances), and just when you've made up your mind with one, the other will chew you out and re-frame the most recent outcome in a disturbing manner."

As far as Games Radar is concerned, however, The Golden Path's squabbling leaders can't compensate for the absence of a stronger antagonist. Pagan Min is "savagely overplayed" by the ubiquitous Troy Baker, revealing little more than a "prancing, aimless cipher" beneath that immaculately coiffed façade.

"Having gate-crashed your arrival to Kyrat, he merely squats in his fortress at the top of the world map, a bowling pin waiting to be knocked over. The same goes for his four lieutenants, each a spicy but insubstantial study in depravity, who are equivalent to mid-bosses - you'll face them in creatively themed chapters that experiment just a little beyond the game's well-honed mixture of stealth and shooting.

"The best open-worlders are those that balance their emergent odds and ends against a strong narrative thrust. Without a story as breathtaking as those forested vales and icy crags, Far Cry 4 rings a little hollow, and doesn't fully achieve the spiritual heights this series is capable of."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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