Until I could rent it on PS4 a game I’d been curious about was Far Cry 4. I’ve made more than one post about it or mentioning it along with my hopes an fears about the game, but never went and bought it. I found a lot to like in Far Cry 3 but generally wasn’t enthusiastic about how safe and conventional its design felt compared to the flawed gem that was Far Cry 2. A bigger reason though is because in a lot of ways, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the Far Cry game I’ve always wanted.
After spending a few hours trying out bits and pieces of FC4, it and Phantom Pain are very different in a lot of ways, but also pretty similar. They share a very similar overall structure but each one focuses on a different part of that structure.
The main difference I was concerned about going into FC4 was level design and mission structure. My biggest disappointment with FC3 was how linear is main missions were. They always seemed to involve either killing everyone in an open arena or down a Call of Duty-style linear map. FC2 would give you an objective but didn’t care how you completed it, which introduced a lot of room for chaos and for players to plot their own strategies. Ironically FC3 encourages this kind of play everywhere except the main campaign, but only to a certain extent. FC4 doesn’t seem to be much different. Phantom Pain followed the FC2 path but with much more complex missions and more gameplay elements to either give players more tools or introduce more unpredictability.
A mission that disappointed me early on in FC4 has you trying to rescue a bunch of hostages. After stealthily dispatching a couple enemies near a couple of the hostages I tried to free them, but the game told me I had to kill everyone before freeing the hostages. Metal Gear would have just given me the option to sneak the hostages out of there, potentially without having to fight anyone. It wouldn’t care what else happened so long as the hostages got out of there alive. The same thing happened in a side mission that involved blowing up some items. FC2 would have just let me blow the stuff up and try to get out of there without having to kill everyone. These missions that take place in FC4’s sandbox world seem to make the win conditions needlessly specific.
The last few Far Cry games have taken place in sandbox worlds but they seem to embrace the sandbox everywhere but the actual missions themselves. Ubisoft realized people loved clearing enemy outposts in FC3 because of that dynamic aspect to them, so it upped the ante in the sequel. It even added fortresses which are basically really big enemy outposts. The one I tried felt pretty intricate (though not as intricate as Phantom Pain’s central fortresses) but had the same objective — kill everyone. What I want from the Far Cry games is something more like what Ubisoft claims to be doing with Ghost Recon Wildlands.
There are other ways in which Phtantom Pain just feels more systemic and seems to have more complex level design, but I’ll simply leave it at the differing focuses each game has on objectives.
The better reason to get FC4 seems to be the interaction with the open world itself. One of the biggest criticisms against Phantom Pain is that it might have very little reason to be an open-world game at all. It’s mostly about dropping right into each mission zone by helicopter and then taking the chopper back out when you’re done. Some of Phantom Pain’s story missions take place across multiple outposts over massive sections of land, but overall there’s very little reason to explore all the space in between the game’s enemy complexes. Basically every human character you meet is hostile. FC4 on the other hand gives you a world that feels pretty alive with populated towns, and it forces you to travel through that world instead of teleport around it. Phantom Pain’s open world feels like a stage, though an admittedly well-laid-out one, while FC4 tries to be a world you have to consistently inhabit.
If that world just gave me a little bit more freedom in how I accomplish tasks Far Cry would be one of my favorite game franchises. Maybe for the probably inevitable “Far Cry 5” Ubisoft will look at both Phantom Pain and its own Wildlands when making the first entry exclusive to current generation consoles. I feel like there’s also a comparison to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games to be made here, but it’s been too long since I played them.
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