Review: Far Cry 4 #PS4

2561268-fc4_screen_tuktuk_e3_140609_8pmpst_1402224704Overview

Far Cry 4 is the latest instalment in the series and it is pretty much more of the same. It’s the first Far Cry for the new generation of consoles, though you might not necessarily feel aware of that as you’re playing. This instalment takes us to a fictional pseudo-Himalayan nation (Kyrat) under the rule of tyrannical crime-against-fashion Pagan Min where you, as lost scion of a previous rebel leader end up entangled in the Kyratian Civil War, becoming the key player who determines how things are going to work out – despite only really being there to scatter your mother’s ashes.

Design

While Kyrat is a beautiful recreation of a mountainous country with many gorgeous locations it doesn’t make a great deal of internal sense, with the various locations seemingly plonked down willy-nilly here and there and the geography (and the way in which you have to travel across it) rather arbitrary and often a bit frustrating.

Character design is good and the characters move and express themselves well, especially the main characters whose movements and mannerisms are convincing.

The weapons are the usual sort of spread, though they lack any truly iconic or truly outstanding weapons that stand out above the rest. In many ways this is good as it requires you to switch around to use the right tool for the right job but it also means there isn’t really a particular weapon you can aspire to. Even the signature weapons aren’t that much better than anything else you can use, so other than OCD completism there’s little reason to gather every weapon.

Unfortunately, Far Cry 4 feels a bit like it’s ‘painting by numbers’ at this point, formulaic, repeating the same ideas found in the previous games without any innovation or expansion. It’s the same thing, just in a different location. It also doesn’t feel like it lives up to the new platform at all, with little to no discernible difference at the play experience level between the graphics and sound of Far Cry 3 on the PS3 and Far Cry 4 on the PS4.

None of this is to say that it isn’t beautiful and impressive, just that expectation is higher now and we’re still, really, waiting for games that really stretch the legs of the new hardware and show what it is capable of.

Gameplay

Gameplay is largely standard FPS controls. It does this well without a lot of the clumsiness many console games have compared to mouse-and-keyboard FPS on the PC. PC still gives a superior experience but as an old PC warhorse I find that – more and more – the console FPS experience is becoming tolerable and playable – at least against NPCs.

Other than the usual run-and-gun elements of FPS stealth is an important part of the game, especially when rescuing captives or capturing outposts.

The set-pieces, karma missions (how you win the hearts and minds of your fellow rebels) and the tower and outpost capture missions are exciting, if repetitive, but there’s also a lot of filler with little or no pay-off. Meaningless collection missions for letters, records and demonic masks with nothing to really show for it at the end – disappointing given the amount of effort it takes to unlock all of the map and get them all.

As you undertake missions you unlock the map and advance the story, giving you your path through the open world, but letting you go off the beaten path as much as you want. That may, actually, be a problem with a lot of these games as being able to spend hours going off and doing your own thing without the story or threat advancing robs you of any real sense of urgency or threat to the baddies. Games weren’t always this way, going back to some of the earliest free-roaming 3D games such as Midwinter and Midwinter 2, if you spent too long faffing around the enemy would advance and overrun you – a model that might be welcome in these sorts of games in the future.

Story

Ostensibly your kukri-wielding maniac – Kyratian in race but American in culture – is in Kyrat to scatter his mother’s ashes but can’t as the country’s civil war has divided the country and made it hazardous and near-impossible to get to where you need to go. As a descendant of the former rebels you’re also considered a useful PR tool and – increasingly – as a warrior. Your favour is curried by the two competing rebel leaders (one a traditionalist religious fanatic, the other a reformer who’s willing to do unspeakable things to bring her country into the future). The existing dictator, Pagan Min, is also obsessed with you to his detriment since it seems to prevent him finishing you off.

The story and motivations never reach the interest level of Far Cry 3 which was far more engaging and had a much more powerful hook for your character. The choices you are presented with lack urgency and are about as equally hopeless. They also lack any real emotional payoff for you. Even the final scene of the game is anticlimactic. This may be a deliberate design choice, trying to make some sort of comment about the pointlessness of civil wars or the cyclic nature of conflict (tying into the buddhist themes) but if so it’s a bad choice since it robs the player of any real sense of accomplishment from finishing the game.

The one place in which the story – and the design – truly shine are in the hallucinatory mythic sequences, to the point where these might have made for a better game than the one we got. Belled tigers, magic bows, demons and giant birds are just more engaging than gunning people down with a rattling AK.

Score
Style: 4 (Last gen on this gen, but pretty enough)
Substance: 3 (There’s plenty to do, but it’s all rather shallow).
Overall: 3.5/5

Opinion

Having been involved wit Gamergate until very recently (I still support but am phasing out my activity for various reasons) I was disappointed in many of the horrible statements made by people involved in the making of this game. I was also concerned, given some of the statements from the designers, that it would be a tokenistic, overtly PC love fest. Especially since one of the rebel leaders, Amita, is allegedly based on Anita Sarkeesian – something that made repeatedly blowing her up and shooting her incredibly cathartic, despite it being a fail condition for much of the game.

FC4ArtWork_15_165459Those fears were unjustified though. There’s – thankfully – plenty of things in the game that are still ‘problematic’, and, therefore, fun.

Far Cry 4 is a perfectly respectable game and plenty of fun to play, but it fails in its storytelling in a way Far Cry 3 did not, ironically – apparently – as a response to Far Cry 3’s perceived lacks which turned out to be comparative strengths.

Far Cry 4 doesn’t really try to tell a strong story and many of its actions are robbed of significance, meaning or payoff because it has tried so hard to decouple its exploration and side activities and to focus more on being a murder-sandbox. Unfortunately, for someone like me who likes story and likes to get caught up in making a difference to the virtual world this made the experience lacklustre and unsatisfying.

Still, playing at Gurkha is pretty satisfying, in the moment.

#Gamergate the Card Game Update

propaganda-IIProfessional

I still have no word on exactly what is going on with the withdrawal of the game from sale at DriveThruRPG. They’re not strangers to controversial products (one of them a personal attack on me) and hosting, or selling, them and the parent company ‘OneBookShelf’ was founded by former White Wolf people who had plenty of encounters with censors and the ‘moral majority’ in their time. It seems, then, to be an odd position for them to be in.

Complaints about various products have been made before, not just mine, but it has been left to the market and the review system to deal with it. The question must then be asked ‘what’s different this time?’

There’s a few of answers to that, some of which I have alluded to in previous commentary.

Firstly there’s the fact that the whole debate has become much more heated. Not taking a side is now taken as being in opposition to whatever the righteous cause of the moment is and that carries more cost than it used to.

Secondly the lunatics are now running the asylum, much more so in tabletop gaming than in even computer gaming. For all the complaining done about humour that ‘punches down’, the supposedly dis-empowered are now very much the ones wielding power.

Lastly, this time we have a company abusing their position and market share to bully and prosecute their agenda.

Solis

Hanrahan

Both these gentlemen work for Evil Hat and the obvious implicit threat is that they would remove their products, impacting the reputation and profitability of OneBookShelf far more than I could. This is not only unethical, but possibly illegal under competition/antitrust law. Fred Hicks, also of the company, has issued a rather mealy mouthed retraction, misusing (ironically) many words but let’s take him at his word. If Evil Hat is not threatening such action then there is now no justification for removing the product and hopefully we’ll see it back up soon (early next week). I call this a retraction because I do not think it is a remotely unjustifiable deduction from those tweets and other information to see that this was strongarming, even if Hicks himself was not involved.

The game has been submitted to other sites but because its the weekend I am unlikely to hear anything any time soon about those either, as both sites have product review processes before they approve something for sale. We’ll see what happens there.

I am, admittedly, a free-speech radical. I think even things deemed ‘hate speech’ should be allowed as, in my opinion, this merely exposes bad ideas to scrutiny and ridicule. To me at least, silencing is never a good idea no matter what we’re talking about. Pragmatically though I meet people half way and am willing to understand when we’re talking about genuine hate speech, exhortations to violence and so on.

It remains hard, however, to see what any possible objection to the Gamergate card game could be. It’s a – somewhat vicious – satire on the whole situation but it is not in any way illegal, obscene or otherwise something that should trigger anyone’s ire. The sole reason for anyone’s objection seems to be that it is connected to Gamergate and that because people have misconceptions about that movement.

Some have, apparently, decided to characterise it as a hate group and have – on that basis – decided to believe their own press and to act as though it is the KKK or something (a comparison that has been made with all earnestness). This is ridiculous, it’s genuinely a consumer revolt against corruption in games media, censorship and politicisation.

The irony of company strongarming to censor a product relating to a consumer revolt on these issues is obvious.

The implications for any small or micro-publisher of these events are worrying too. Why should anyone else, let alone another company that is your rival, get to decide what is and is not acceptable? If this card game now, how can we be secure that other ‘controversial’ material will not suffer the same fate in the future?

Support and purchase links at the bottom of this post.

Philosophical

Like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war. The hard won liberalisation of media and personal action and accountability won over the last sixty odd years – at great cost – are under severe attack. What’s bewildering is that these freedoms are under attack from people who consider themselves to be liberal and progressive.

There is nothing progressive about censorship.

There is nothing progressive about interfering in people’s consensual sexual freedom.

There is nothing progressive about inciting and sustaining moral panic and emotional thinking over reason to prosecute personal agendas.

America is – somewhat – insulated from governmental censorship by its first amendment, but other countries are not so lucky and American activists find other ways to silence things they don’t like.

In the UK for example we have rarely seen such a huge roll-back of sexual and personal liberty. The most recent ban on the production of certain pornography, for example, is just part of a much more general thrust of censorious culture. For all that these bans have been decried as anti-woman (they include a ban on depicting a squirting female orgasm for example) much of the new attitude stems from modern feminism, in particular anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines and groups like No More Page 3 or Bin the Lad’s Mags.

That these groups’ efforts are in perfect alignment with the moralising conservatism of the ruling Tory party seems to give them little or no pause, as does the thought that they are now working side-by-side with people they used to fight, people who wanted to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’.

This is why I have regarded these conflicts as so important, why I have involved myself so deeply. Liberty and freedom are important to me, especially freedom of expression. The ability to make art, to present ideas, is a fundamental human right as enshrined in places as wide and varied as the US constitution and the UN and EU charters.

Strangely, standing up for free expression, rationalism, skepticism and other values very dear to me I have been repeatedly accused of being conservative, reactionary, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic and heaven knows what else, all of which couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is, perhaps, what makes this… neo-puritanical  movement so dangerous. They are willing to betray their own – claimed – left and liberal values, on little to no basis, to silence not only their genuine opposition but also those who disagree with HOW they go about their goals rather than what those goals actually are.

This isn’t a left/right cultural or political conflict, it’s an authoritarian versus libertarian one and one where liberal – in its other meaning – redefinition of terms is used to justify the most terrible actions and to cover up their hypocrisy. ‘It’s OK when we do it’.

My ideals give us a world in which all people are free to express their ideas, whether I agree with them or not. Their ideals give us a grey world of homogeneous, ‘safe’ ideas that exclude a diversity of thought, ideals and even fiction. I still think a stand needs to be taken against this, long enough and articulate enough that the baseless accusations of misogyny, racism etc – so long used as gags to silence opposition on other bases – lose their sting.

One of the biggest problems that I think we have now is private censorship. A topic I’ve talked about a great deal and one which the kinds of people mentioned above seem to excuse – so long as it aligns with their view.

Censorship is not limited to governmental action and free expression is an ideal and a principle, not just a matter of the law.

We live in an era now in which a very few companies have a de facto monopoly over aspects of our lives. If you’re an author and Amazon won’t carry you, you’re in serious trouble. If you need to take online payments and Paypal won’t do it, again, you’re in serious trouble.

These things can and do happen. Amazon will hide erotica and self-published material or make it so you have to be very specific in your searches to find something. Credit card companies will gouge anyone selling adult products or materials under the pretence of risk. Paypal has tried to do similar in the past, refusing services.

When a company is in such a position – and in the tiny niche of gaming OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG and RPGNOW) holds the same place – they have a degree of responsibility to safeguard the rights of creators and consumers.

Is that far fetched?

I don’t know that it is. The state already intervenes to defend the rights of minorities. A company cannot refuse service to someone because of their sexuality for example, or their race – and quite right too. Given that precedent is it not reasonable to ask that companies in such a dominant position are required to safeguard basic and fundamental human rights, within reason and so long as it does not create undue problems for them to do so?

Why should Paypal, for example, be able to refuse financial services to legal businesses performing legal work? Why should Amazon be free to censor and delist ebooks, whose cost is negligable to them to host?

Why should Youtube not allow the sharing of consensual, legal adult material? Provided it exist behind suitable filtering and protection.

Good questions to ask in my opinion and ones that will be more and more important in the future.

Personal

Despite still believing very much in the Gamergate battle and the longer culture war that I’ve been a part of for about four years, the sheer cost (personal, professional and in terms of health) is just getting to be too much.

I am heartily sick of being accused of every horrible thing under the sun, especially when they go against my core beliefs and my sense of self. I fight so hard because it is hard for me to leave something unjust unchallenged. If I do something I suffer at the hands of bastards and the inevitable flak fighting draws, if I don’t fight I am betraying my core nature and allowing something horrible to go unchallenged.

If it’s a choice between doing something good and feeling horrible and not doing anything and feeling horrible, the grim calculus (pun intended) should seem obvious.

However, that calculus is changing in part for health reasons, in part because of rather unfair pressure from some dear friends, in part for financial and other reasons. This still pains my idealistic heart and seems like poor reasons not to continue making sacrifices and doing the right thing but I’m fairly backed into a corner right now, and I’m not Captain America.

How would you feel if you were passionate about freedom, for everyone? If you believed strongly in progressive and inclusive ideas – but also artistic freedom? If day after day you saw other creative people seeming to buy into a censorious and controlling agenda because it was easier for them than to rock the boat?

How would you feel if people were determined to trash your reputation by calling you homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, conservative, things the complete opposite of what you are? How would you feel if people began to believe those lies about you? How would you feel if you were constantly questioning yourself already?

The answer is, not good, and after a while it doesn’t matter that you’re right or that these people are wrong, it’s what people believe – and that so rarely marries up to what’s true, which is frustrating as hell for a rationalist and skeptic, believe me.

So, against my will, I’m going to have to withdraw from the fight, not that I want to and not that it will be at all easy. I’m well aware that’s admitting defeat and that’s like swallowing a shot glass of broken glass shards to me. I’ve been let down a great deal in life by many people I have taken as moral exemplars and to fall short in a similar fashion is devastating. I was always determined not to make the same mistakes – an impossible standard for any human being.

Growing up nerdy, geeky, cerebral, introspective is tough. There are few male-identity tags available to anyone in my generation and its worse for the generations following. Some of the few male-identity aspects available to us are duty, honour, sacrifice and endurance and these aren’t always the best paths to what’s good for you as an individual. They open you up to exploitation, attack and self neglect.

Aid & Comfort

If you want to support me there’s a variety of ways you can do so.

In regard to this issue you can email OneBookShelf and express your concerns (do so politely).

You can buy my stuff from RPGNOW, Lulu or TheGamecrafter – there’s free stuff there too. Feel free to leave a review.

As is now traditional, as a victim of harassment and hatred I am obligated to mention my Patreon.

If you want the PDF copy of the Gamergate Card Game, you can still, for now, get it here.

If you want to know what I actually think about anything, rather than relying on what people tell you I think, you’re welcome to ASK and you’ll get an honest answer.

The big thing I really want people to support at the moment is my memorial art scholarship for fantasy and SF art students. If you can donate art to be sold to support the scholarship or can give money, please do!