by Paul Tassi

I’ve recently taken some time out of saving the world and romancing elves in Dragon Age: Inquisition to finally fire up Far Cry 4. With both games released on the same day, and both receiving high praise, it can be hard to know which one to pick up and start first, though your past experience with the two series and their respective genres will probably lead you one way or another.

Far Cry 4, for the open world shooter aficionado, is Ubisoft’s second experiment in making their major series annual (depending on if you count Blood Dragon, in this case). We’ve seen the unfortunate results of that philosophy this month in regards to Assassin’s Creed Unity, which was released with a wide array of bugs and glitches, and a relative lack of innovation to boot.

Thankfully, Far Cry 4 feels less hurried, and though it may not excel in the innovation department (less so in many ways than Unity, as we’ll discuss), it launched mostly free of major disasters, and “rushed” isn’t an adjective used to frequently describe the game. At least not in the traditional sense.

Far Cry 4 is not a rushed game in that it’s not broken and unplayable at launch like so many other titles released these days (outside of a few fatal errors on PS3), but the year-long timetable only allowed for minimal changes to the blueprint of Far Cry 3. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gertsman said it best when he described it as a game for those who loved Far Cry 3, and want to play more of it without having to go through the same game again.

The similarities aren’t just on the surface, they’re practically endless. In both games you, a twenty-something male hero, goes to a foreign land and is conscripted to fight in a rebel army against a surprisingly charismatic villain with a militarized occupational force in his pocket. Your first mission is to take down a radio tower and open up a section of the map, and you then proceed to do this no less than 17 times. You’re tasked with clearing out enemy outposts to relinquish their control over certain areas. You’re given assassinations, hunting missions, races, and so on meant to distract you from the main questline whenever possible. And I’m pretty sure I just burned a series of opium fields in a mission surgically transplanted directly from Far Cry 3.

I’ve almost never seen a game more derivative of its predecessor than Far Cry 4. But fortunately, Far Cry 3′s formula was such a great gaming experience, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As it stands, the Far Cry series is one of the best open world games in existence, and by simply doing what Far Cry 3 did a little better, Far Cry 4 is a hit in its own right. It’s the definition of “why fix what isn’t broken?”

With that said, I’m not sure this is a card Ubisoft can play more than once. Depending on their sales data, they are undoubtedly trying to imagine the next exotic animal-filled wilderness locale they can set a future game in (the Amazon! the African plains redux!) and what kind of eccentric villain they can cast (a logging executive with a handlebar mustache! a warlord who loves Taylor Swift albums!). I’m just not sure they can continue to play it safe to this degree.

Far Cry 4 is Far Cry 3, and the two share 99.9% of the same DNA. It’s like if Far Cry 4 was simply Far Cry 3 DLC that ran a bit long and ended up being 150% bigger than the original offering. By taking the huge leap forward for the series that was FC3 and simply refining it (resettable outposts! elephant riding!) all they essentially had to do was make a new map (the hardest bit of an open world title) and write a script with vaguely the same outline as the first game.

It’s genius, and it worked, given how good the game is. Ubisoft has stumbled upon yet another formula that delivers, but if the differences between 3 and 4 are any indication, Far Cry may evolve even less with each new iteration than Assassin’s Creed does.

Fortunately, Far Cry has inherent fun working in its favor where Assassin’s Creed, sadly, does not. While occasionally AC comes up with a mechanic that breathes life into the series (pirate ship battles!), when it comes to plain old stealth and intrigue on the streets of Paris, the only wacky fun you’ll have is stumbling into one of the game’s face-removing glitches. But with Far Cry? Even if you played 40 hours of the last game, you can turn on Far Cry 4 and within 20 minutes set an elephant loose in an enemy encampment and be giggling like a little girl.

And yet, without further evolution, I don’t think Ubisoft can luck out like this again. My fictional Amazonian Far Cry 5 or African Far Cry 6 may indeed come to pass, but players will get tired of the formula. I suppose that can be said of many series, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sequel change less about its plot and core gameplay than I have moving between Far Cry 3 and 4. It’s an impressive trick, but I’ll be amazed if it works again.

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