Yes, it’s another Far Cry game but it’s probably the best since Far Cry 3. With its over-the-top story line, excellent location, satisfying gun play, stellar antagonists, and revamped open-world formula; Far Cry 5 is one to go for if you’ve previously grown tired of the series.
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto, Ubisoft Montreal Studios
Platforms: PS4, PS4 Pro (reviewed on), Xbox One, Xbox One X, PC.
Release Date: 23rd March 2018
I have always found it difficult to connect with Far Cry games. Their settings are always strikingly beautiful and complex while being fraught with danger; this is what makes them compelling experiences. I can understand why. The idea of being a virtual tourist in prehistoric wild lands, a lawless isle overrun by pirates or a totalitarian state is appealing. You visit areas that you would never get the opportunity to visit and are given the power to do whatever you want from the comfort of your living room.
This is partly what drives me away from these games as I just cannot relate to their worlds. I’m a homebody and I like familiarity. I have no desire to visit a tropical island or a reclusive, solitary nation in real life so doing so in my video games isn’t going to cut it for me.
Far Cry 5’s fictional Hope County, set in the non-fictional state of Montana, is still far removed from my everyday life as a town-dwelling Englander, but it’s as close as a Far Cry game has gotten – in terms of societal norms and values – to my own life. It is a beautiful place too. Encapsulated by a vast, mountainous landscape and filled with dense woodlands, far-reaching fields, glimmering clear-water lakes and rivers. Hope County is very much an archetypical vision of rural America, speckled with small towns and close-knit communities, trailer parks, farmsteads, backwater bars and buffalo – there’s a lot of buffalo.
But this is a Far Cry game, so such peaceful, natural beauty can’t go undisturbed and, indeed, it doesn’t. The game’s preamble explains that Hope County has been overrun by a cult called Eden’s Gate, led by ‘The Father’ Joseph Seed. Unlike the military forces or mercenaries you faced in previous Far Cry games, the Eden’s Gate cult are driven entirely by ideology, that being the Christian Faith.
Outside of dwelling over how extremism can rise from any religion, faith or creed, and not just the ones that are different to our own, Far Cry 5 doesn’t raise many important questions. Nor, at least from what I’ve seen, is it intended to be a critique on the current political climate (although there was one joke about a wall). It comes close at times, with Jacob Seed mentioning “those in charge of our country,” but he never expands on it – perhaps a move by Ubisoft to avoid offending anyone. Eden’s Gate follows the trope typical of all Christian cults: there is a biblical cataclysm coming and Jacob Seed – who has been spoken to by God – sees himself as a Noah type figure. To this end, he, his family and the cult start buying up various properties and land in Hope County until they essentially run the place.
Unlike previous Far Cry games, you are a blank slate character whose appearance is determined by a basic character creator at the start of the game. Being a first-person experience with no cinematic cut scenes, it doesn’t matter what the protagonist looks like if he never speaks or even has a name (other than rookie or deputy, depending on whom is addressing him). Far Cry 5 also ditches hunting and crafting in favour of a more traditional perk system where completing certain actions, e.g. kill 40 enemies with an SMG, will reward you perk points which you can use to upgrade your character via a skill tree. You can also find perk points hidden throughout Hope County. This means that, while hunting is still a staple of gameplay, this lessens its importance and is now simply a means of earning cash by selling pelts. It still plays a part as to how well you progress, as cash buys big guns, but you are no longer dependent on hunting to move forward with your character.
As a county marshal, you have arrived in Hope County with your crew to apprehend Jacob Seed. This does not happen and instead you are split up from your crew members who are being held captive by the Seed family. On your journey to save your crew, you travel across the county, forge alliances with the few whom have not converted to the cult, and create a ‘resistance’ movement. While you recruit many allies, it is the ‘specialists’ who provide the best level of assistance, who can be switched out and called for whatever situation they will be most helpful in. You may find and recruit nine in total, each with a different skill such as sniping, flying, or being a wild beast.
This leads into the us vs. them style of storytelling that Ubisoft tends to utilise in Far Cry games. You build the resistance movement by completing the usual Far Cry activities: capturing strongholds, completing story missions, killing key cult-figures and destroying significant points of interest. This all feeds into the core gameplay loop of taking over parts of the map until you draw out the Seed family member who controls said map area. Think of the formula used in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate wherein completing enough activities in any one London borough would lead the gang-leader out. Although how you actually unlock a lot of these activities differs significantly to previous entries. Gone is tower-climbing to unveil viewpoints as Ubisoft have employed a much more organic way for side-missions and activities to unveil themselves.
Simply, you just talk to people you meet or save from the cult and they may give you a side quest. They may tip you off about a hidden stash of weapons nearby, a family member or friend who is in danger, or a gang-stronghold to take down. Listening to answerphone messages or reading letters and documents in the many houses and buildings of Hope County serve the same purpose and help build up a better understanding of how Eden’s Gate amassed such influence and power. The way the game reveals its activities to you feels borrowed straight from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where there is as much to do as you care to find and not just a map full of icons to hoover up. Perhaps the standout content here is the Prepper Stashes, which are hidden troves of cash, ammo and those all-important perk points you’ll need to level up. The Prepper Stashes are essentially environmental puzzles you must solve to gain entry to the many survival bunkers dotted across Hope County – although the stashes can be found in other locations. Completing these puzzles is a nice brain teaser with a decent effort/reward ratio, and a good break-away from the grim narrative of Far Cry 5.
The activities in Far Cry 5 still feel samey and repetitive though, so removing tower climbing in exchange for interacting with NPCs doesn’t entirely deflect the risk of monotony. It is, however, the overarching story of Far Cry 5 that maintains intrigue. While not a Shakespearian effort, the story evolves at a suitable pace and its cast is well-acted enough to be engaging. The Seed family – John, Jacob, Faith and Joseph – serves as the game’s antagonists and each are terrifying in their own distinct way. Kudos goes to Greg Byrk for his performance of Joseph Seed who is as mesmerising as he is menacing. Joseph has this dead-eyed stare that catches you off guard, and you hang on to his every word, making it understandable why he has managed to garner such a fanatic following.
Outside of the main cast, Far Cry 5 features a host of forgettable NPCs – bar few – who are nothing more than a list of rural-America stereotypes. There are a large number of characters whose main concern is, “hey, my trucks been stolen,” and you’ll meet a few conspiracy theorists who say things like, “the government is doping the cows, mannnnn”, and “the aliens are out there.” While these characters are fun to engage with the first few times , it becomes clear that this is mostly what Far Cry 5 has to offer by way of its supporting cast. There are only so many characters I can see sporting mullets and wearing body warmers with sleeveless shirts underneath.
When it comes to how Far Cry 5 plays, touching upon gunplay comes first because you’ll be killing a lot of the Eden’s Gate cult. Fortunately, shooting is the best it’s ever been in a Far Cry title with each weapon having its own distinct weight and feel to it. Six-shooters have a real thud each time you fire, and SMGs, when fitted with a scope, feel precise and sleek. The standout item for stealthier players is the bow and arrow with its gruesome kill-animations – especially the headshots. Upgrading it, as with all weapons, is a must for survival. While navigating the world is generally good when on foot, driving is still a weak spot for the Far Cry games and can be a tetchy, clunky affair at best. This makes driving missions (see aforementioned ‘my truck is missing’ NPCs) a bit of a chore but, fortunately, there aren’t that many of these to do. Flying, however, is excellent and you’re given the opportunity to charter a plane very early on in the game. It’s a nice way to see the full scope of Far Cry 5’s map and the beautiful scenery of Hope County.
Far Cry 5 feels like a fresh departure from the mainline games that preceded it, but when you look past the revamped open-world formula, it is just another Far Cry game. That’s not a bad thing though and it is the best of the franchise so far, giving us another virtual playground to stomp around in, kill some cultists, and engage in some over-the-top violence and explosions.