The less than steller Far Cry 4 and the mediocre Far Cry Primal painted a mundane picture of the future and left me unsure about picking up the next Far Cry.
In a time when Ubisoft was fighting to fend-off Vivendi, releasing successful titles is crucial to the company’s survival. Listening to community feedback was important than ever and Ubisoft knew it, it is one of the main reasons The Division is a huge success, which further opened Ubisoft’s eyes to how feedback from its players can change the fate of its games. Ubisoft’s changed perspective has, thankfully, given new life to Far Cry.
Little nuances here and there play a huge role in changing the Far Cry formula in a meaningful way; so we are not just changing the setting and reskinning to call in a “new Far Cry.”
World and character progression is much different while keeping other fun mechanics from previous FC games intact. Just like previous games, little effort can lead to overwhelming chaos across the map. Enemy and wildlife AI is much better compared to previous games which result in exhilarating, fun, and sometimes humorous situations.
Developers have beautifully implemented what they call “Anecdote Factory,” it is their way of collaborating enemy AI, wildlife, vehicles, physics, and weapons in an organic way. In a classic Far Cry fashion, players will kill, loot, drive around, explore, and watch how the intricate web design of Far Cry 5 interacts with each other.
Exploration is tweaked, changed, and improved. Gone are the days you’ll have to reach towers to unlock the map to access side missions and activities. The entire map is covered with a cloud and all you need to do is visit each section to unlock. You’ll defog the map and can stumble upon side missions in random orders. Side activities, including exploration based Prepper Stashes, are triggered by just walking around and speaking to various characters.
Far Cry 5 hosts a very simplified progression and perks system. No longer you have to find items to crafts your favorite gear, all you need to do is complete missions and challenges to unlock skills and perks through Skill Points. The system is somewhat reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed Origins minus the crafting part.
Everything takes place on American Soil this time as you play a Deputy, out to get Eden Gate; a cult run by Joseph Seed. You go about the game by speaking to people, building relationships, and using them to your advantage.
For the first time after Far Cry 3, the characters and the main story managed to garner interest from me. Joseph Seed is a clam, collective, killer who controls an end of times cult. He uses a special drug to keep his sheep in line and make them “see the truth.” Seed is not your average cultist by any means. At various points in the game he will have a chance to kill you but instead, he’ll try to sway you into joining him.
Interestingly, his dialogues are so well written that his message actually starts to affect you. At least once during your time in Hope County, you will rethink your actions and if Seed is correct. Creating an inner turmoil within the players is the strongest aspect of any storyline, and Far Cry 5 succeeds in this regard.
Still, you need to put an end to him.
You build your resistance and motivate people to stand up against the Project at Eden’s Gate. As the hate and motivation to stand up grows, so does the attention of Eden’s Gate lieutenants. We have Joseph and John running Eden’s Gate with their sister Faith.
Joseph and John are aggressive but Faith is the voice of reason among the chaos. Your interactions with the Seed family are remarkable, they contribute to you seeing the truth, the truth of how miserable Hope County is under the ruling of Eden’s Gate.
These characters are surprisingly familiar and they have a humanity to them that is rare to find in video games; not for a second, they would feel part of an imaginary world. And that’s the beauty of it, lunatics like the Seed family exist among us. Far Cry 5 is a very relatable story about us, about what’s truly going on in the United States; the game addresses an issue which most games would shy away from – a violent Christain cult.
Even though you know their actions are wrong but as you dive deep into the backstory of the Seed family to learn about an abused past, victims of violence, and how they lost hope you start to understand their perspective and how they see the world. The Seed family, truly, wishes to provide peace to the people they “Save.” They aren’t your traditional crazy cultists with a hidden agenda, their agenda is to save people from the end of times and the ailments of modern day society. Far Cry 5 is a very mature and well-written story, never before seen in a Far Cry game.
It is up to you to bring hope to Hope County.
Far Cry 5’s combat has more depth compared to previous games. Often you will find yourself entering an encounter with the wrong type of weapon, and watch the enemies shred you to bits. The solution is to restart the mission with the most suitable loadout.
Not only the loadout but often choosing the correct buddy is the difference between success and failure. Boomer is a great buddy, he can grab weapons, attack enemies, and at the end of the battle, you can pet him for some post-battle pet therapy.
But being a dog owner myself it was hard to hear Boomer get hurt which is why I personally didn’t use him that much. I doubt that would be an issue for other players though. Nick Rye, on the other hand, served at the best out of the buddy system. He’ll be your wingman, death from the sky.
Far Cry 5’s use of death, violence, and mindless killing never feels out of place. However, the trademark humor is still there to lighten things up – you can attend a bull testicle festival if you like. Far Cry 5 embodies the reality of what’s going on all around us. Mindless following of extremists who preach peace yet spread violence is an issue we all face and for the first time, a game developer has highlighted it.
Rocket's red glare
My favorite moments in Far Cry 5 are quiet. Just me and my dog Boomer, wandering through the morning fog as it sprawls across fields of dry grass and scrub brush, a nearby brook and some crowing birds the only complement to my own footfalls. It’s in these moments I can really sit and appreciate the majesty of Ubisoft’s world, this faux-Montana with its soaring mountains, its golden farmlands and sleepy waterways, its hyper-aggressive wildlife.
It’s almost enough to make you forget about everything that’s gone wrong, here.
Big sky country
Far Cry 5 is caught up in all sorts of discussions I’ve no doubt it didn’t want to be caught up in. “What responsibility, if any, do games have to reflect societal concerns?” “Why are big-budget games so afraid of saying anything about anything, and how can we fix it?” And so on.
There are no answers here. Far Cry 5 is only interested in being Far Cry—and it’s good at it, too.
Much of the credit goes, as always, to Ubisoft’s art department. Montana is spectacular. It really, truly is. There’s this throwback-Americana look to it, the wooden cabins and hand-painted signs I remember from a childhood spent visiting Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and their fellow national parks. I wasn’t lying, my favorite moments in Far Cry 5 typically involved little more than walking through a forest or across a ramshackle bridge.
Art is aided by a renewed importance to the world itself. Arriving at many of the same conclusions as Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Far Cry 5 finally ditches the tower-climbing formula Ubisoft once held dear, and it’s a hundred times better for it.
Rather than dumping icons scattershot across the map, you’ll instead set off in search of information. A townsperson might tell you about a mechanic who fled the area, leaving behind a tooled-up car in a nearby garage. Another might have word of a local celebrity holed up in a hotel down the street, or a cache of weapons in the back room of a diner, or assign you to kill a marauding bear in the adjacent hills. A map lying half-discarded on a chair might tell you of a nearby farm, while glancing at signs on the side of the road will alert you to lucrative hunting grounds or fishing spots.
It’s so damn refreshing. As with Origins, I found myself engaging with Far Cry 5’s side-content far more often than I did in 3 and 4. Flying my helicopter towards the next mission I might spot a cabin peaking out from the treetops, then swoop down to check it out. Chances are it held more of the same weapons and medkits and so on that I already had stocked, but there was always the possibility of a bizarre mission—maybe investigating aliens, a haunted house, or a berserk moose.
Failing that, each building was still dressed up with such care, so unique, that I never really felt cheated. The reward might be as simple as “Wow, whoever lived here really liked baseball,” and that was okay with me. It's very reminiscent of the modern Fallout titles in that respect, and very different from Ubisoft circa 2007 to 2016.
Turning a blind eye
Anyway, that’s the biggest change. The rest is bog-standard Far Cry. You play as a rookie cop who everyone simply calls “Rookie,” a blank-slate of a character with no voice or personality—a step backward from Far Cry 4 in my opinion. In any case, you tag along with your boss (the local sheriff), a US Marshall, and two other deputies on a mission to arrest Joseph Seed, leader of a local cult called the Project at Eden’s Gate.
These “Peggies,” as the locals call them, are heavily armed and essentially a riff on the Branch Davidians, but large and powerful enough to basically take over the whole of Montana. Needless to say, Joseph’s arrest doesn’t go as planned. You’re stranded in Montana and shortly thereafter are co-opted to spearhead a resistance movement.
Montana is split into five regions: one small tutorial area, another small island where Joseph’s headquartered, and then three enormous sections led by Joseph’s lieutenants/”family.” John rules the farmlands to the west, Jacob the Whitehall Mountains to the north, and Faith the Henbane River to the east. Much like Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you can take on these regions in any order. Your only goal is to build up “Resistance Points” in each, which you do by attacking outposts, blowing up trucks, rescuing civilians, and doing more formalized story missions. Once you’ve got enough, you take the fight to the lieutenants and then, eventually, Joseph himself.
It’s a more free-form structure maybe, but the component parts are still standard Far Cry.
The story completely falls apart though. I mean, let’s just ignore the major plot holes, like the fact you have ready access to both planes and helicopters, are told that the nearest city is around two hours driving which means maybe 30 minutes flying, and yet instead of leaving to summon the National Guard you decide the better option is a small-scale guerrilla war.
Regardless, the open-ended structure leads to pacing issues, as well as a persistent feeling of deja vu. Far Cry 5 seems to have had trouble navigating the fact the player could learn any of its second act plot points in any order. As a result it’s constantly reiterating information you’ve already learned, doubling back on itself to make sure you’re keeping up with a story that’s really not all that complicated.
The overarching story of each region also hits the same few plot points. Far Cry 5 has a recurring bit where you’re captured and then somehow escape at the last minute—a conceit that’s hard to believe the first time it happens, and downright miraculous the seventh time. At some point, when you’ve killed hundreds upon hundreds of cultists singlehandedly, you have to wonder why one of them didn’t just put a bullet in your brain and have done with it instead of monologuing to you for minutes on end. There are also two different forms of mind control/hypnosis in this game, if you can believe it, each used for pretty much the same purpose but by a different lieutenant.
But more importantly, Far Cry 5 is the most tonally inconsistent in the series. One companion told me about a cultist who chopped the toes off parents and fed them to starving children. Another yelled “Skullfucked!” when I shot an enemy in the head. A third is a tamed mountain lion named Peaches. That pretty much summarizes the range of nonsense on display here. It vacillates wildly between ultra-serious morality tale and farce. There are multiple graphic torture scenes to endure, here. There’s also a mission called “Lord of the Wings,” where you guide your wingsuit through a canyon that’s on fire.
Which brings me back to my initial point: Far Cry 5’s been dragged into all sorts of discussions it clearly didn’t intend to fall afoul of, chief among them being its use of America as a setting in an era where real-world America is more politically divided than ever. Ubisoft’s explanation has so far amounted to (paraphrasing) “We’re not trying to make any sort of political statement.”
To throw a quote right back, though: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Far Cry 5 looks like real-world Montana, but it sure doesn’t feel like real-world Montana. It can’t. It isn’t an accurate representation of the current social landscape, because none of our modern worries are reflected. There’s no discussion of wealth inequality, barely a passing reference to gun control (and often only in the context of “Liberals trying to take our guns”).
And religion? Fascism? White supremacy? Police brutality? All neatly side-stepped—yes, in a game where you, a police officer, shoot and kill hundreds of eugenics-loving religious people.
That may not bother you, and if so, fine. Far Cry 5 is, as I said, a mechanically excellent Far Cry game. I largely enjoyed my time with it, in a mindless way. But it does raise questions of what responsibility developers have to real-world settings, if any. It also raises, as I said, questions about how long developers can get away with this “Our statement is that there’s no statement” mindset.
For my part, I’d rather a game try than not. From BioShock: Infinite toSpec Ops: The Line, there are plenty of games that don’t completely get their message across, but at least distinguish themselves in the attempt.
And I bet that version of Far Cry 5 existed, at some point—even if only in some writer’s imagination. Much as Ubisoft might maintain the American setting was completely innocent, I’ve no doubt someone at some point chose it because they wanted to say something important about our society, be it politics or religion or what-have-you. I weep for that version of Far Cry 5, before “business realities” got in the way, because I bet it would’ve been an interesting ride.
What remains is just your standard blockbuster fare, empty and ultimately forgettable. That’s a fine backdrop for traditional Far Cry shenanigans (and there are many) but it certainly doesn’t live up to its potential.