Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Toronto
Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Review copy purchased
Far Cry is a franchise built on two very simple principles: freedom and mayhem. According to many, the series peaked at Far Cry 3 with each subsequent release either sticking too close to what made that game so great or going way too far back. The series has also always had its annoyances, including those dreaded radio towers that become emblematic for Ubisoft’s somewhat lazy approach to open-world design. Luckily for the jaded Far Cry fan, Far Cry 5 feels distant enough from everyone’s favourite with some added quality of life improvements to make things less of a chore. Sadly, it brings its own fair share of issues and quibbles, too.
Arguably the biggest change for Far Cry 5 comes in its setting. Rather than somewhere exotic, the action takes place in the US’ Hope County: a fictional county in Montana. Prior to release, it seemed as if Ubisoft might be capitalising on the cultural strife going on in the country by choosing primarily white, religious cultists as its antagonists. If you’re hoping for it to make a statement, Far Cry 5 never really cements its ideals or particularly makes the most of the fire lit under it by social media. Apart from a comment about “who is running the country”, it isn’t as anti-Trump as first thought and is largely apolitical, which may disappoint some. For me, Far Cry has always been about the spectacle over anything else so Ubisoft were smart to be a little wobbly on the ideals projected by the game.
Your introduction to this world is a sudden one, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has played a Far Cry game before. Playing as the sheriff’s deputy, you land at the church of Joseph Seed, the charismatic leader of the Eden’s Gate cult, as you attempt to arrest him alongside the police and a US Marshal. Obviously, that goes to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly as you’re separated from your associates and then saved by a prepper who was ready for exactly this kind of situation.
If you’ve played a Far Cry game before, you will notice the changes for Far Cry 5 pretty immediately. Previously, the map was obscured unless you climbed up a radio tower and uncovered it, which was fun for the first few times but completely tired by the fiftieth. Here, it’s just a case of running, driving, or flying your way around Hope County and discovering what it has to offer.
And what a fine selection of distractions Far Cry 5 has for you to gleefully take part in. I have been pretty vocal about Ubisoft’s bland approach to filling its open-worlds in the past, which is probably why they totally ignore my emails, but credit’s due here: Far Cry 5 is positively brimming with varied things to see and do with such little filler. What filler is present is infinitely more interesting than skinning animals for pouches, that’s for damn sure.
The conveyor belt of new missions never seems to let up and it isn’t just mindless repetitions of slightly different stuff to what you’ve done already, either. Refreshingly, new missions are granted by talking to people and just interacting with the world. The citizens of Hope County will inform you about all sorts of possibilities, including finding weapon stashes, unique animals to hunt, and even other NPCs to find who will give you deeper sidequests than almost anything seen in a Far Cry game before. Far Cry 5 is a game that rewards exploration in spades.
When you’ve had your fill of exploding cultists with dynamite, the game’s story offers the main attraction, but it offers total freedom in how you approach it. Rather than forcing you to sit through a bunch of set missions, Far Cry 5 leaves it up to you how you want to approach things. You can still complete mission A, B, C to get to Z and so on, but your Reputation Points (RP) ultimately dictate the flow of the game.
Far Cry 5 is split into three different zones, each belonging to a different lieutenant of Joseph Seed. The masochistic John Seed controls Holland Valley, which is probably the place most people will be drawn to. Henbane River is Faith Seed’s territory and is overstuffed with the hallucination trope that’s such a staple of Far Cry games thanks to the Bliss drug. Finally, Jacob Seed, who is probably the least interesting of the trio, has dominion over Whitetail Mountains.
The goal in each region is to cause enough conflict to eventually confront the lieutenants. The main missions are the quickest way to accomplish this, but you can also do many of the rebellious activities, such as freeing prisoners or liberating outposts. As things escalate, so too does the difficulty as the lieutenant throws more enemies and obstacles your way. Far Cry 5 seemingly scales to your proficiency, which can admittedly get pretty annoying. It gets to the point where you can’t even take up some angling with your dog without an attack helicopter trying to mess up your shit.
The game builds up these antagonists by having them interject themselves into your open-worlding. There are “checkpoints” in your reputation meter which will either see you get captured or drugged once reached for an audience with the lieutenant. There’s some surprisingly sharp and effective writing in Far Cry 5, so much so that I found myself questioning my thoughts often, which subtly shows just how negatively influential a cult can be.
The man who these lieutenants serve may well be the best antagonist Far Cry has offered so far. Yes, even more so than Vaas. The villain of Far Cry 3 is unforgettable, though his character lacks nuance — he’s a psychotic opportunist with a short fuse. That’s as complex as he gets. Joseph Seed, meanwhile, is a layered, deeply flawed man who honestly believes in his project. It helps that Greg Bryk, whose brief appearance in A History of Violence remains one of the most chilling on-screen performances I’ve ever seen, is utterly committed to the character.
Every time Joseph is on-screen, it’s magnetic. His eyes pierce through you as he patiently delivers his sermons with deliberate movements and mannerisms. It’s kind of easy to see how the citizens of Hope County fell under his spell. The game doesn’t paint him as out-and-out villain and even seems to promote empathy between he and the player. You have to wonder how much more effective it would have been if your character had any kind of personality, however.
As much as previous mainline Far Cry protagonists Jason and Ajay may rankle some people, at least they were both anchors for the story. Your character is nothing, a total blank state with no voice. They’re basically just a mannequin for things to happen to, which feels like the game’s biggest wasted opportunity. Sure, the player can personalise them a little, but with no option to retort to your enemies in cutscenes, there are more monologues than a one-man show of Othello. I’m not sure why Ubisoft did this, but it’s presumably to play it as safe as possible by letting the player pick their ethnicity and sex — you can just imagine the headlines otherwise.
To balance this, Far Cry 5 brings in the most eclectic bunch of friendlies seen in the franchise to date. After finding and doing a mission for them, you gain access to specialists to add to your squad. They range from the best boy in all of America to one of its most annoying, so you will find the pair to complement your playstyle. You can even swap them out on a whim to suit certain scenarios. If I wanted to be an utter nuisance, I would rock with the bear, Cheeseburger, and the cougar, Peaches, to cause the most amount of carnage among the cultists. I unofficially called the duo the Fang Gang. It’s brilliant, I know.
What’s not brilliant, though, is how wholly unreliable the friendly AI is. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to program Hurk and his irritating cousin to not use a rocket launcher and flamethrower, but apparently not — playing as both of them provides easy filler for a YouTube montage of fails for the game. The AI tends to wander off and not abide your very basic instructions and generally seem to work as much against as they do with. If you pair that with the overzealous enemy AI, you can expect some frustration from Far Cry 5 at points.
As with all Far Cry games, its fifth mainline entry comes with a progression system though probably not one you’re entirely familiar with. To unlock perks, you must accumulate points by completing challenges, objectives, or even just finding perk magazines scattered around the expanses of Hope County. There isn’t such a grind to get the good stuff this time with the wingsuit and parachute being available fairly early on, but it’s a shame to see the catalogue not expand to include exotic abilities. It’s centred around building upon the skills you already have rather than acquiring them. I didn’t see the point in unlocking half of them, even though I rapidly built up points to spend from exploring for a few hours.
Unlocking better equipment is where things get a little ugly. After the debacle surrounding the microtransactions in Shadow of War, a single-player game, it was strange to not see such an uproar when they were revealed for Far Cry 5. They’re nowhere near as invasive and don’t sour the experience quite as much here, though it’s hard to overlook where the game has scaled things to make them more appealing.
For the first half of the game, you will probably use only a small selection of Far Cry 5’s arsenal: the AR-C assault rifle, the AR-CL for unreliable sniping, and a bog standard pistol that’s so underwhelming that I can’t recall its name. You can visit vendors and purchase different weapons and you will have to if you want some variety; the game doesn’t really drop a big supply of new choices organically. Money is initially hard to come across, especially in the large quantities needed to purchase something shinier than what you already have it. Luckily for you, there’s the option to buy silver bars with real money and do you see where I am going with this?
Once my seventeen hours with Far Cry 5’s main hook were over, I enlisted the help of fellow Vulture Léon to try out the game’s much-publicised co-op, which, for the first time in the franchise’s history, lets players play through the entirety of the campaign. Cynically, though, only the host’s progress counts — anything your partner does is basically for nought. You’re going to have to find someone who’s already beaten the game or a very accepting person if you want to make the most of co-op.
That didn’t stop it from being a fun little distraction, of course. The voice chat on Léon’s end was bust, but we still managed to liberate some outposts, stroke some bears, and utterly embarrass ourselves all the time. I didn’t realise that he didn’t have a parachute so I was getting very confused when I would jump out of a plane and he would just end up dying. Co-op in Far Cry 5 is a lot of fun, if a little limited in appeal considering the lack of shared progression.
Ubisoft’s long-term hopes for Far Cry 5 rest on Far Cry Arcade: a cavalcade of different user-created maps and modes built from the game’s assets. As I have the creativity of Milli Vanilli, I didn’t delve into Arcade Editor all that much, though I did try out some of its early offerings. Just a few days after launch, it’s certainly showing a lot of promise.
I spent a couple of hours in Arcade by myself and also with Léon and only really scratched the surface of what had been made so far. Sure, there a couple of maps that were just stuffed in to hunt achievements, but the recreation of Counter-Strike’s infamous Dust map was the highlight. It looked eerily similar to the real thing, which signalled to me that some creators were either given assets before release or that it’s an incredibly powerful and simple tool. There’s no battle royale mode available yet, but give it time. Maybe a week.
As a relatively new PC gamer, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect “big” AAA game to test out on my rig. I have an okay setup -an i7 and 1060- and I encountered almost zero issues. Even when I had to enable Vsync because my mediocre monitor was causing increasingly aggressive screen tearing, the game ran at a minimum of 60fps with almost everything on ultra — I don’t need my shadows to be oil paintings, thank you.
There were some glitches, of course, but this is unfortunately to be expected in open-world games with a lot of moving pieces, especially when considering Far Cry 5’s adaptive AI. Nothing was at all game-breaking and more just funny, such as me taking someone down and driving them through the ground with only their head showing. I have a lot of fodder for a YouTube glitch compilation of my own, though it’s all harmless stuff and didn’t break my immersion apart from a few titters.
Far Cry 5 is a bizarre but mostly enjoyable beast. While it’s graciously streamlined some of the franchise’s most needless systems, it’s incorporated a couple that simply don’t work, or feel financially motivated. Adding to that, as interesting as the story and its characters are, Far Cry 5 doesn’t quite jump the shark towards its latter stages, but it certainly misses the ramp by mere inches.
When it’s at its best, Far Cry 5 shows glimmers of being the fullest, most enjoyable game in the franchise to date. The gunplay is as meaty and satisfying as it’s always been and the promotion of exploration has never been more keenly felt — anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Far Cry game will likely feel right at home here. It isn’t without its faults -some glaring, some admissible- but when you compile everything Far Cry 5 is and could become in the future with its Arcade, it’s a scintillating package.