Far Cry games have long followed an established formula: throw the player into a distinct setting, include a charismatic antagonist, and populate the area with lots of fun activities to do. This has served the series well so far, with previous the games having been set in the South Pacific, South Asia and even during the Mesolithic Age. With the latest instalment, however, Far Cry 5 promises to shake things up by being the first game in a Western setting, specifically the United States. Despite inconsistencies in tone, occasionally dumb AI, and repetitive missions, Far Cry 5 still manages to succeed where it matters most: being a fun video game.
Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, Far Cry 5 puts players in the shoes of an unnamed, mute protagonist who must go against Eden’s Gate, a religious doomsday cult. The game’s main villain, charismatic cult leader Joseph Seed, is a nationalistic fascist who believes that the end of humanity is here. “Look at who’s in charge” he bellows. And frankly, when you look at the headlines and the state of American politics, it’s not hard to ask the same questions. Despite this promising premise, though, Joseph Seed doesn’t rise to the heights of the series’ previous villains. His dialogue, while menacing and awash with off-colour Christian cult cliches, often falls flat and does not evoke the same feelings of dread that previous villains did. The same goes for Joseph’s three lieutenants: Jacob, John and Faith Seed, all of whom are in charge of different regions of Hope County, and all of whom are pretty generic and forgettable.
The world of Hope County is a beautiful place to visit. Each of the game’s three regions are unlocked from the start and feel geographically diverse. One area features a snaking river which cuts across the landscape while another is based in a mountainous region (perfect for base jumping and getting owned by grizzly bears). It’s an incredible looking game, and the enhanced lighting, in particular, adds to the immersion and brings the Montanan wilderness to life.
A special mention also goes to the sound design in Far Cry 5, which is the best in the series to date. The chirp of the birds, the roar of the black bears, and the other audio foley never fails to draw you into the world. The in-game radio stations also play an eclectic mix of music, including Americana, bluegrass and creepy cult choral tunes. I especially enjoyed listening to the blues station – mowing down cultists while listening to Mary Wells’ “My Guy” is one of my favourite moments in gaming. I just wish there was a way to listen to this incredible soundtrack outside of a vehicle.
While Hope County may not be as exotic a locale as Far Cry 4’s Kyrat, it’s nevertheless full of fun things to do (and cultists to take down). After all, it is a Ubisoft game – and this heritage comes through strongly in the level design. In between dismantling the cult, players can go hunting and fishing, off-road racing, rescue hostages, and complete missions for various NPCs. These side missions are by and large a lot of fun to play, though I also can’t help but take issue with how they fit into the larger picture. There is just something really off about some of them, especially when you do them after completing the pretty heavy and dark story missions. Gathering ingredients for a testicle festival or recovering a fancy 18-wheeler after you’ve mowed down an army of cultists highlights these tonal inconsistencies.
Some of the side missions are also repetitive – blowing up cult vehicles for the twentieth time can get boring. This isn’t surprising, of course, but surely Ubisoft was capable of coming up with ideas a little more in-line with the sombre nature of the campaign. Another minor gripe I have with the game is the sometimes brain-dead AI. In more than one instance I noticed enemies freeze in the middle of a gunfight. The game also lacks the AI of some modern shooters, especially when it comes to group tactics. However, in spite of this, the game still shines where it counts most: gunplay. In Far Cry 5, you’re able to form a squad with human/animal companions called specialists. This introduces another intricate layer of squad tactics and makes mounting assaults on the many cult outposts incredibly fun.
Stumble across a lumber mill that has been taken over by the cult? Too easy – I’ll scope out the area with my binoculars, tag enemies, get Grace (the sniper) to provide cover from higher ground while Nick (the dude that flys the bi-plane) provides air support. I’ll then throw in a remote explosive and clip off the nearest enemy while triggering the explosive. Then it’s go time. Planning these assaults is both rewarding and satisfying and never gets old. It almost reminds me of the Rainbow Six games (another Ubisoft franchise) because you can issue squad commands.
If you’d prefer to experience the game with another human being, Far Cry 5 has an improved offering compared to previous instalments. For the first time, you can now play through the campaign with a friend, and this can be a lot of fun – but there’s a catch. There are a few minor compromises such as only the host player being able to initiate missions or control the AI specialists, but this isn’t a big issue. What is disappointing, however, is that if you’re a guest, you can’t take back any mission-specific progress, and this may defeat the entire purpose for some players.
The more significant addition to Far Cry 5 is the Arcade mode, which is a custom map editor where you can build and share maps of your own or play those uploaded by others. Given the inconsistent tone created by some of the side missions during the campaign, these bite-sized experiences seem to fit very well within this sort framework. The tools on offer are robust, and the assets provided by Ubisoft are very generous – especially the inclusion of assets from other franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs. Like all user-generated content, there are bound the be duds in the mix, so the quality is not always consistent. However, from what I played, I see a lot of potential in Arcade, and it’s clear Ubisoft plans to keep supporting it, so I’m interested to see how is going to develop in the months ahead.
Far Cry 5 is by no means a perfect game. There are inconsistencies in its tone, the villains are forgettable compared to those in the series’ previous entries, and some of the mission design can be repetitive in nature. The co-op also comes with disappointing compromises. Ultimately, though, these shortcomings are made easier to bear in light of the game’s excellent gunplay, well-designed world, and stellar presentation. Planning and mounting the many assaults in the game never gets old, and the moment-to-moment gameplay is exhilarating and always makes you want to come back for more. This is what great games are all about, and what makes Far Cry 5 so easy to recommend.