Played on: PlayStation 4 (Standard)
What we played:
- Finished campaign, clocking in 45 hours of content
- Pursued dozens of sidequests, and liberated almost all the outposts
- Logged in several matches/sessions of Far Cry Arcade
Live Free And Cry Far
As the fifth installment – or seventh, depending on whether or not you count Far Cry Primal and Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon – in the venerable Far Cry series, Far Cry 5 labors under the shadow of past successes and failures. And in many ways, it succeeds and fails on all fronts. While it never manages to satisfy the thirst for narrative depth that it so heavily promised in its marketing, Far Cry 5 still provides an open world that is ultimately the most satisfying that Ubisoft has delivered to date.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Far Cry 5 casts players as a rookie deputy sheriff, referred to in-game as "Deputy" or "Rook," as he or she accompanies a joint task force in charge of arresting Joseph Seed, a preacher with a growing congregation in Hope County, Montana, on charges of kidnapping with intent to harm. Seed is no ordinary pastor corrupted by vice, but rather a self-styled prophet whose rhetoric focuses on end times.
Seed is compelling, and clearly intended to be an inheritor to past Far Cry villains like the indelibly unhinged Vaas Montenegro of Far Cry 3. But before you can really get to know what makes him tick, your time with him is cut short. The pastor's flock turns rabid and brings down your task force, and from there Seed and his family – John, Jacob and Faith – remain a mostly background presence for the rest of the game.
For thirty or so hours, you'll blow stuff up all across Hope County in the name of liberating it from the clutches of the Eden's Gate cult, a group that resembles fanatical terrorists more than it does an actual cult. That's because for all the literary gestures that Far Cry 5 makes towards apocalyptic salvation, the rhetoric of eschatology, and the downfall of modern civilization, providing people to shoot at takes precedence over strong thematic storytelling.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Far Cry 5 is far from the only game to commit the sin of taking stuff r-r-r-ripped from today's headlines and using them as window dressing for its gun-toting fantasies. It does, however, feel like a wasted opportunity, especially when you consider how much research and expertise Ubisoft Montreal supposedly drew upon to create Far Cry 5, particularly by tapping consultants to help create a "cult bible" upon which to model Eden's Gate.
But Far Cry 5 willfully ignores the reality (and research) behind its premise, even as it gives cursory nods at them. Something could be said about the culture of gun-toting survivalists that proliferates through America's heartland, but in Far Cry 5 they're just notches to check on your quest tracker, while the Eden's Gate cultists are nothing more than sociopath lambs for the slaughter.
That's a shame as there are many instances in which Far Cry 5 touches briefly on the sinister encroachment of Eden's Gate upon Hope County. "That's all they do around here. Show up at your door and take whatever the hell they want," says Nick Rye, who feels the pride and ownership many Americans feel about their life in the heartland. But what he has to say about Eden's Gate could very well reflect the animosity some feel towards an overreaching federal government.
Far Cry 5's writing suggests a concern over the anxieties of nuclear armageddon and the rise of militant patriotism, but it has designed Hope County to be a kettle of apolitical gameplay props waiting to be stirred by the player. Rather than develop our understanding of cult behavior, it dehumanizes cultists and treat them as brainwashed, insane or drugged zealots. So despite the compelling hook for its conflicts, Far Cry 5 suffers for its feckless stabs at topicality.
NO COUNTY FOR OLD MEN
As far as video game open worlds go, Hope County might very well be one of the better ones Ubisoft has created so far. The Montreal studio has papered over design conceits in past games that had grown from tolerable to stale to eye-roll-inducing. Instead of climbing towers to uncover quadrants filled with icons of stuff to do, Far Cry 5 rewards a player's exploratory impulses by letting them find the fun wherever they go.
Everything you do is rewarded in Far Cry 5, not just by loot and experience, but by the organic flow of one activity to another. Stop to rescue a citizen being forcefully baptized by the river and you might get information on a nearby stash of goods. Liberate an outpost and you'll likely encounter a character who supplies you with side missions. And most importantly, every piece of cult property you destroy and cult VIP you assassinate will advance your resistance meter.
Some fans might be dismayed by the simplification of progress. This is most keenly felt in the minimization of crafting subsystems. Skinning animals is no longer needed to expand your ammo capacity. Regenerative health means medkits are only used in an emergency. A new perk system replaces skill trees, so instead of descending down a chain of skills to be unlocked in linear progress, you're rewarded with perk points whenever you strike challenges off a list. Rescue civilians? Here's some perk points. Get kills with throwing knives? More perk points. Headshots? Some more perk points.
All of this works towards letting players advance their skills and progress in the campaign by doing what they want to do. Their only campaign responsibilities are to liberate Hope County's three major regions, defeat their lieutenants, and then march up to Joseph Seed himself. So while Far Cry 5 sticks with series tradition by making Hope County more like a demilitarized zone than an idyllic countryside, it smooths out many of the bumps of tedium and drudgery that typify past Ubisoft games. The result is a game that's satisfying to explore and a blast to play.
BURN THE LAND, BOIL THE SEA
Far Cry 5 is at its best when you're enjoying the open world, but at its worst when you have to engage with its hackneyed narrative. When the game's campaign whisks you away from whatever you're doing, it's a bummer as you have to endure long monologues from Joseph Seed and family. That's not helped by your avatar's role as a silent protagonist with no opportunity to respond to their mad ramblings. I couldn't help but roll my eyes every time the writing dared to sermon me on my capacity for violence in a game that only lets you speak through firearms.
But as a first person action game, Far Cry 5 lets you express yourself in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's crazy, like when you're driving down the road and every five seconds a truck full of cultists drive by and start shooting. Or it gets absurd, like when you rescue a civilian and he gets attacked by a cougar. It's the kind of unscripted, emergent insanity that typifies open worlds, cranked up to eleven. But that's just par for the course for a game that lets you crash a plane into an enemy outpost or march into combat with a bear and a cougar for squad-mates.
8 / 10
- Hope County is a gorgeous heartland sandbox to explore
- Refinements to Far Cry formula are more than welcome
- Lots of stuff to do, and ways to do it.
- Emergent chaos can sometimes get a little ridiculous
- Compelling story premise undone by tepid writing
[This review is based on a PS4 review copy provided by Ubisoft.]