After a long break, allowing for the renewed development periods of recent Ubisoft games, and the release of the placeholder Far Cry Primal, the fifth installment in the Far Cry series returns with an edgy story of fundamentalism in America.
Far Cry 5’s plot snakes its way through events following a ill fated joint operation between the the United States Marshals and County Sheriffs in the fictional Hope County Montana. They had sought to arrest a local cult leader called Joseph Seed or ‘The Father’. Straight away he strikes you as a typical Far Cry foe; part over talker, part Jared Leto, part unapologetically reminiscent of real world American cult leader David Koresh. Seed, and his family, has been implicated in several murders and in the building of a zealous militia in what is a very remote area of the American heartland. Seed’s family are in control of different territories within Hope County and taking them down represent the staged progress of the single player campaign. Using overtly religious and patriotic symbolism and rhetoric, Seed has overthrown local authorities and even has supporters in key government agencies. As a response, the authorities send in a helicopter to pick up Seed and put an end to the mayhem. Playing as a rookie junior deputy, it is plain to see that the US Marshal in charge has vastly underestimated the sheer number of hostiles on the ground. Approaching Seed’s compound, hundreds of Seed’s followers amass and circle. Following a tense arrest, in which Seed allows himself to be arrested as a test of God’s will, it all goes wrong. With most of the team killed or captured, you must make an escape through hostile territory.
Despite the setup, most of the immersion is lost in terms of the believability of the story. Firstly, the narrative does pull punches with dealing with the darker issues of nationalism and fundamentalism. Seed’s followers lack clear motivation other than a pseudo religious one. There is no suggestion of any racial element to the Seed uprising yet most of his supporters are white and much of the symbolism resembles white supremacists. Secondly, it is also hard to believe that Seed would achieve all that he does without a stronger US federal response in the way of the National Guard deployment or indeed a vigorous FBI response long before that would be needed. The game’s answer to this is that no one wants to believe such people exist or could take power. Alongside this, and probably the game’s only comment on the current government in America is that it would take a central government allowing it before someone like Seed could rise. Given the quality of the gameplay and sandbox destruction it is easier to pass over these let downs.
Gameplay wise, as with any Far Cry game, you begin lost and wounded in the wilderness facing a superior and entrenched enemy. By taking down their settlements, roadblocks or compounds you wrestle territory back region by region. Either by stealth or combat, you learn to survive and thrive. In doing so you unlock more and more support from locals, hero characters, guns and heavy weapons, and of course exotic trained animals. Gradually you are no longer alone and can command a ramble of sorts and can call upon an arsenal of unlocked heavy weaponry. The ‘buddy’ system of Far Cry 2, where you had one hero character to accompany you at all times, returns. These characters have deeper backstories and their abilities are unique to them. For instance one is a pilot who can provide air support while another is a sniper. Each has a small mission that you have to complete to unlock their services. One element that does let them down at times is some shocking moments of artificial unintelligence. The much advertised dog, Boomer, steals the show as the one buddy who can track enemies, take down guards using a bite attack, and bring back guns and money from fallen foes.
The gold standard gun based gameplay is very intense, visceral, and enjoyable, and has just enough challenge to make the game a test. Following Rainbow Six Siege, it is safe to say that Ubisoft has mastered top level gunplay. Animation and attention to detail is completely on point. If you don’t play first person shooters a lot this can be a tough learning curve as the enemies can be relentless. It is mostly over the top with fire and explosive effects turning the battlefield into an absolute mess that actually takes skill to navigate. When you are taking down a proper plane with a roof topped .50 cal, when most of the surrounding area is on fire, you know you are back in a Far Cry game. Visually the Far Cry games have always brought the heat and pushed the limitations of the hardware available at the time. This installment is no different with loads of gorgeous bloom effects as sunlight bursts through luscious treelines. No other game quite captures the true nature of the wild as well. While hunting or fishing deep in the forest, or wingsuiting your way down from the mountains, it is easy to forget all about Seed and the story. It is simply a breathtaking game to look at and it is very absorbing. Actually, hunting returns as a major gameplay feature as it has been in Ubisoft games for over a decade. Killing animals allows you to gain wealth as you can sell their hides as trophies. Fishing a minigame is a lot of fun and given the setting makes a lot of sense.
Far Cry 5 contains a very healthy multiplayer offering. Firstly the entire game can be played in cooperative mode with both players either local or online. The game also features an extensive map editor mode called Far Cry Arcade. Featuring content from a number of Ubisoft games, Arcade can be used to create and share content intended for all types of gameplay. Unlocks and rewards from Arcade can feed back into the main game and indeed it can be accessed directly from certain points in the campaign. Far Cry Arcade is an excellent addition but it is symbolic of a consistent criticism of the game. Throughout this review, I have referred much of the good points of Far Cry 5 to previous games in the series or indeed in other Ubisoft games. Arcade is basically a cut and paste machine that allows players to create their own formulaic Ubisoft experiences much like the games. If you enjoy the games, and appreciate the quality of the content, it is less of an issue, but it is one nonetheless.
Far Cry 5 is very good if not great. It is safe if not innovative. If you enjoy the Far Cry games, then 5 will not disappoint you. If you enjoy open world games or slick shooters then again it will not let you down. Only if you feel that they could have added more features or pushed the gameplay further will you find yourself feeling that they missed an opportunity.