Far Cry 5 has been making waves in the world of video game writing since it was announced at last year's E3. Instead of being set in a fictional approximation of a random third-world country, Far Cry 5 takes place on American soil in Montana. The plot this time around looks to hit fans a lot closer to home, and instead of dealing with a single madman's antics, you've got to face down a whole cult.
Hope County, Montana needs a savior, and you're the only one that fits the bill. As an unnamed deputy sheriff (everyone just calls you "Rook" because you're the rookie cop on the squad) you'll have to liberate Hope County from the clutches of Joseph Seed's Project at Eden's Gate cult. So, most of you who read this are likely dying to find out about the political content. Does Far Cry 5 make a scathing critique of "Trump's America" and the alt-right, or does it criticize the left?
Far Cry 5 Review: More Like "Lukewarm Takes"
Both sides of the political spectrum are likely frothing at the mouth over the opportunities for "hot takes" Far Cry 5 presents, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of them, regardless of whether there's anything substantive there to comment on. My take away from it is that any political commentary the game makes is absolutely skin deep, and the only message here is "cults are bad."
Joseph Seed and troupe don't really fit on the US's political spectrum, mostly because for all the bickering people here still talk about their problems for the most part. Instead, the Project at Eden's Gate is like a larger, more violent but less sexually abusive version of the Branch Davidians, with Joseph Seed playing the role of David Koresh.
The Project at Eden's Gate is your typical doomsday cult, but instead of doing a Waco, Joseph and his siblings Jacob, John, and Faith have decided to turn Hope Valley into their own personal little fiefdom. Anyone who doesn't willingly join the cult is either murdered or forcibly converted through torture or drugs (or both). Joseph thinks he has been chosen by God to protect his "children" and lead them to Eden's Gate so that humanity can return to the Garden of Eden.
Far Cry 5 Review: Open Range
Unfortunately, as intriguing as the background for Far Cry 5 is, the way its narrative structure is set up means much of it is wasted by weird pacing. All open-world games to a certain extent have issues with inspiring a feeling of urgency, and the more open a game is, the more you'll find the main story taking a back seat to exploration, side quests, and collectibles.
Far Cry 5, for better or worse, is the most open game in the series. After a brief tutorial section at the start, the entire game world is unlocked for you. Previous Far Cry games have usually had a "northern" and "southern" section, with one of them blocked until later in the game, but not this one.
Hope County is split into three sections, each of them controlled by one of the Seed siblings. John Seed controls Holland Valley; Faith Seed uses the swamps and springs of the Henbane River region to grow the flowers needed to produce her mind-controller BLISS drug; and last, but not least, are the Whitetail Mountains, which are controlled by Jacob Seed and used as a training and staging ground for the Eden's Gate armed forces.
You can take on these three regions in any order or even move between them at will. This is where the narrative issues come into play though. Each region has a "Resistance Meter" you have to fill to progress in your attempt to take down one of the siblings. Almost everything you do fills the Resistance Meter a little. Rescuing civilians, taking down large cult outposts, or assisting locals in their story or side missions will all add little chunks to the meter. Once it hits a milestone, you can take on a unique story mission concerning that region's Seed sibling. Each of these milestone missions builds a narrative that concludes in a showdown with the sibling and the "liberation" of an area.
Far Cry 5 Review: The Illusion of Depth
The problem with this kind of story progression though is how uneven the tone of the game becomes. With no way of knowing how you're going to play through the Far Cry 5, you'll rarely find any callbacks to game events outside of whatever region they took place in. Even when you've just crawled out of the swamps at the beginning of the game, everyone treats you like a hero, and the only permanency that exists in the game comes from taking down the Seed siblings.Even when they're gone though, regions stay mostly the same. The Eden's Gate cultists still roam around doing whatever, and the locals will still offer their questlines like nothing happened.
There also seems to be some subtext for a, "are we as bad as the cultists," subtext to the story (by "seems to be" I mean that some random NPCs basically ask this question to the air when I walk past them). If the writing was any more subtle, or if the cult wasn't so completely insane and evil there might be some fruit to that train of thought, but the obvious answer to that question is, "absolutely not."
The cultists kidnap, torture, mutilate, brainwash, and murder people with impunity and the fight against them is entirely justified. However, the game continues down this train of thought by having the Seed siblings defending their actions to you and exposing the unfortunate events that happened to them in the past. I won't ruin it for you, but nothing that happened to them gives any justification for the cult's actions or what they've done in Hope County.
I'm not sure if the writers were trying to get you to sympathize with the Seeds with their little monologues or just trying to show how delusional they are, but I just didn't care. The Seeds are portrayed as too brutal and megalomaniacal to take seriously, and it ended up making the work that went into their personalities and backstories meaningless. A better tack would be to make the whole crew more "benevolent dictator" and confront the player with a situation in which the Seeds might very well be right or actually trying to do the best for their fellow man. Instead, they're so clear cut evil that their motivation is irrelevant, and it's undeniable they're wrong.
The uneven feeling extends throughout the various aspects of the game. I was never sure whether I was supposed to be horrified by what was going on or giggling, or what. Here are some examples of just how jarring the game's tone is:
- I entered a dwelling where the cult has apparently killed a whole household execution style, and my AI-controlled Gun for Hire in a helicopter overhead would start chattering about how she likes to watch her younger boyfriend do the downward-facing dog position in yoga.
- I found someone who was tortured for days and displaying the signs of PTSD and then was completely fine just one cutscene later.
- I watched someone hit with a molotov cocktail violently burn to death, before then being asked to fetch some bull testicles so everyone could have Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Far Cry 5 sets itself up to be somewhat of a pseudo-horror game with some of the creepy, violent, sinister stuff the cult does but then injects out of place awkward humor. It's like one team made the main plot with the Seed family and the cult and they were told to make a horror game, and another group did the dialog for the ordinary citizens and sidekicks and were told the game was a comedy.
Far Cry 5 Review: On the Side
Luckily, the gameplay is pretty fun. There's a ton of cars, boats, helicopters, and airplanes to operate, and Hope Country is varied enough geographically to keep boredom from slipping in. There are plenty of side activities to do as well. I enjoyed fishing and hunting for "Prepper's Stashes," which are caches of items that usually involve solving a small physical puzzle to access.
One thing I ran into was that there was sometimes too much going on. I might be trying to rescue a civillian I found in a van while heading to a Prepper's Stash when suddenly cultists and Resistance members begin descending onto my position and fighting each other. After we win the firefight, the person I rescued tells me about a cult outpost, and I forget all about what I was doing in the first place.
Like the plot though, I wish that the side activities too were more interconnected. Instead it all feels like a bunch of tiny distractions. Even side missions and some story missions just feel completely detached from the rest of the game. They tend to depend too heavily on "go here and kill this" as well instead of being comprised of unique gameplay experiences.
Far Cry 5 Review: Gunimpressive
You don't get a vast arsenal to choose from in the first place. The guns are split among a few categories like Pistols, SMGs, Rifles, Sniper Rifles, and Special Weapons. Unfortunately, there's only a few to choose from in each class, not counting the prestige weapons that are just unique versions of the base weapons in the game. Ghost Recon Wildlands had a great weapons system and an excellent selection of guns and attachments, and I wish this game were comparable.
The choice of firearms represented in this game is also somewhat strange. This is rural Montana, so you would expect a lot of hunting rifles and shotguns. However, for some reason, the most common gun in Hope County is some fictional variant of an AR-15 type rifle called the AR-C that fires in single, burst, and full-auto. How everyone in Hope County got ahold of a modern, full-auto assault rifle is beyond me. Apparently, Montana gun laws are relatively lax, but I'm pretty sure the importation of thousands of fully-automatic rifles would raise some flags somewhere.
The guns you think would be more common, bolt-action .308 rifles, .22s, .38s, and so on are rare or non-existent. Instead, you get Uzis, Tech 9s, .50 anti-material rifles, and other guns that are rare in civilian hands. Ubisoft could have used the Montana setting to add a ton of guns we don't usually see in games, and shy away from the guns-blazing, full-auto rampages we typically see in FPS games, but instead the arsenal is pretty equivalent to what we've seen in previous Far Cry games.
The gunplay itself in Far Cry 5 is OK most of the time. It suffers from the same syndrome that many FPS games do in that most (if not all) of its firearms feel incredibly anemic. Both when it comes to hunting animals (one of the side activities and a way to get skins to sell) and fighting cultists, most pistols, the SMGs, and lower caliber rifles feel like you're just shooting puffs of air. More powerful guns like the .50 snipers rifles and the .44 Magnum also feel incredibly underpowered.
Not only do the guns not feel powerful in the sound and effect of firing, but they also end up doing much, much less damage than they would in real life. As Far Cry 5 goes on and you face higher ranking cultists, they just become bullet sponges, which takes a lot of the fun out of the game. There's nothing less immersive than shooting a cougar in the head with a .308 rifle five times and watch it run away.
Far Cry 5 Review: Pointless Microtransactions
There are microtransactions in Far Cry 5, though I'm not sure why. You can purchase silver bars for real money, or find small amounts in safes scattered throughout Hope County. You can use these silver bars to buy prestige clothing, weapons, and vehicles. I'm not sure why you'd want to though. You can also buy all these things for the in-game currency, and being that, for the most part, they're just variants of regular items, they're not even that useful.
I suppose microtransactions could give you a boost early in the game, but that's mainly just taking the fun away from yourself since Far Cry 5 is so single-player/co-op campaign-centric. The whole silver bar system feels very much like an afterthought and I really never thought about it during my entire time through the game. In fact, I never spent the silver bars I found during the course of Far Cry 5 because none of the gaudy prestige items interested me at all.
Far Cry 5 Review: Better With Friends
The drop-in multiplayer co-op in Far Cry 5 has been a highly touted feature, and it works well. If there's one thing Ubisoft has in the bag, it's that they've got some of the best working drop-in multiplayer in the industry. It's easy to invite a friend to your game, and once there you can both play as usual. You do have to stick pretty closely together, with the host player being the anchor for the player who joins. Roam too far as second banana, and you'll respawn right back next to the host. However, other than that limitation, you're free to drive, fly, or shoot just as if you were playing the game single-player.
Co-op is one place where the game's mission structure is a boon. Being able to hit the game in small bites instead of long story bits makes it a lot more convenient for multiplayer. Far Cry 5 lends itself well to being played in quick 20-30 minute chunks, with the mission structure providing plenty of good stopping points. It makes for good co-op, and if you're someone that doesn't have a ton of time all at once to complete a game, you may appreciate it.
Far Cry 5 Review: Infinite Replayability?
Far Cry 5 Arcade is a mode that lets you play user-created maps in solo, co-op, or multiplayer capacities. This game ships with a robust map editor on all platforms that includes assets from Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal, Far Cry 5, Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed Unity, and Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag. Theoretically, this gives the game unlimited replay value, though the maps present are far smaller than a full-fledged campaign.
Since the game hasn't been released yet, there's not much available to play yet, but the sample maps did give a taste of what's possible with the editor. One of the single-player/co-op maps I played was a recreation of a Waterworld atoll (with the possible loadouts referencing The Mariner and The Deacon) with the mission of clearing out enemies. Another simulated a prison break, and I had to fight my way out of the jail to freedom.
The PvP multiplayer maps left a bit more to be desired, and I don't feel like Far Cry 5 is very well geared to deathmatch-style gameplay. However, it really comes down to what the community does with the editor on whether Far Cry 5 Arcade will be good or not. It's kind of a gamble on whether to buy the game based on this feature. On the one hand, if a lot of people pick it up and start making cool maps, it might be a game you don't put down for months. However, if people just ignore the editor, you might find yourself just playing the single-player campaign without much of a glance at Far Cry 5 Arcade. Given that map editors are so rare on console games though, Ubisoft gets some kudos for bringing that option to PS4 and Xbox One.
Far Cry 5 Review: It's Another Far Cry Game
This game was all over the place regarding quality. There are some things I really like about Far Cry 5, and others I just think are awful. If the story had been told in a more linear, coherent way I think it would have been much better. This game almost gives you too much freedom to the detriment of cohesive gameplay design. Each thing you do has so little effect on the rest of the game world that it feels futile. The only bonus from this is that it facilitates co-op gameplay well.
Part of what made me disappointed in this game was that I bought into the hype train. I thought that the Seeds were going to be a lot more interesting than they really were, and I expected a story that had a unique spin. If you liked the other Far Cry games, you'll like this one, because it's more of the same. Some of the series conventions have been taken away (like having to climb towers, thank God), or improved, but it's still very much a Far Cry game.
This review is based on a PS4 digital code provided by the publisher.