April 3, 2018 // 5 p.m.
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC, PS4 Pro
After finishing Far Cry 5's story mode, I sat at my desk for ten minutes in silence. I'm a big talker, and it takes a lot to get me to shut up for even a few seconds, but the end of Far Cry 5's narrative delivered a gut punch that took a little while to get past.
In the lead up to Far Cry 5's release, marketing and hype crashed together to try and sell the idea of a game where white nationalists were the bad guys — just like in real life! — and you as a sheriff's deputy fighting an evil doomsday cult of religious fundamentalists.
In terms of politics, Far Cry 5 misses the open goal that it set up for itself and is a cautionary tale against marketing your game as something it very clearly isn't. For example, ahead of time Far Cry 5 was pushed, quietly, as a game about pushing back against the "alt-right" which is very in vogue right now. However, the game just doesn't carry those themes. Its take on racism and white supremacy is toothless, while jokes about "Obama-loving libtards" are aimed at all sides of the political spectrum. Everyone is supposed to think this game is for them, politically, and while it doesn't make the game worse, the fence-sitting after all of the marketing bravado is a little annoying.
The game's narrative is also heavily padded, but dig through that and it offers a treatise on free will and the role of violence as a problem solver. It doesn't dig deep into the philosophy, focusing instead on the tonal whiplash when your attack bear mauls several cultists that were trying to torch the bodies of the innocents they've just dragged out of their homes and murdered, but that's always been Far Cry's way. Similarly, for all the cliched writing, there are moments of genuine pathos or hilarity. Far Cry 5 is a mixed bag but a fun one, even if you can't think anything too hard. For a cult, it's hard to see any actual charm in what they're doing, seeing as it mostly involves murdering and coercing everyone that doesn't join up with them.
Far Cry 5's relocation of the action to America makes it all feel much closer to home. While I haven't been to Montana, the familiarity of small-town America from pop culture makes the warfare tearing it apart more affecting. Far Cry 5 isn't a masterpiece, but it knows how to deliver a twist, and it works. Late in the game, I walk in on someone strapped to a chair — attached to a car battery — in a kids' swimming pool. A wet tea towel covers his face, all the better to conduct the electricity being used to torture him. The towel is one of the twee bullshit things you might pick up in a convenience store for a joke, emblazoned with the slogan 'We Make Quite a Pear''. Tonally, the whole game is up and down like this, the juxtaposition of a horrifying revelation that a man has killed his own child mixed with the hilarity that comes from a systems-driven open world like this.
As a shooter, Far Cry 5 is far more conventional and hews close to the the Ubisoft formula. There are some icons on a map, you go to them and do activities there to clean them up. The overall structure takes a lot from Ghost Recon Wildlands, with you able to fight the three Seed siblings in any order you like, dipping in and out of activities to destabilise the cult's activities in several regions, but this game is unmistakably Far Cry at its heart, a mix of shootouts, driving, outpost clearing, and hunting.
A lot of the crafting aspects of the game have been worn away, while the levelling structure has been reworked. You do have to climb a couple of towers in the game, but this is joked about when you climb the first tower on the game's prologue island, and after that you never have to climb another tower if you don't want to, as information is given to you by resistance fighters, or you can discover the spot when you see it in person.
In fact, you don't have to do a whole lot you don't want to in Far Cry 5. I did very few story missions, instead upsetting the Seed's plans by barrelling around bringing peace through superior firepower. Rescuing prisoners, blowing up valuable supplies, or taking out cult VIPs are all things you can do in addition to actual activities, while the game's returning outposts and side missions also give you significant boosts to the all-important meters that measure quite how much you've messed up the day of the Eden's Gate cult.
The game's weaponry is a little weak in many places. For example, you're given access to an Armalite assault rifle in the game's opening moments, but no other assault rifles offer the same all-around suitability, which is to the detriment of all the other interesting guns the game throws your way, like Winchesters or other single or semi-automatic rifles. The shooting is fine, and each weapon is a little unique, it's just that there are several that are godless killing machines. There's also very little reason not to silence everything you can, but that's because the game has made stealth the optimal approach. However, there are plenty of set-pieces in the game where you get to cut loose with heavy weapons, and those moments are particularly enjoyable.
If I could give players one piece of advice, it would be to never shy away from the the big guns. I took a couple of the outposts in the game with an attack helicopter, taking out the alarms with rockets so no reinforcements could be called. I don't know what hell on earth truly looks like, but I reckon cowering behind a concrete barrier as I buzzed past in one of those attack choppers is the closest you can get.
So, the main game is all well and good, and despite a few entries in the 'cons' category, it comes out very much in credit. It is an enjoyable game, it gets rid of a lot of the weird crafting that meant I had to skin a rare warthog to craft a bigger wallet, which is a welcome change, and the AI companions in the game - in a rare video game success - aren't even that annoying. There are nine companions in total, and while Grace and Jess — the sniper and bow stealth companions — were firm favourites, I spent a bit of time with each of them. When Cheeseburger the bear gets taken out after sustained gunfire, you can get him back to his feet by stroking his head. I'd recommend it.
But there's a whole chunk of the game that hasn't been touched here: Far Cry Arcade. Far Cry Arcade is a multiplayer mode, infinite content provider, and a map editor, and it's ace. Perks from the single-player campaign carry over here, but you also level up as a separate thing. After finishing the main game I spent a lot of time charging around exploring other players' creations, and while the map editor was a little involved for me, I explored a remake of famous Counter Strike level Dust_2 in addition to a variety of things no less impressive but much more imaginative. Far Cry Arcade could, with regular content drops and a bit of attention from Ubisoft, provide months of fun. As it stands, it's a lovely addition and rounds out an already strong package.
Here, you'll get to explore a lot of things that I sidestepped in the main game, as I was too busy skulking around with a bow and arrow. Want to finish a level taking everyone out by tossing a baseball bat at their head? It's ill-advised, but this is a place to do all the things you didn't get a chance to do in the campaign mode. Far Cry Arcade is made for the ill-advised moments.
Far Cry 5 doesn't do anything particularly new, but it's Ubisoft's open world formula polished to a high shine, and if you're looking for an open-world shooter, it's one of the best on the market right now, even if it plays it too safe in a lot of areas.