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There’s a lot going on in Far Cry 5. From one area of the game where you’re constantly stoned to weaponised super wolves right up to the lead villain looking like 2015-era Conor McGregor Far Cry 5 is never boring. With that said it occasionally frustrates. In games like The Witcher 3 or even Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed: Origins the seeming random chaos of these games’ world feels organic. Humans and animals stay separate unless driven together by chance. In Far Cry 5 it’s not unusual to see a bear wander into a firefight and start swiping. It’s something that told me all I needed to know about the gameplay and the story.
Set in fictional Hope County, Montana Far Cry 5 sees you step into the boots of a Sherriff’s deputy known to everyone as Rook or Rookie. After an attempt to arrest doomsday cult leader Joseph Seed goes awry you’re left trying to form a resistance in order to save your friends and liberate Hope County from the Eden’s Gate cult. Aiding Joseph are his brothers Jacob; a former soldier and social Darwinist, John; a savvy lawyer turned sadistic media guru and Faith; an airy-fairy drug therapist. All three use different methods to swell the ranks of Eden’s Gate enormous militia from violence to torture to drug therapy.
That’s about as interesting as Far Cry 5’s story gets unfortunately. At a time when politics resembles a burning landfill, gun control is never off the agenda and distrust in governments is at an all time high it’s unfortunate to see Ubisoft do almost nothing with these concepts. America’s President is mentioned once or twice and even with Donald Trump as the current President it’s unclear who they’re referring to in the game. Saying that America’s leadership is corrupt and immoral is one thing but showing it reflected in the landscape and attitudes within the game is something Ubisoft does little of. There are no disused and abandoned factories or steel mills to allude to economic decline. Maybe setting the game in a rust belt state would have been a better idea?
Dissecting the relationship between the modern American and firearms is also something that should have been addressed more clearly. Characters occasionally mention their guns, with one in particular sticking out. Sharky is a pyromaniac whose delight in burning the cult’s slave labour force – the Angels – borders on the sadistic. Though brutal and psychotic at least it’s interesting. It would have been provocative to see more characters discuss how much they love shooting or blowing things up or even the exact opposite. Instead Sharky is the only one emblazoned in my memory. The rest just kind of fade away.
What doesn’t fade away is the sense of danger. You can’t drive, walk or fly fifty metres in Far Cry 5 without running into a truck full of cultists or a pack of wolves. This is exacerbated later on with the arrival of attack planes and helicopters. This sense of danger lends itself to the chaos of the game’s combat. Combat situations can be approached from any angle in Far Cry 5. I released one of the aforementioned super wolves and let him do the work for me. I burnt a drug farm down and got super blasted doing it (in the game obviously I’m an ethical games journalist). The most satisfying experience was when I picked off an entire outpost – outposts are probably the most fun in Far Cry 5 – using only a bow and arrow. Stealth, when done right, is incredibly satisfying whether it’s creeping around smacking cultists with a paddle or flicking throwing knives at them like a backwoods ninja.
Far Cry 5 is bursting with stuff to do. If you want to go fly fishing then fly fish away. If hunting bears is your thing then bring bait and a bow. [The rocket launcher is not a good hunting weapon as it turns out.] Unlocking the parachute and wingsuit is always fun especially when dumping a crashing helicopter or plane, though it feels less versatile than it did in Far Cry 3 and 4. Finding the doomsday prepper stashes are the most rewarding parts of Far Cry 5 mainly because they grant you perks and money but also because first person platforming can be quite difficult so reaching a stash always feels earned.
All of these activities give a real sense of how vast and detailed the physical spaces of Far Cry 5 are. Dense evergreen forests give way to rolling fields and craggy mountaintops. But it never feels empty. There’s always things to be found whether it’s a campfire singalong or an abandoned cottage with blood on the floor. Far Cry 5’s smallest stories are often its biggest mysteries. It’s a beautiful game complimented by some great music and it does real justice to the American heartland’s rustic charm even if the people aren’t all that memorable.
Like any video game there are things that work and things that don’t. The things that work do so beautifully and with brilliant fluidity. Other parts of the game, such as the strangely designed perk tree and the limiting number of weapon wheel selections make it feel at best sludgy or at worst unfair. Perhaps the game’s biggest misstep is in its story missions which often feel very rote and by the numbers compared to its frequent entertaining side missions and the liberating feeling of the outpost assault missions. Far Cry 5 is supposed to be an open world game but half of its story missions turn it into a fetch-and-grab corridor shooter.
Far Cry 5 is a mixed bag that when you plunge your hand will either reward you with a beautifully polished piece of game design or an arbitrary timed mission from a bygone era. It’s disappointing that its story doesn’t fulfil what all the trailers and press promised it to be. Instead of an edgy new open world shooter it’s a bland but beautiful one. But, by God when Far Cry 5 is fun it’s really God damn fun.