“What a legacy, what a legacy, well the Red Brigade’s the only ones that made any sense anyway.”
I don’t know how I feel about Ubisoft. On the one hand, I can’t deny that I actually enjoy their games – I had an absolute blast with AC: Origins (or maybe it’s just that I like the Ancient Egyptian aesthetic), and I’ve enjoyed most of the AC games. I’ve also really enjoyed almost all of the Far Cry series; except for FC 2 and Primal. But there’s an undeniable element of familiarity with these games. Within the first 10 minutes or so I know pretty much how the game is going to play out. I settle into a repetitive sequence of events designed to progress the plot until I exhaust the story missions and are left instead with the open world expanse of side missions I didn’t bother to complete.
So I don’t know how I feel about these games anymore – as Jim Sterling put it, they’re almost the junk food of the gaming world. They’re nice and filling, and you have no real complaints, but they have little real substance to them. I think that Ubisoft’s presentation with their games is top notch, and they’ve gotten very, very good at making these games – but they’re all starting to feel the same.
Far Cry 5 is no real exception. The story revolves around Project Eden’s Gate (PEG) – a sort of doomsday-prepper pseudo-Christian cult organised by Joseph Seed, taking place in Hope County, Montana. You play as a nameless rookie US Martial, either male or female, who goes to arrest Joseph Seed, the cult’s leader. Seed has ‘foreseen’ this intrusion to their compound and believes it to be the beginning of the end times. This somehow triggers the Peggys (the game’s name for the cultists, from ‘PEG’) to launch an all-out assault on Hope County, killing or converting the population, amassing an army’s worth of weapons, aircraft, and other vehicles, and pumping a hallucinogenic drug called Bliss anywhere they can pump it.
The premise is that you go around killing off the three Seed ‘siblings’ – each one controlling a third of Hope County. This is done by completing story missions and side missions, rescuing civilians, liberating outposts, blowing up cult assets, and generally making their existence difficult. It’s basically like any other Far Cry game you’ve ever played. Along the way you’ll wield all sorts of weapons, from assault rifles to sniper rifles and the series’ perennial favourite: a bow. You can drive cars, sail boats, fly planes and helicopters, and have companions (including some animal friends) join you.
Graphically, Far Cry 5 is gorgeous. I’ve been playing it on the Xbox One X and it targets 4k native (2160p) with a dynamic resolution to keep the FPS around 30. It also supports HDR. With that said, it looks fantastic. The Montana scenery looks great, from the farm fields to the forests. Character models are generally well animated, lighting looks fairly good (though the shadow draw distance is a little low), and the colours on a HDR display pop nicely. I didn’t notice any obvious major frame rate drops on the XBX, nor did I really notice dynamic resolution scaling artefacts. The entire experience is smooth (well, as smooth as 30 FPS gets) and looks awesome.
The voice acting is fairly good too – although the material they have isn’t fantastic. Far Cry 5’s story has been criticised for being ‘not much of anything’ but to be fair, it’s a Far Cry game. It’s just a vehicle for the open world antics. But even so, the plot does seem a little bit… tame. I don’t think the story is bad – it does its job – but it’s not exactly poignant or anything. More on that later, but for now, I don’t think the story is particularly awful or detracts from the gameplay.
Speaking of which, the gameplay is solid, if familiar. If you’ve played any of the previous games after FC2, you know exactly what to expect. Liberating outposts is more or less the same as it has been since FC 3 – disable the alarms (or not), kill everybody in the base, and then loot the place. Unlike the previous games though there’s no tedious ‘radio tower climb’ mechanic to unlock parts of the map. The shooting feels meaty and mostly handles well – with the exception of aiming, which I found was a bit fiddly on consoles, namely because there’s only one look sensitivity for all controls, and the default crosshair position is fairly low.
There’s plenty to do – there are loads of story missions and side missions to uncover, but there’s also lots to do in the environment. There are shrines and silos and things to blow up, there are captives to free, there are stashes to uncover and look, and general mischief to get up to. There’s no real shortage of activities to perform, although they are a little repetitive, because it’s just variations on what we’ve had for the past few games.
The companions are a welcome addition – it’s sort of a rehash of FC2 except they aren’t totally useless. Companions can be in the form of generic hired guns, or specific characters with specific skills. Some are expert marksmen or stealthy attackers, others provide air support. There are even animal companions, including a dog, a bear, and a cougar, should you not want to take a human along. If you are killed in combat, there’s an opportunity for them to come and revive you (yes, even the animals – I guess the power of love or something brings you back).
There’s also Far Cry: Arcade, a game mode that lets you create your own levels and play from a vast library of user-created maps. This mode is actually fairly important for getting Perk Points, which are used to unlock abilities much like the previous games. Perks are awarded for completing specific tasks (like getting 10 handgun kills, or whatever), and they’re fairly easy to earn in the Arcade just by playing maps, so there’s little reason not to check it out. Whether or not any decent content ever gets created is another story.
All in all, the game is just fun to play, and that’s ultimately what matters. Yeah, it feels the same as the previous games, but it’s still an enjoyable game to play. It’s fun sneaking up on outposts, figuring out a plan of attack, and then having to change it because someone you didn’t spot has snuck up on you. It’s fun setting up a bombing run on an unsuspecting convoy making its way along a major highway. The missions are well scripted and fun to play. That’s ultimately what I want out of a game like this – to have fun, and FC5 manages that nicely.
Finally, the microtransactions are actually unobtrusive. Yes, the game wants you to buy ‘silver bars’, but it’s not necessary. Silver bars can be found from every liberated outpost, and you can easily make money in-game if you’re happy to do a little bit of grinding. You can make money through looting corpses, doing missions, finding cash in the game world, or by hunting and fishing. Yeah, you can fish in the game! Grab a fishing pole, head to a spot, and start reeling in fish! It’s not very hard to make money by selling fish, skins, and maps found in the game world. I never really felt compelled to buy silver bars or felt like I was missing out – so it’s a far cry (geddit?!) from something like Battlefront 2 or WB’s abortion Shadow of War.
Let’s address the story. Joseph Seed comes across like an amalgamation of Jim Jones and David Koresh. He has Jones’ doomsday salvation societal collapse fears, with Koresh’s arms-race prepper mentality. While the cult clearly has Christian influences (Biblical quotes, references to the ‘seals’ being broken, referencing the 7 deadly sins) Ubisoft are careful never to identify them as Christian. Clearly the developers want Joseph Seed to come across as an enigmatic, charismatic cult leader, while also being that special kind of insane zealot we all fear. But he never really reaches that level; he’s just this cult leader who wears yellow tinted sunglasses all the time, spouts a few generic religious lines, and isn’t particularly interesting. He isn’t a bad character per se, he’s just not particularly compelling. I don’t really care to know his motivations (which seem to be a generic ‘nuclear war consumes us all’ sort of thing for much of the game). He’s just too easy to disagree with and to hate. They make attempts to make the cult look sympathetic (“We’re just trying to save you!”) but they blatantly aren’t – it’s like trying to make Nazis look sympathetic.
Lots of people criticise it within the context of today’s society – with vague references to Trump, the issue of gun control in the US, the ‘rise’ of the ‘religious right’ (if such a thing is even really occurring), heightening world tensions with the DPRK and Russia, global warming, and some sort of odd Cold War-era fear that we’re only minutes away from pressing the button. But this all rings somewhat hollow, for two reasons. Firstly, that ‘fear’ that there are ‘parallels’ between FC5’s absurd cult story and our current reality are manufactured – they’re simply people wanting to live a Cold War fantasy to fit their political biases where no such threat exists. We don’t stand on the precipice of nuclear annihilation, no matter what CNN would have you believe. Similarly, the idea that any of FC5’s events could really happen is foolish – you need only look at the Branch Davidians or Jonestown to see the inevitable outcomes of this kind of madness.
If FC5’s story has nothing to say, it’s because there’s no real-world parallel for it to explore within the context of its story. Or alternatively, they’re playing it safe politically by simply sidestepping these issues, namely by making the story as superficial as possible. There are too many people to piss off if they went a little deeper, because it’d start to turn into sick parody or hysteria rather than social or political commentary. There are clearly attempts to link it to the current political climate in the US, but it all falls flat and kind of doesn’t make any real sense. And I think the story kind of suffers a little for it – in trying to allude to real events but also distancing itself, the story lacks a bit of an emotional hook. It’s a facade, a curtain backdrop that fails closer inspection. It’s hard to really care when it looks absurd. If you wanted biting social commentary you were playing the wrong game anyway (and most games do this so poorly that I’d rather they didn’t try: something like Papers, Please gets it right but nothing else really does), but things just feel sort of shallow all around as a result.
Outside of that, the gameplay isn’t perfect either. There’s an abundance of really annoying events that just make getting from Point A to Point B frustrating. For example, I had to go on a mission that was about 1.5km away in-game distance – I had no closer fast travel point. At first, I got into a car, and started to drive along – but I ran into loads of Cultists driving trucks, checkpoints, random encounters, and endured a hail of bullets for my troubles. It got pretty fatiguing, and while you can outrun them fairly easily, if you happen to get trapped it’s not hard to get overwhelmed when more random patrols keep showing up. I ended up getting stuck and was killed by a swarm of cultists. Respawned back where I started.
So next I decided to try flying a helicopter. Initially I got there fine, but the nearest fast travel point also happened to have Cultists guarding it, who promptly called for backup. Cue helicopter support along with another car load of cultists, and once again I was killed. Respawn 1.5km away. For my third attempt I once again flew close to the point, but this time I bailed a little distance out to take a more stealthy approach… before a random Cultists aircraft started to strafe me, and yet another random car patrolling the roads found me. Respawn 1.5km away again!
This kind of random bullshit gets real old, real fast. The game wants you to organically explore its world by not using fast travel, but you’re routinely penalised for trying to do so by running into loads of random encounters and patrolling aircraft – and if there isn’t a heavy machine gun nearby, or you aren’t packing an RPG, you’re effectively defenceless. I started to get real frustrated when I was only trying to get to a mission and didn’t want to deal with all of this extra shit.
Also the aiming always feels a little off – the default sensitivity is a little on the slippery side, and yet the in-game slider is set very low. Lowering it too much makes turning too sluggish. This slider affects all aiming – there’s no separate slider for aiming down the sights, or for flying. The default crosshair position is also low – though unlike many games that do this shit, you can change it. I found that putting it back in the centred position made auto-aiming a bit more reliable (maybe because I’m conditioned by having centred crosshairs), but I’ve never found a sensitivity that I liked.
Far Cry 5 is a fun game. Is it a masterpiece? Hell no. Is it biting socio-political commentary? No – but I don’t think it needs to be. It’s just a straight up fun open world shooter. It feels familiar, because Ubisoft have basically gotten a Call of Duty-style production line down pat (except the end result is much more entertaining), but it’s still a really fun evolution of the Far Cry formula. At no point did I think “I don’t like this” or “I’m bored with this.”
There are some issues. The random encounters, especially involving aircraft, are annoying at best and intolerable at worst. The story plays it safe, but it plays it a bit too safe, and it’s hard to find its portrayal of a doomsday sect compelling. It references the real world but steers clear of direct comparisons at the same time. It feels a bit flat in that department – though it’s easy to ignore.
All in all, it’s worth picking up, especially if you’re a fan of the series.