Belonging. Far Cry 5 asserts that it’s the one thing we all equally crave. Our baser instincts push us to satisfy our bodily needs at almost any price. Yet, it’s our hearts, minds, and souls that drive us to seek belonging. Whether it’s as part of a community, a country, or a cult, finding it can often be troublesome. What is easy for some may be difficult for others.
Our society may be largely post-industrial, but many of towns and villages across the world are not. Just as whole industries were sold off and relocated, entire communities crumbled into disrepair. Generations have grown up and lived in the shadow of inescapable and inexcusable poverty. The very infrastructure of modern life was stripped away from them once they failed to yield a profit.
Sowing the Seed of Armageddon
America has also seen vast swathes of its population systematically vilified and denigrated in the wake of “shifts in market forces.” One such community is Hope County, the fictional area of Montana in which Far Cry 5 takes place. Its farms are struggling, its industry all but abandoned. The local population has fallen prone to crime, violence, and substance abuse. Just as in many real American communities, the system is utterly broken and no one left knows how to fix it. It is a community in crisis and despair; a situation that makes it ripe for exploitation.
Step forward the Seed family: a cunning group of manipulative idealogues who threatened, coerced, and murdered their way to power all in the name of salvation. Your character barely has time to take off their training wheels before they’re sent out to help arrest Joseph Seed. Seed is the founder and leader of a cult that views him and his siblings as the only ones capable of helping mankind survive the coming apocalypse.
It’s a simple mission that immediately goes awry. It sets into motion a chain of events that forces the player to wage their own personal war against the cult and its legions of alarmingly well-equipped soldiers. Along the way you encounter various NPCs who can be called into combat at any time, each with their own associated perks and bonuses to make combat more efficient and fun. There are twelve main companions to unlock via set-piece side missions, each complementing different play styles from dedicated stealth to the kind of all-out approach that would make even Michael Bay think there was one explosion too many.
Ultimately, players progress to the point where they’re ready to destroy the cult and liberate Hope County from its clutches. Taken at face value the plot is no more interesting or engaging than that of any other action game or movie ever made: kill bad guys and save the day.
Far Cry 5 pushes that basic structure further through themes of governmental responsibility, corporate excess, religious fundamentalism, domestic terrorism, and the failure of the American Dream. However, it’s never heavy-handed with them unless it absolutely needs to be. If you take a closer look at those motifs and expand their in-game setting to a broader real world context, then this game has significantly more depth.
Far Cry 5 has been lambasted for not being as critical as some gaming media outlets would have liked. It does little in the way of dismissing Christian fundamentalists, gun culture, and the kind of reckless Republicanism responsible for the election of Donald Trump. Such criticism of the game drastically fails to understand that Far Cry 5 is about something far more powerful. It’s about the wholesale abandonment of entire groups of people who have been deemed surplus to requirements, and the extraordinary lengths they’ll go to in order to find reasons to wake up in the morning.
Some might find it absurd to think that willingly becoming a member of a militantly strict organization could ever be appealing. Yet, the absence of any real meaning can severely impact a person’s life. No education, no job, no family, no future and no possibility of that ever changing. Their salvation would take the form of anyone or anything promising to make you feel like you belong and that you matter.
Lead writer Drew Holmes has gone to great efforts to make sure that the story doesn’t launch unwarranted broadsides against anyone. Rather than take the easy route of playing towards the stereotypes of impoverished simpletons, every character, villains included, has their own reason for behaving the way they do. Far Cry 5 wants us to examine the nature of our own reality and dare to think, if only for a moment, that maybe some worlds deserve to end.
Into the Wild Green Yonder
The open-world action experience that Ubisoft has cultivated over the last few years is on triumphant display in Far Cry 5. Gunplay is both slick and satisfying, with unobtrusive controls enabling rapid access to a wide range of firearms at any given time. Returning Far Cry fans will find a familiar arsenal, while new players have plenty of opportunities to get a feel for their weapons.
The progression system has been replaced with a series of challenges that reward perk points for reaching in-game milestones. These come from obtaining a set number of long range or weapon-specific kills. While an understandable progression system (due to extra modes added), this renders the game somewhat lacking. The upgrade and skill system of the previous titles felt far more satisfying and meaningful because you actively pursued them. The new method has the same end results as the old: your character grows in power. It doesn’t detract from combat or exploration, but this change should have added to the older systems rather than replaced them.
That aside, Far Cry 5 has added some much needed refinement to the series. Instead of climbing high vistas to scout out new locations, players must actively explore the environment in order to find new things to do. Through small changes, the game has greatly enhanced the feel of traversing a new open world. Although the gameplay opportunities that come with new locations are fun, the core elements remain the same.
There’s an unquestionable sameness that permeates map locations and has plagued the series as a whole. Perhaps the overhaul Ubisoft have given the series this time around would have had more of an impact if it had been more total in scope. Regardless, this remains a quintessential Far Cry title that delivers on the expectations that have been established as the series has evolved.
Moving between various locations and objectives will likely have you embroiled in all manner of random, unscripted encounters that really do give the impression that you are in the middle of a small town civil war. The result is a constant drip-feed of combat. On the one hand, it means that you’ll never find yourself without a target to feel the scathing wrath of your incendiary shotgun rounds. On the other, however, it also means that things can get just a little bit ridiculous. Molotov cocktails, hordes of cultists, aggressive airplanes, and rabid bears and wolves can make for an interesting encounter, to say the least.
Getting from A to B in Far Cry 5 is a bit of a double-edged sword. The open-world combat means that the action is practically non-stop, and any individual play session will be filled with memorable moments. However, the developers could have dialed it down a notch when it comes to the encounter rate, as sometimes it’s hard to take a breather and enjoy the surroundings.
The environmental artists at Ubisoft have outdone themselves with their work on Far Cry 5. In my review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, I gushed about the astounding level of craftsmanship exhibited in the game’s world design. Whatever Kool-Aid those guys were drinking seems have been doing the rounds in the Far Cry offices. The pseudo-Polynesian/South East Asian paradise featured in Far Cry 3 and the secluded Himalayan country of Kyrat in Far Cry 4 were both equally breathtaking in their own right, but Hope County is presented in such a complete and aesthetically coherent manner that it makes my brain gasp just thinking about it.
The game world is divided into three distinct areas under the sway of one of the Seed children. There’s the craggy slopes and deep valleys of the Whitetail Mountains, the lush, rolling pastures of Holland Valley, and the twisted waterways and dense forests of the Henbane River. Each region is lovingly crafted, with great care spent on even the tiniest detail along with judicious use of ambient sound and lighting effects to create a tantalizingly realistic sense of place. The Dunia engine is being put to exceptional use here with some areas of the game world looking so close to realistic that I could practically smell the coffee and apple pie.
The art team was able to create their own vision of Montana with such uncanny accuracy because they spent two weeks there meticulously documenting the area’s wildlife and landscape, as well as getting to know a bit more about the history of its inhabitants. Such hard work and dedication obviously paid off as Far Cry 5 is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. There’s an effervescent luminosity to the world which means that even if the landscape of Hope County isn’t too-far removed from reality, it still has an other-worldly quality that makes it a captivating place to explore.
Far Cry 5: An All Encompassing Experience
This game should be played if for no other reason than to experience its achingly magnificent evocation of reality. If Far Cry 5 is the continuation of a new trend at Ubisoft then I’m optimistic about the company’s future. This game is an improvement over the previous installments in every way possible. Ubisoft seem to be taking much bolder, more confident strides with each new game they release.
Maybe it’s the harsh lessons they learned from the Assassin’s Creed: Unity era, or maybe it’s a new found commitment to the creation of quality titles rather than just by-the-numbers annual cash-ins. Whatever their new game plan is, I hope they stick with it. If they continue on the path they’ve chosen then I’ve no doubt they will go on to create many more “must play” titles just like Far Cry 5.
- Compelling narrative and varied cast
- Gorgeous environments
- Frantically fun gameplay
- Crammed full of meaning, if you know where to look
- Somewhat formulaic
- Less meaningful character progression
- Easily confused AI