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Game Reviews

‘Far Cry 5’: A Powerful Vision of an All-American Nightmare

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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.

Beyond Politics

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.

Polished Play

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.

Homeward Bound

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.


Pros:

  • Compelling narrative and varied cast
  • Gorgeous environments
  • Frantically fun gameplay
  • Crammed full of meaning, if you know where to look

Cons:

  • Somewhat formulaic
  • Less meaningful character progression
  • Easily confused AI

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ricky D Fernandes

    April 6, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    I’m pretty much new to the series. I played a bit of Far Cry 3 but never finished it. I have to say though, I’m loving this game. My favorite character has to be BOOMER!

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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