Review: Far Cry 5

Ubisoft are at it again, as they bring one of the year’s first AAA titles, Far Cry 5, to consoles and PC. On the back of the successful Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft seemingly want to inject their newest project with the same games-as-a-service model whilst also refining core gameplay and streamlining it for the masses. Overlaid with a pernicious right-wing agenda, can Far Cry 5 make America great again?

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal / Toronto
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: Available Now

Set in fictional Montana ‘valley’ of Hope County, Far Cry 5 does little to diverge from previous titles except to allow full cooperative gameplay from start to end for 4 players. Arguably a return to form from the more outlandish Far Cry Primal, the game sees players take on the role of a generic deputy sent in to arrest and remove Joseph Seed, leader of a far-right cult and sovereign citizen movement sweeping the state.

There is a precedent for the allegory that is the story of Far Cry 5: based loosely around the prepper and survivalist movement as well as a long history in America of citizens claiming their own sovereignty over the state, based on outdated “common law” and missing amendments to the US Constitution. These movements continue to this day, mostly to boycott tax laws and invoke exemptions. Far Cry 5 then drenches this in the blood of the righteous, adding misquoted bible scripture and a religiously zealous cult mentality that frames the narrative.

Joseph Seed, as the Father, has divided the land up among his children, the apostatised John, Jacob, and Faith; the Heralds of Eden’s Gate. This is a departure from previous Far Cry titles in that the narrative diverges tonally in each of the three regions and adds some depth to what is otherwise a rather shallow outcry of anti-establishment ideas.

Revelation 20:4 – I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Him and because of the word of God

Far Cry 5 presents as an extremist, shocking and macabre look at the extreme end of the spectrum. The religious overtones are an extra layer intended to offend and yet neither goes deep enough to really explore the consequences of their actions, the reasons they are doing it and the government’s role in it all. There is a fine line between survivalists, preppers and sovereign citizens and Far Cry 5 muddies the waters, not drawing distinctions lumping them all under the label ‘cult’ and the acronym PEGGIES (Project at Edens Gate)

If anything, as you overtake outposts and farms, it becomes the story of the preppers and gentle, farm-loving survivalists versus a cult that is pushing a drug called “bliss” for the sake of making them even crazier. The Jarred Leto-inspired Joseph Seed can be heard far and wide across radio bands and on TV, with his family, falling into similar archetypal roles. John Seed is blatantly based on expunging a prosperity gospel message of YES in the vein of Joel Ostene whilst Faith is nothing more than an angelic ‘bliss’ed-out drug pusher.

Gameplay, such as it is, involves a rinse and repeat formula of main quests and side missions in a sprawling map, open from the start that can take up to an hour to traverse.  Using a combination of trucks, cars, boats and even planes and helicopters, players must team up with AI companions to wipe the Seed off the map, restoring America to its rightful owners. On the side, players can partake in fishing and hunting in a dynamic day/night environment with some of the widest variety of animals to hunt since Red Dead Redemption. Everything from moose to turkey, skunk, honey badger and even eagle is on the menu with a wide selection of fish to try and catch or use as bait.

With this in mind, Far Cry 5 is obstinately a game of two halves that don’t always gel. On the one hand, it is simply calming and enjoyable and almost relaxing to go hunting with your AI companion, slowly traversing the winding mountains and rivers, picking off game or taking time out to fish. All too often though, this is interrupted by obnoxious and arcade balls-to-the-wall shooting and explosions, firefights that devolve into screaming matches of PEGGIES and at least one vehicle being blown up.

It’s a testament to the balancing act on offer here that the good guys and characters who offer missions are just, so disgustingly gung-ho American solving problems by shooting first and asking questions later. If that doesn’t work, blow them all to hell and let God sort them out. The macabre baptism tortures and ritual crucifixions give way to such memorable moments as the ‘The Testy Festy’ and there is a gleeful joy in screaming around the countryside listening to 80’s glam rock to deliver a pregnant woman to the hospital while animals stampede across the road on fire and planes crash all around you.

This segues into two of the strongest points of Far Cry 5, the visuals and the soundtrack. Ubisoft use a refined Dunia 2.0 engine and compared to even Far Cry 4, the world is stunningly beautiful with well-realised regions across mountains for Jacob, rivers for Faith and valleys for John. There is a sense of a living breathing community of native wildlife: carrion peck at roadkill, bears attack trucks and it’s the incidental moments of accidentally coming across something like a moose and stag fighting or hitting your first deer with the front of a flatbed that stand out. And the hills, the hills are alive with the sound of music.

The soundtrack to Far Cry 5 is an unexpected surprise and on point to offset some of the more serious story beats. Ubisoft have done well to license a variety of mid-western and older tracks including a number of 80’s pop & rock numbers like ‘Barracuda’, then switching it up for Creedance Clearwater’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’. Through it, all is a selection of world music and appropriate gospel and Christian songs and music, some remixed and others blatantly bastardised that add to the sheer absurdity of it all. Moment to moment, including the menus, are gentler and calming country tunes that are immediately refreshing and Ubisoft have done something wonderful in using their sound design dynamically and within the game.

Beyond just the indoctrination across the radio waves, most camps are pumping out the good, faith-based and Christian music that can be heard a mile away. It just typifies what one would expect from a cult in the woods but also to certain extent masks any noise coming from within the camps, or talking from the enemies.

Despite this, Far Cry 5 is, well, a far cry from a perfect game and if it wasn’t for the graphics, music and amount of content, it would suffer from being a very generic shooter, that doesn’t support stealth very well and relies on AI for all the heavy lifting.

Being able to recruit half a dozen unique characters in the game to work with you and control, including Cheeseburger the bear and Peaches the cougar is neat, but it means that more often or not encounters are OP. It is way too easy to sit back and use a scope or binoculars to direct non-player characters to pick off enemies from a distance without doing anything yourself. Maybe on harder difficulties, it is different, and rather than straight stealth, there is an implied strategy in placing players to then execute a perfect attack maneuver, but all too often, it becomes a bullet storm of gunfire and explosions with little variety.

These issues were prevalent in last year’s Assassin’s Creed title, as well and as Ubisoft’s penchant for creating stripped back and generalist titles for the masses, something has to give. There are redundancies built in or left over from previous games too: why get the perk for lock-picking at all when I have the familiar blowtorch that than crack any safe and repair vehicles?

Not once in the game have I used animal bait or fish as bait to hunt, animal skins are now only good for the money and nothing else, and despite all the animals, there are bizarrely no horses to ride or animals to ride, period! The plethora of skins and clothing options for your unnamed deputy are also mute as the only one seeing it are other players in coop or when you die, which you will do a lot.

2017’s Wolfenstein title was a linear bore of corridor shooting that quickly ran out of steam, and unfortunately, the core story points in Far Cry 5 are not much better. Whilst crucial to the story and interesting from a plot perspective, they generally involve being removed from the world to stand trial in bunkers and corridors underground, running forward to cleanse the unworthy in scenes straight out of the more absurdist and bizarre Far Cry: Blood Dragon game.

Framerate drops to zero, pop in, stuttering and a persistent need to ‘always be online’ plague the game and glitches such as sticking the game in persistent night time are rife on forums. Compared to other titles, Far Cry 5 is a slim beast, boasting a more dynamic world but at the cost of any depth in gameplay and intelligent storytelling.

Far Cry Arcade

Far Cry 5 Arcade is a portal, not unlike Bethesda’s mod shop for Fallout and Skyrim, that encourages and allows players to build, rate and play their own maps, earn money and XP for the primary story. Currently, this is yet another unexpected surprise from Ubisoft that is making waves in certain corners of the Internet.

It is always good when developers reward player creativity as well as provide tools for players to deconstruct and build their own maps, and combining assets from Rainbow 6: Siege, Assassin’s Creed as well a previous Far Cry games does just that.

There is integration through the main map of Hope County; in fact, everywhere has hot spots for the Arcade and most things are usable and link back into the Arcade features, including perks, weapons, and clothes. At times it may seem that the main Far Cry 5 is a glorified tech demo for the customisable Arcade mode, except that the 8-bit menu graphics and 80’s retro arcade styling are at odds with the main game.

Visually stunning open-world sandbox and soundtrack
Ability to make, share and create your own maps and game modes
AI companions are a neat tactical alternative
Action is arcady and sometimes boring
Frame-rate issues, bugs and glitches and load times
Satire is on the nose to the point of offense

Far Cry 5 has a lot of potential. More so that previous titles, it aims to be the definitive Far Cry, creating a seamless world and a wealth of additional content over the coming months.

It manages to provide both a cooperative 4 player experience that is nothing but fun, as well as a community for modders which is more than anyone asked for. The game has room to support further expansions and story and it would be nice for Ubisoft to put down roots for once in Far Cry rather than shifting the tone so widely game to game.

The story is pretentious, taking pot shots at everything from Donald Trump to gun laws without ever becoming racist or dealing with broader issues like Native American land rights in “Big Sky” country. Ubisoft have seemingly done it again, creating the most playable, accessible and ubiquitous version of the sandbox arcade shooter which may not be the greatest game in America, but it comes close.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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