Far Cry 5 starts as the video game equivalent of a half-hearted heel turn in wrestling. Where it goes from there? Think faces. Many, many faces.
Remember when Ubisoft first figured out how to innovate? Around the time of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Far Cry 3? While Far Cry 5 is not - I repeat, not - a return to those days of yore, I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t reminders of said time hidden inside.
Look, your feelings on Ubisoft’s “pass the template” game design philosophy are your own and I’m not here to convince one way or the other. Back at the turn of the decade though, they were having their coming out party. Assassin’s Creed 2 was a fresh explosion of their most popular franchise that showcased innovation and heart. Far Cry 3, coming a few years later, stamped that franchise as a massive hit with megalomania blending well with the spreading insanity (teehee) of a tropical environment. This time period started Ubisoft’s every design trend and their never-ending quest to force them into every franchise.
Now a generation later, Far Cry 5 starts as the video game equivalent of a half-hearted heel turn in wrestling. You can feel that the game is making a change and is using a self-aware nudge to say “yeah, look, I’m totes different kids!”. It’s this meme in interactive form. Yves Guillemot might as well be nudging you for the first 10 hours of the game straight.
On one hand, this means that some of the tropes of the past are transformed. Radio towers and collectibles no longer litter the landscape. Yep, for real. You’ll instead keep most activities out of those worn-ass templates and inside of the reality of the world itself. Maps reveal locations around major landmarks while side activities come and go within a decently-sized area around you. A lot of those activities are mobile anyway so their locations automatically feel more organic as you locate them on the ground.
The Seed Family of religious fanatics are ingrained into every dirty deal you can think of in Far Cry 5’s Hope County setting. Drugs, kidnapping, “converting”, and other more mentally nefarious cult tactics litter the hills of this American backyard. Their infection being widespread and totalitarian in the beginning helps you feel more grounded and vulnerable because of those moving, changed objectives. You no longer have to tackle a base, then a convoy, then a main mission etc. Because every corner of this house is infected, you are given charge to clean the whole house instead of just three rooms.
That’s not to say that base clearing - the quintessential Far Cry activity - is any less prevalent. In fact, it feels more constrictive and lifeless in Far Cry 5 than ever before. With the world now singing a different, freer tune, you feel bottle-necked into taking down bases with bombardments of your choice. And no, I don’t actually believe that stealth is a viable option in this game at all. Enemies across bases can hear a guard being shot with an arrow or hit with a throwing knife, which wipes out the entire point of using them or silencers. Your only option for ingress is to take out the alarms and turn the safety of the weapon of your choice to off.
Options for murdering fanatics is still pretty high with airplanes and helicopters finally feeling like viable options, at least. There are even opportunities for dogfights over the wide fields and because of how smoothly the controls allow you to slip into the cockpit, I found them enjoyable if not fleeting experiences. Due to the size of this county, you can expect to flock to the air more times than cars, especially if you’re focusing across the entire county instead of one of the three main areas.
All of this mayhem is calculated in the unrest system in Far Cry 5. As you move through to free resisting forces or otherwise hurt the Seed practitioner of the area, points are added to the meter wherein you’ll gain more and more attention from said Seed. While appearing daunting on the surface, I assure you that the points gain fast, moving you into direct confrontations with those at the head of the table fairly quickly.
And boy, is that not a good thing for Far Cry 5. This is one of the most barren stories that the team behind this mainstream series has ever told because of one fatal flaw. As with most other Far Cry games, this is a character-driven story that moves ahead with the personalities of said characters. However, because of the nature of a religious cult with this much zeal, there is only one character type that every other character adapts to: The Father.
The Father, or Joseph Seed if you’re into Christian names, is given a terrific introduction that shows a horrifyingly precise focus upon a worldly cleansing. Everyone in his congregation shares that faith to a T, and recites the same words to a T, and feels the same to a lower-case t. His words might have converted thousands of followers and their repetition may have kept them in line for years, but as a player that sees the clear line of stereotypical religious cleansing, I tuned out the sameness after a very short time.
Then, you get to the canonical ending. Leaving the outline and details vague, the percussion with which it hits is not only original but wholly, welcomely low in tone. Again, from the perspective that all the characters are really parroting Joseph and he is, therefore, the main character, it makes for an amazing pair of bookends that this one character flourishes through. As a full story though, Far Cry 5 cannot recover from bloat and hilarity in the middle.
To pierce that bloat directly, Far Cry 5 suffers from having too many interactions inside of too few characters. Your main character is a mute rookie deputy, that reacts to absolutely nothing. That ingredient clashes with the only - absolute only! - way that you are told anything about any protagonist that matters - monologues - to create the sound of scraping metal in your ears.
That sound comes from the absolute halt of any intentions to had to be shot with a tranquilizer from nowhere and wake up tied to a chair. This happens anywhere from 3-6 times per region once you reach a certain unrest threshold with Jacob, John, and Faith supposedly becoming fed up with your interloping. It becomes instantly hilarious when you see a notification in the corner and pretend to have any chance to escape yet another moronic, mundane interlude with a Seed sibling. Alas, there is no escape.
I started with John’s territory in the valley, thinking that the interludes weren’t so bad as I plowed through. However, Faith and Jacob taught me otherwise with frustration to spare. Faith uses drugs to bring you in at least twice as many times as the other two and, again, to say and do in essence the exact same thing. Even the hilarity wore off with Faith, my self-made third act villain, because of how there weren’t even details to enjoy anymore. Ubisoft meant for players to just enjoy the characters while proceeding to make them seem unenjoyably similar.
If the box art has been accurate and far more lieutenants meant something in Far Cry 5, I could see this kind of thing working a little bit better. You just know the speeches before they happen, and each one dilutes whatever impact Joseph himself will have on you by time the credits roll. Far Cry 5 wastes its best card to some extent, which is a f*cking shame considering the card’s overall aim.
Gameplay isn’t exactly airtight and adaption to the game’s own changes never feels like it was a priority. Trucks and convoys will constantly be rolling with hidden booty or points inside, but you’re not given any real options to stop them. Not exclusive options, at least. Why not include some caltrops or an engine-buster weapon as a throwable? I can’t tell you how many times a truck kept on rolling through with the song of the Lord blaring because my LMG couldn’t make it stop after half a clip.
Hope County itself feels bland in and of itself. There are a fair amount of differences between the three main areas but the overwhelming colors are green and grey. Mountains and valleys differentiate more than the palette itself, and even those blend into homogeny far too soon. While I don’t question America as a great staging area for Far Cry 5’s environment, I do wish we crossed state lines to not only give the narrative more ground to play with but to offer up some differing vistas.
Somewhat sadly, Far Cry 5 just doesn’t go that far in breaking the mold at its own barriers. Some ideas found within are certified gold while others just feel older and older as time ticks away. More options in gameplay to match the other changes would’ve mitigated so many joint pains while the narrative needed more characters to make a full ensemble. That doesn’t sink the Hope County dream completely but I for one dream of a more heavenly gate to bring this franchise through one day.
Far Cry 5 Score: