Release Date: January 24, 2017Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Action/Adventure
Wherever you go, there you are. That means that you can change your location, your friends, your clothes…if you’re still yourself underneath it all, then that is who you are.
I thought about that saying a lot when playing Far Cry 5. There was a part of me that hoped that the game’s much-hyped change of scenery would freshen up the Far Cry experience. Not fundamentally alter the Far Cry formula, mind you, but rather help reinvigorate the spark of the open-world Far Cry games.
Far Cry 5’s changes manage to do that in many ways, even if I sometimes found myself wondering if the game could have been something more.
Unlike most of the other Far Cry titles, Far Cry 5 doesn’t take place in a jungle or some other “exotic” location. It takes place in the fictional area of Hope County, Montana. There, a radical preacher named Joseph Seed has formed the ever-growing Eden’s Gate cult. You are a sheriff’s deputy who has been tasked with helping the U.S. Marshals arrest Seed. As you might imagine, that doesn’t go according to plan, and you soon find yourself assisting a small rebellion that is trying to take back the area from Eden’s Gate.
Much has been made of the game’s setting and its assumed commentary on post-Trump America (which is really just another way of saying when certain political mentalities that had previously existed in America were thrust into the national spotlight). Prior to the game’s release, Ubisoft remained somewhat non-committal on the subject of the game’s social commentary. It was clearly influenced by recent events, but the developers have stated that it has more to do with larger statements regarding the dangers of ideology and group think mentality.
For the most part, that statement holds true. There are much more overt references to current political events scattered throughout the game – including a mission that includes a not-so-subtle reference to an alleged Donald Trump sex tape – but such references are usually reserved for winks, nods, and a bit of subtext. Instead, the bulk of the game’s commentary focuses on larger sociopolitical ideas that so happen to take this particular form in this particular time and place.
The main issue with Far Cry 5‘s plot is that the game offers very few ways for the player to experience the story as a cohesive narrative. The structure of the game’s open-world means that the main plot is largely delivered in blocks separated by gameplay diversions. Those scattered moments of plot progression really ramp up as you begin to turn the tide against Eden’s Gate via open-world events, but the quality of the initial setup does leave you wishing there were a more direct path embedded in the game for those who want to see the end of this story.
Even the story itself is a bit undercooked. It feels like the writers tried to implement a degree of moral ambiguity into the proceedings – previous Far Cry villains and stories have benefited from that approach – but the close-to-home nature of this particular setup makes it incredibly difficult to implement such arguments without a deft creative hand. Due to the seeming absence of that creative control, the game veers wildly between presenting good and evil as indisputable definitives and trying to make more complex arguments regarding the imprisonment of ideology.
From a pure storytelling standpoint, that leads to some stop and go moments of pacing that rely on the much more compelling mini-stories spread throughout. From a moral standpoint…well, it feels like Far Cry 5 wants to be more of an examination of how such groups are formed than an outright condemnation of them, but its struggles to convey that idea will no doubt be the source of some debates regarding the story’s intent.
However, the game’s rural America setting does deliver in terms of environment. Granted, wandering around large swaths of Hope County doesn’t feel that much different from wandering the jungle in previous Far Cry games, but the world of Far Cry 5 is populated with many more instances of environmental storytelling than we’ve seen in Far Cry games of the past. You’ll stumble upon cult victims that died trying to hold each other’s hands, televisions that blare the same tired rhetoric, and citizens who don’t seem to be directly involved in either side of the conflict and just kind of exist in this world. When the game does implement pieces of twisted Americana into the wilderness, it does so in welcome ways.
The biggest change this new setting brings, though, is an excuse for the Far Cry development team to make some much-needed – albeit not always major – changes to the Far Cry formula. On paper, the biggest of these changes is the new Gun for Hire system. This mechanic allows you to recruit various people and animals you rescue and meet along the way who have a score to settle with Eden’s Gate. While some offer little more than an extra gun, others are equipped with unique abilities that you can level up over time. For instance, you’ll eventually meet a pilot who can perform fly-bys and bombing runs.
This system works incredibly well. While some of the guns for hire are enjoyable on a purely character level – like Cheeseburger the Bear, a show bear who has been fed cheeseburgers by Eden’s Gate captives – others are great because of the way they complement whatever particular playstyle you choose to utilize. We’ve seen a version of this system before in Far Cry 2, but this is a far more realized version of that concept.
While Guns for Hire steals the show in terms of major new features, it’s not the most welcome change. That honor belongs to Far Cry 5’s absence of “open-world Ubisoft towers.” Yes, you no longer have to find towers spread throughout the world in order to expand a region and find new objectives. There are a few radio towers here and there, but you can explore most of the game’s world from the start and most new objectives are given to you via pieces of lore you encounter along the way.
Speaking of objectives, they’re a little more fulfilling than they have been in the past. Most are the same (raid strongholds, collect some items, skin animals, etc.), but they’re tweaked in little ways that help address some of the lingering annoyances of these tasks. For instance, perks are tied to the completion of certain in-game challenges (many of which feel like old-school achievements) rather than a few basic activities, like skinning animals. Actually, even skinning animals is better than it’s ever been, thanks to the implementation of a new store system that allows you to sell skins and your other scrap for cash that can be used to purchase weapons and other useful items.
This all helps Far Cry 5’s world feel much more alive and organic than it has in the past. Finding new recruits, discovering just how this region was taken over by the cult, and participating in large-scale raids on Eden’s Gate strongholds with your band of allies is what Far Cry 5 does best. This is without a doubt the richest open-world setting that the Far Cry team has crafted since Far Cry 3.
The problem is that you will reach a point when you realize that you’re still playing what is fundamentally an open-world Far Cry game. For fans of that concept, this won’t be a problem. It also helps that the shooting mechanics, perk system, stronghold raids, and other familiar Far Cry tropes are the best that they’ve ever been. Still, if you’re someone who feels nothing but fatigue towards the open-world experience, Far Cry 5 will wear on your patience at some point.
Even that crowd may be won over by Far Cry 5’s co-op and Arcade modes, though. Cooperative Far Cry play has always been a blast, but this time around, the entire campaign is available in co-op. It feels like the preferred way to experience the game – especially if you fear you’ll get burnt out on the core gameplay – but it is by no means a necessity for enjoyment.
Arcade mode is even better. While we’ll ultimately have to wait and see what the community does with this Forge-like map maker mode before rendering a final verdict on it, this in-game creation suite feels like something that will greatly expand the game’s lifespan. Arcade’s level creation tools are already overwhelmingly rich, and Ubisoft has promised to expand on the mode’s options in the months to come. Even now, though, the pre-loaded Arcade creations offer enough value for anyone who manages to finish Far Cry 5’s sizeable campaign.
Wherever you go, there you are is a truism. That’s a statement that is almost universally considered to be true but doesn’t necessarily add anything substantial or new to an existing conversation. By the end of my time with Far Cry 5, I feel that the complaints regarding the series’ unwillingness to change are themselves a kind of truism. They’re hard to argue against, but at the end of the day, you know what you’re getting from a modern Far Cry game, and Far Cry 5 does enough to liven up that experience for those who are already seeking it to make it worthwhile. Even those who aren’t interested in another Far Cry game might just want to file this one under “rental” or “wait for a sale” because of the ways it manages to improve what has always been a solid piece of game design.