Arguably, Ubisoft are the kings of the open world genre. Sure, Rockstar have a stake in the game with the GTA series, but if there’s a publisher/developer that knows how to churn out massive explorable landscapes filled with collectables more than once every 5 years, it’s Ubisoft. We’re inundated with them: Ghost Recon, Assassin’s Creed, Steep, The Crew, The Division… it’s difficult to find a game by them that doesn’t spread itself across hundreds of virtual miles, and there’s now another one entering the fray. Not that it’s a newcomer, it’s Far Cry 5 for goodness sake, and it feels like it needs no introduction at all to anyone that’s played a story driven shooter in the last decade. So let’s just crack on.
Hope County, Montana, present day and you’re on route to arrest a local cult leader because he’s
a nutjob been up to no good. Head honcho Joseph Seed has been charged with kidnapping and the US Marshal’s have assigned the local police the task of assisting in the pick up. In the role of sheriff’s deputy, it’s your job to watch your superiors backs and help out with whatever needs doing, and of course things aren’t going to go smoothly – there’s no game in that. Antagonising the Eden’s Gate cult who are mightily heavily armed was not a smart move, and they rescue Joseph from captivity, seal off the county, cut the communication lines, snatch up your colleagues and leave you for dead. It’s here that Far Cry 5 starts and in all honesty it’s very familiar territory because the “lone hero in foreign environment” is what we’ve played several times before. The difference in this iteration is the fact it’s culturally familiar which lends a different slant to the proceedings, and loosens the rope that’s bound the hands of the mission designers, to some degree at least.
From the moment true control is handed over (and that’s not for some time into the game), and the obligatory tutorial island has been scoured and completed, the entire county is open for exploration. There’s nothing locked off behind story progression aside from the final boss encounter – it’s all there ready and ripe for the taking. Choices lie in the way of releasing the Seed family’s grip on each of the regions, or bumbling around seeing what kind of adventures are available in the area. More accurately, setting off in pursuit of the Seed’s is more than likely going to end up with a lot of sidetracking and playing with the various systems on offer. Ubisoft are excellent when it comes to putting something just off the beaten track that piques interest. Take Prepper Stashes for example: they contain upgrade points, resources, cash and usually weapons; each requires a small bit of environmental puzzle solving to access; it’s a couple of minutes diversion that generates a decent reward. Locals will give out the locations during conversation, and with the number available and how they’re scattered, it’s very easy to just wander off and forget about the reason for being in the county to begin with. Though, the game does a decent job of that by itself.
Structurally there are three regions in the control of three antagonists (two Seed brothers and an adopted Seed sister). Each has their own particular task, personality and reason for what they’re doing, and there’ll be a former colleague of yours to rescue too. Enter a very formulaic method of story progression. Do some missions, earn some XP (called RP here), get kidnapped, wake up face-to-face with the area boss who’s waxing lyrical about something, escape, repeat twice more, then final confrontation. The first time it’s encountered it’s quite novel – getting knocked out and waking up in a torture chair deep in an old missile bunker is distinctly unnerving. However, it’s repeated so often that it all becomes a chore. Nine times you’ll go through the same rigmarole, three for each of the family, and then you’ll face off in an uninspired and often painfully boring final fight… then you’ll have to rescue someone from a bunker and run out whilst it’s on fire. No matter how well rendered or acted the bad guys are, the scenarios here fall short of the standard expected of the series, and there’s not a memorable one of the clan amongst them. It’s a damn good job that the joy of the game lies in the earning of the RP then.
Wandering the wilderness of Montana and bumping into a weird and wonderful slew of NPCs is possibly the best part of the whole game. Each person has a unique feel and most have interesting side or story missions to complete. Whether it’s helping clear out old hunting lodges, wingsuit within a foot of the ground to pay homage to an all time stuntman great, build a teleporter, or collect bulls testicles for a fair I definitely have no interest in attending; each mission feels different from the rest. Rewards vary depending on what’s required but can go from cash and resources through to guns for hire, weapons or vehicles. This feels like the real progression of the character – building up a team of people to call in, have the arsenal available for any situation, and buy the skills to wreak havoc on the cult. Guns (and fangs) for hire is implemented well with a decent variety of companions that can drop in or drop out on request, and each coming with specific skills. If there aren’t any special characters available, there’s the frequent opportunity to recruit a standard militia-type local and have them risk life and limb. These are definitely worth having as they act as a second chance mechanism in combat if the odds move too much in Eden’s Gate’s favour, which they do in a lot of the situations.
One of the key defining features of Far Cry 5 (and the others in the series) is the emergent behaviour caused by the different systems in place. How the enemy AI reacts, what’s in the environment, the impact the weapons have alongside how they can be used, and when the wildlife start to make an appearance all combine to provide some truly funny and unrepeatable moments, but it feels like it’s dialled up considerably since the last game. The map is bigger and whilst there are a lot of activities they’re still spread out. Filling the gaps feels like just lots of patrolling Eden’s Gate members, all with the marksman skills of an Olympic shooter, the off road ability of a rally driver, and tenacity of a dog with a bone. When these unscripted enemies come it’s quite often game over and reload the last checkpoint if the higher difficulties are in play, and on the easier settings they’re just an annoyance. Getting prepped for a mission is usually stocking up ammo, getting a car that works and donning some body armour. Guaranteed that by the time you reach the mission start point you’ll have lost your body armour, used at least one medkit, and be scratching around for more ammo. I’m all for making the random chaos more frequent to keep the pace of the game lively, but given the interruptions from the story (because the kidnappings are exactly that) and amount of side missions and activities to take part it, it seems a little unbalanced. Compare the off the cuff shootouts with scripted ones and there’s a distinct difference too, quite clearly the cult have sent their best men out to the shops instead of defending the numerous outposts in each region.
On the plus side though, running away from yet another confrontation with two men in a truck usually means heading into some gorgeous countryside teaming with detail and traversal options. At no point does the land feel restricted and even the borders are reset points rather than invisible walls. This is a truly lovely part of the world, and one that’s welcoming and warm with plenty of the population roaming the lands despite the Eden’s Gate takeover. With more of an emphasis on talking to the denizens of Hope County, it’s then a strange decision to go with a silent protagonist in contrast with the last couple of games. Jason Brody and Ajay Ghale might not have been the best conversationalists, but at least they had a voice. There’s rarely even a grunt or groan from the “everyman/no one” you’re inhabiting for the 30 odd hour campaign available in Far Cry 5. It’s not a deal breaker, though it might be part of the reason the narrative never really clicks. There’s no interplay between the characters, nothing for them to riff off, and possibly why the Seed’s underwhelm as opponents. Regardless of where the story actually ends up (and there is a twist or two stitched into the tale), I felt disconnected from the events rather than being part of them, and that’s not what I expected in something as well put together as this. Though maybe it’s so the co-op campaign gelled together better… there’s a huge amount of fun to be had with a friend in tow.
At least you can escape from life in Montana by having a go at one of the many Far Cry Arcade machines dotted around. This is where the longevity of Far Cry 5 lives – in the online features. Single player, co-op and multiplayer missions and maps are the order of the day, and it’s a very impressive mode to add on to a big open world game. Access the cabinets and you’re given the chance to play remixed areas of the game, challenges set by the Ubisoft devs, or straight up user generated content, both good and bad. Simply select what you like the sound of, download it and get playing. If you can’t find something to your fancy then make it yourself with the suite of built in tools and share it with the world. Challenges are also integrated into the main campaign with new community events running each week that if you personally complete, and the community finish too, then silver bars, costumes and weapons are awarded. Two of those are great to get (especially as the bars are the microtransaction part of the game designed to net you cosmetic differences to standard equipment), but the costumes are completely pointless in single player as you never see yourself outside the odd wanted poster stuck to a cabin.
I’ve mixed feelings about Far Cry 5 because parts of it are pure genius, the gameplay is sublime taking all the learnings from other open world titles, it’s engenders compulsive behaviour, and there’s a huge sprinkling of unpredictability. There are parts though that are lacklustre, boring and I’d expect more from the team that brought us Vas and Pagan Min. It could be argued that it’s the poor parts of it that make everything else shine, and that’s true because there’s a sense of satisfaction when you’re not constrained within the story. Though I’d counter that with the fact the story should be the hook and everything else that’s good is a bonus on top. Still, since launch it’s been the only disc in the machine, the only game I’ve wanted to play, the only game I’ve thought about, and nothing else was going to stop me from getting a cougar as a combat buddy. It must be doing more right than I’m giving it credit for.
Far Cry 5 is out now on PC, Xbox One and PS4 for varying amounts of cash depending which version you buy. There’s also a season pass for what looks to be truly ridiculous Ubisoft content (including the full version of Far Cry 3 on current generation consoles) so you might want to go for that too.