On Sunday, you know, the Lord’s day, I found myself at a crossroads with Far Cry 5.
I was faced with having to scour the game’s map in search of hostages taken by the doomsday cult, Eden’s Gate, or wandering the wilderness in search of a skunk, because I needed its undamaged pelt in order to complete a quest.
Yay, and verily, both these activities were story missions in Far Cry 5, and yay, I did curse the tedium foisted upon me by Ubisoft Montreal, my initial excitement and anticipation of Far Cry 5 having curdled into fist-clenching bitterness over some 20 hours of play.
It was bitterness that arrived slowly, but steadily nonetheless. The game’s opening set-piece, in which the protagonist, a deputy of Hope County, Montana, tries to aid his sheriff and a US Marshall in the arrest of Eden’s Gate’s leader, “Father” Joseph Seed, kicks things off like gangbusters.
Following a bloody massacre and a helicopter crash, I found myself fleeing the cult, having been cut off from the outside world. One botched escape attempt later, and I was handed a gun by a crotchety old man and told I was now a central part of Hope County’s revolutionary force.
It was here Far Cry 5 began to settle into the series’ familiar structure and, many old players know what I’m talking about. The voiceless deputy accrues guns, ammo, cash, vehicles, performance enhancers, and a plethora of other items. They raid cult outposts, take part in race time-challenges, climb the odd radar tower, hunt wildlife and destroy cult structures. They have an extensive talent tree to fill up but this time, thankfully, they won’t have to kill a bunch of badgers to craft a bandolier in order to carry more ammo. They run, jump, shoot, parachute and swim across a vast open map filled to the brim with side-quests, story missions, mini-games and more.
They are, brothers and sisters, the protagonist in a Far Cry game, the template of which is beginning to show fatigue. There’s hardly anything in this game that Far Cry players haven’t done in earlier titles in this series.
Lord knows that the developers attempted to keep things fresh. Aside from a fishing mini-game (which is more fun than it sounds) and the Prepper Stash puzzles (players have to work out how to enter a series of stash houses to procure loot), Hope County offers nine allies to the player, all with their own backstories and special abilities.
The AI governing said allies is not as rubbish as one would expect – they don’t break cover until the player does and they’re incredibly useful in both inflicting damage and helping the player out of the odd jam. It’s God’s honest truth that blasting through a cult compound with a cougar named Peaches and a bear named Cheeseburger in tow, really is fantastic fun.
Furthermore, unlike its brethren, Far Cry 5 can be tackled however players wish. Rather than shutting off the map in staggered sections, Ubisoft didst break open all seals, allowing players to take aim at Joseph’s three siblings – being they John, Jacob and Faith – and the territories on the map they controlled in any order they like.
Progress against the three is measured in a meter; accrue enough Resistance Points (RP or XP, really) against a Seed and the hostility of the local cultists will be increased to the point where they’re hunting you in planes and helicopters, which can frustrate progression.
Unfortunately, in that place that is both Hope and County, the main draw for many of the faithful is Joseph Seed and his clan. So sure was Ubisoft that they’d hit pay dirt, creating a set of antagonists that channel both the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate, that in most of the promos, these Seeds were planted front and centre.
Initially, they infuse the game with some delicious darkness; the Seeds and Eden’s Gate have essentially set up their own fiefdom in Hope County, by either killing dissenters, or kidnapping them, drugging and torturing them into their way of thinking. However, the more exposure to the Seeds the player gets, the more irritating they become. To be honest, there’s only so much religious claptrap one can listen to from fanatics wearing glazed expressions in cut-scenes, before the whole exercise becomes tedious.
The game’s story, which once again shows promise in the earliest stages, winds up feeling like a hot mess. Far Cry 5 puts fanatical religion, grass-roots militia-arming and societal and political nihilism at the core of its narrative – Eden’s Gate takes a rather Nietzschean reading of the Bible, augmented by ardent distrust of Washington’s plan for the future – but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead, the Seeds and their cohorts are gun-range targets for the player; the potential for commentary is lost in a hail of bullets.
Outside the campaign, players have co-op, a rather bland PVP mode and Arcade, which allows them to cobble together their own PVE or deathmatch levels using assets from Ubisoft franchises. There are some decent options already loaded at the time of writing, but unless you always thought Far Cry was missing a LittleBigPlanet mode, it’s hard to see the appeal of Arcade beyond novelty value. Players buy Far Cry games primarily for their single-player campaigns, and this iteration has been found wanting in this regard.
It’s possibly the series may need a hiatus – hell, a break worked wonders for the Assassin’s Creed franchise after Syndicate – but as it stands, Far Cry 5 feels like a missed opportunity. This franchise is now in limbo mechanically, and the latest iteration’s story feels unrealised and unexplored.
Incidentally, I never did find those skunks. Or those hostages. I just went and shot up a few cult outposts with Cheeseburger and Peaches. It was fun the first couple of times. Then it felt a little like business as usual.
Far Cry 5 Review – Verdict
And lo, as he didst walked away from the valley of Far Cry 5, the reviewer reflected upon how his relationship with the game eerily mirrored his experience with religion.
First, he’d embraced it. Then, rejected it completely. After a passage of time he’d examined it to see whether there was anything for him to cling to. But finally, he’d decided that, while it may serve as succour for some, he had better and more interesting things to waste his time on.