Before we talk about Far Cry 5, I need to address a problem that Ubisoft had been battling for a while — Intellectual Property stagnation. Assassin’s Creed had fallen into a rut, as had Rainbow Six, and some might argue Splinter Cell and even Far Cry. I believe they recognized that, and we’ve seen proof of it. Rainbow Six is stronger than it ever has been, thanks to the directional shift Siege brought to the table. Assassin’s Creed Origins builds on the familiar formula, but shakes it up with a purposeful shakeup of gameplay mechanics. Now Far Cry is getting the same treatment. With a radically familiar setting, a new approach to exploration, an overhaul of character progression, and a fresh take on Far Cry 2’s buddy system, could Far Cry 5 be the bold rebirth this series needs?
Far Cry games prior to this have always taken place in parts of the world where you can believe that lawlessness could exist without interference from the local or military authorities. Taking place in Montana, Far Cry 5 centers once again around the rise of a despotic psychopath, Joseph Seed — a man they call The Father. Jacob believes that he was chosen by God to cleanse the wickedness of man, with or without their consent. Supported by his two brothers, John and Jacob, and their “sister” Faith (she just “showed up” one day, so familial connection is unclear), Joseph has built up a cult called the Project at Eden’s Gate that follow him unquestioningly, shutting down all roads, communication, and chance for escape. With the fictional (but very plausible, given my real-life time stationed in Montana) community of Hope County fully locked down, your task is to break the grip of this militaristic religious cult, putting an end to the Seed family once and for all.
Oh, and you’ll do it with the help of a cougar named Peaches, a dog named Boomer, a bear named Cheeseburger, and a handful of colorful human characters too.
Before you get started in the game, you should probably watch the Far Cry 5 tie-in video exclusively on Amazon Prime called “Far Cry 5: Inside Eden’s Gate” as the game picks up precisely at the end of that excellent talent showcase. Summarizing, a group of Vloggers haphazardly try to infiltrate the Project at Eden’s Gate to uncover what’s going on, but end up the target of some serious violence instead. With their hidden cameras still rolling, they are captured, tortured, and force-converted by the Seeds. That video, safely uploaded to the cloud, serves as the motivation for the U.S. Marshals to seek to arrest Joseph Seed. The player is cast as a Jr. Deputy on his or her (this is the first time you can choose the sex of the protagonist) first day on the job, as you, Deputy Pratz, Deputy Hudson, and Marshall Burke land a helicopter in the church compound where The Father is currently holding sermon over his flock. Clapping the handcuffs on his wrists, he declares that “God will not let you take me”. Shortly afterwards, this prophecy rings true, and you find yourself on your own, the previously aforementioned cast of characters captured, split up, and held by the members of the Seed family.
The gameplay loop in previous Far Cry games revolved around climbing towers, revealing a host of icons, and then chasing down a grip of fetch quests with the occasional story bit wedged in. I’m not denigrating the previous games, far from it, actually, but they had fallen into a bit of a formulaic pattern. The team at Ubisoft Montreal shook things up, and other than the initial radio tower, you won’t be climbing them any longer. Instead, once you complete the tutorial island, you are free to explore as you see fit. There is a fog of war that spreads across the game’s three regions, each split between Faith, Jacob, and John Seed, respectively, and uncovering missions is now a function of conversation and exploration. Talking to people and stumbling on situations opens the world to you, and that approach endears you to the world in a far more holistic way. I care about the people of Hope County.
Beyond the story setup changes, there are a great many system overhauls in Far Cry 5, skill and character advancement being chief among them. Rather than building your arsenal through collecting pelts and crafting materials, you’ll advance your character’s skills through picking up perks.
By changing the skill system, it refocuses the game by encouraging the player to try new things. Earning perks is tied to challenges like taking out enemies with each type of weapon, catching each type of fish, or even gliding over a certain distance with the wingsuit. These push the player to explore, asking them to get out of the natural comfort zone that might let them settle for a pair of weapons and just using a helicopter for transport. Sure, you can still hunt, but you don’t have to chase down dozens of majestic creatures to craft a leather pouch that somehow gives you health anymore.
Far Cry 2 introduced a buddy system, but Far Cry 5 has given it a drastic overhaul with their Guns/Fangs For Hire system. There are a total of nine characters you can recruit, three in each region, and each have two skills apiece that can change up your playstyle. As an example, Peaches the cougar can silently stalk and take down foes, but Boomer can mark all targets in the area, take down targets, and retrieve guns from fallen foes because he’s a good boy. Cheeseburger the bear is a bear, so he does bear things like mauling his target and terrifying the enemy. Jess uses a bow with incendiary rounds, so, while she is silent, she also spreads chaos in a big way as the foliage around her targets burst into flames. Hurk is hillbilly strong, carries a rocket launcher, and will not shut up about the Monkey King. Without getting into all nine, there’s one more worth noting, and that’s Nick Rye. Nick flies a plane and can strafe and bomb targets from above. If you are the type of person who likes to use a .50 cal sniper rifle from a nearby mountain and need someone to sow chaos to scatter targets, Nick is your man. Through the use of the perk system, you can have up to two For Hire friends in the field.
Rescuing people in the field allows you to add three generic folks to your crew as well. While they don’t have special powers, they provide great distraction while you set up your overall strategy. In practice, once I had a few For Hire folks to choose from, I stopped putting these people in harm’s way. They don’t last long, and it seemed the humane thing to do.
Much and more has been said about microtransactions in the last few months, so I wanted to address them directly here. Before launch, the microtransaction system wasn’t enabled, so I got a great look at the game as it exists without them. Frankly, I found them to be not only optional, but completely unnecessary. The game never felt like it was built to pad out the gameplay, or that you needed it to battle the AI. You’ll buy most things with cash you get from accomplishing objectives, hunting, or looting from foes. There are some items that are labeled as “prestige” that require a bit more cash to purchase, or you can pick them up for “silver bars”. Like real preppers, the folks of Hope County believe in truly “hard currency”. These are often cosmetic, or have little difference between the items you can loot off enemies, or collect anywhere in the world. You can’t pick up perk skill points with them, or otherwise influence advancement in the game, so I found that I simply ignored them. In the end, if you have a helicopter that has guns and missile launchers, why should you pay real money for the one with flames on it? I mean, hey — it’s your money, and I’m not your dad, you do you, but ultimately I don’t even see a time saving angle here.
The audio in Far Cry 5 is a tour de force. Tony Gronick from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Far Cry 4 returns to the series with a carefully crafted soundtrack of over six hours of music that feels like it could have been lifted directly from a Montana radio station Gronick’s soundtrack is equal parts eerie and eventually infuriating, but in the right way. From the opening ominous, yet beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace, to the bespoke hymns and inspirational songs that pop up on the radio of cultists when you seize their vehicles, the music eventually serves as a reminder of just how powerful charisma-driven brainwashing (with a dash of chemical help) can be.
There is one area where a little more recording time might have helped — your For Hire friends. No matter who you choose, unless it has fangs and claws, they will inevitably loop into voice repetition land pretty quickly. Worse still, guys like Nick will jump in with a short snippet about how he was taught to shoot at an early age right in the the middle of dialogue you are trying to hear. I’m partially deaf so I use subtitles anyway, but Jess, Hurk, Sharky, Grace, Adelaide, and Nick need to shut up a bit.
While it is entirely possible (and quite fun!) to complete Far Cry 5 as an entirely solo experience, bolstered by the Guns/Fangs for Hire system, the game is an absolute blast with real-life friends. If enabled by you as the host, your friends can drop in at any time, joining your game in progress. Every single mission, side or main, can be played together. Better still, that friend takes the place of one of your possible two Guns/Fangs for Hire positions, leaving the last slot to bring in someone like Cheeseburger. While friends like Boomer can resuscitate you when you are down, there’s nothing quite like having a pal to coordinate a blitz.
When another player joins your game, your campaign as the host becomes the center. You can earn perks, complete challenges, collect weapons, and more, and those will stick when you pop back to your own game. On the other hand, your quests, activities, unlocks, and reputation are not — those only move forward when you are the host.
There are a host of entirely cosmetic outfits your character can wear, ranging from flannel to outfits unlocked from owning other Ubisoft games, including a full loincloth getup from Far Cry Primal. These really only show up during co-op, so it’s a good time to let your freak flag fly with your friends.
My only big axe to grind with Far Cry 5, beyond the voice repetition, is the occasional pathing bug where your Guns/Friend for Hire buddies leave you to die as you bleed out because they can’t figure out how to get to you, and the yawn-inducing 30 second loading sequence on PlayStation 4 when failing any objective. PlayStation 4 Pro drops that by five seconds, but it’s still a long time to wait to get back to the fun.
Drew Holmes (you might recall his work on Bioshock Infinite) wrote the storyline for Far Cry 5, and it is brilliant. Greg Bryk turns in a haunting performance as The Father, and Seamus Dever is equally as gritty as John Seed. In point of fact, all of the cast turns in compelling performances, and on only a few occasions did my wife and I get a laugh as somebody’s Montana accent slipped into more Montreal territory.
Because the world can be tackled in any order, the storyline would seemingly be disconnected and isolated into three compartments. Surprisingly, it is not. Sure, it’s not as cohesive and well-stitched as a linear game, but characters know about what’s happening in their region, and they acknowledge events that happen. Taking a note from Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the three Seed family members require that you raise the resistance levels in an area to get your hands on these bosses. Rescuing civilians, shutting down outposts, uncovering Prepper bunkers, and helping the locals with their problems moves the needle towards a showdown with the Seed member you’ve selected to take down. The storyline does tend to settle into a pattern that I won’t reveal here, but when a specific event happens several times for each one of the three regions, it feels like a small misstep amidst a far stronger surrounding narrative.
Throughout the game there are arcade cabinets that give you access to the map editor system. Exiting from the campaign, you’ll gain access to an extensive engine that will allow you to build just about anything you can imagine using in-game assets from Far Cry 5, as well as other Ubisoft properties like Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Watch Dogs. It pushes squarely into the “why not?” territory, letting the player build completely ridiculous content, and that’s simply awesome. I’ve played something that closely resembled Counter-Strike, but I’ve also had a chance to experience something that can only be described as horror as well. It’s impossible to predict what sort of craziness the public will build when given access to unbridled creativity and time, but the click-and-place simplicity of the system should give them everything they need to make whatever they could imagine.
Even without this mode, there’s plenty of content to explore in Far Cry 5 — easily approaching 30 hours of it, and none of it ever felt padded. That’s a feat few other open-world games pull off.
Far Cry 5
With new gameplay mechanics, overhauled progression systems, a strong narrative, and the Guns/Friends for Hire system, Far Cry 5 is the overhaul that the series desperately needed. It is easily the best of the series, and represents a positive step in a new direction. Come for the storyline, stay for the co-op chaos.