Ubisoft have just delivered the best Far Cry game to date.
Far Cry is stepping back into the forefront, and it’s apparent that things are quite different this time. Far Cry 3 established a pretty solid formula for the series, one that expanded on the core ideals of its predecessors in interesting ways, and subsequent instalments, including Far Cry 4 and Primal, stuck to that formula almost to the letter. Hoping to avoid stagnation and monotony, Far Cry 5 has made several changes, all of which work for the better, but it also offers the same brand of chaotic open-world gameplay that the series is known and loved for. This is still very much Far Cry, but it’s better than it has ever been.
Every Far Cry game is defined by its setting, and up until now, the series has been set in a very particular kind of location. From the jungles of Far Cry 2 to the tropical island of Far Cry 3 to the snowy mountains of Far Cry 4, each game in the series has been characterized by wild, untamed, uncivilized locations where the player has had to contend with survival not only in face of vicious enemies, but also wildlife and nature itself. Far Cry 5 chooses to go for a very different kind of setting, and in doing so, it sets itself apart from its peers and predecessors right from the get-go, while also carving out a very distinct identity for itself.
"Far Cry 5 has made several changes, all of which work for the better, but it also offers the same brand of chaotic open-world gameplay that the series is known and loved for. This is still very much Far Cry, but it’s better than it has ever been."
The setting of the fictitious Hope County, Montana in the United States is very different from the kinds of sandboxes this series has usually offered up. It’s much less overgrown and wild, with structures and settlements and ranches and small towns scattered throughout the map. The threat of wildlife is much less pronounced (though not completely absent), while there’s a lot more NPCs around, who’re, refreshingly enough, not all trying to kill each other (or you). But it’s also chaotic, and vast, and open, in the same fashion that all Far Cry settings are. Much like everything else in the game, Hope County is at the same time different and familiar.
Whatever it is, it works- it works wonderfully. Exploration in Far Cry 5 is organic and unfolds naturally. Unlike in previous games of the franchise (or most other Ubisoft games of the last few years), Far Cry 5 doesn’t bombard you with icons littered all over your map. It doesn’t push or prod you in any direction, it doesn’t set a clearly defined path that is visibly the one you’re expected to take. Instead, it encourages you to explore its sandbox at your leisure. Head in whichever direction you want, and chances are you’ll see something interesting, and with the game making no efforts to push you into doing any particular thing, what you do or do not end up doing will feel much more like your decision than it ever has in the history of this franchise.
Far Cry 5 accomplishes this with the removal of something that has been a staple of the franchise for some time now- the radio towers (which is something that the game itself pokes fun at within the opening hour). You no longer have to climb and solve the environmental puzzles that were the radio towers, which means that the only way to unlock newer portions of the map, as well as the activities and quests that populate it, is to simply explore. The entire map is made open to players once the game’s introductory sequence is over, and where you go and what you do after that point is entirely your prerogative. You don’t even have a mini map anymore, which means which direction you head in is much more your decision than it is the game’s. Similarly, even story missions are handed to you several at a time, and how and which order you tackle them in is left completely up to you. Rather than going for a regimented, structured approach, the game lets you explore and play organically, and coming up on new and interesting things this way feels a lot more genuine, effortless, and satisfying.
As good as the setting is, though, it only works because of how well the game’s narrative contextualizes it. Being set in the United States – or any civilized location – is not an easy thing for a Far Cry game to do, but Far Cry 5’s premise does wonders with its setting of Hope County. It sees you playing as an unnamed and player-customized rookie US Marshal, who’s been sent as part of a small team into the heart of Montana to arrest Joseph Seed, the head of an extremist and violent religious cult. Things, predictably enough, go wrong – which is all I can say without entering spoiler territory – and you find yourself stranded in Hope County.
"Rather than going for a regimented, structured approach, the game lets you explore and play organically, and coming up on new and interesting things this way feels a lot more genuine, effortless, and satisfying."
The religious cult of Eden’s Gate has cut off Hope County from the outside world almost entirely, employing tactics such as roadblocks and blocking phone and internet lines, while also bringing law enforcement under its control. You’re tasked with taking down Joseph Seed and his family in order to bring down the cult, and with there being no way of getting help from the outside world in any way, shape, or form, you’re charged with establishing and building up a local resistance. Right from the word go, the narrative premise of Far Cry 5 pulls you in. It’s unique and complex, and the harder and more complicated issues are handled with surprising maturity and subtlety. The cult of Eden’s Gate is a fascinating one, and its horrifying beliefs and practices make it seem appropriately sinister and layered, without ever entering cartoonish or caricaturized territories.
And in true Far Cry fashion, the antagonists are truly fascinating people. Every member of the Seed family is written and developed with an impressive level of understanding and maturity, and the incredible writing does wonders to make them all seem like truly fleshed out and multi-faceted characters. And while the members of the Seed family are definitely the stars of the show here, there are plenty of other well-written and interesting characters to meet as well. Given its wide and vast cast of secondary and supporting characters, it’s obvious that some are better and more clearly defined and developed than others, but whether its ancillary NPCs or characters who’re actually vital to the story, there’s a lot of interesting personalities in Hope County to run into. And irrespective of how important a character is or isn’t to the story, the writing and voice acting remain consistently strong across the board.
It is this premise of building up a resistance that Far Cry 5 uses as its structure, not just for its narrative, but for almost everything that’s included in the game. While there are missions in the game that are clearly defined as story missions, almost every single thing you do and every single activity you indulge in contributes to the greater cause. Whether you’re killing cult leaders, or blowing up cult properties, or freeing outposts, or liberating hostages, or completing side quests, everything you do rewards you with Resistance Points, and once you’ve filled up the Resistance meter with enough of these points, you face one of the game’s bosses- the cult leader of that specific area.
What this accomplishes is that it achieves a sense of coherence that has been missing from Far Cry games up until now. Rather than feeling like an uncomfortable mixture of a slew of mismatching activities and quests all thrown into a pot together, Far Cry 5 feels like a singular, cohesive experience. Everything you do contributes toward the ultimate goal, which means that nothing you ever do feels like a waste of time. Everything feeds into the larger gameplay loop, into the larger narrative structure, and this blends with the game’s more natural and freeform sense of exploration in magnificent ways. Both aspects come together to make for a very fluid, free-flowing experience that seems to be shaped around the player, rather than it being the other way around. Far Cry 5 is deeply concerned about what you want to do and when and how you want to do it in ways the series never has been up until now, and this refreshing change in direction is probably the game’s biggest strength.
"Far Cry 5 is deeply concerned about what you want to do and when and how you want to do it in ways the series never has been up until now, and this refreshing change in direction is probably the game’s biggest strength."
In order to go with this more freeform and less structured approach, though, the game makes concessions in the storytelling department. As excellent as the narrative setup and the cast of characters is, Far Cry 5, much like all other games in the series, fails to build on the initial premise in any meaningful way. The core concept never ceases to pique your interest, but it is always in the background, as white noise that you don’t necessarily have to pay any attention to. The game’s story itself doesn’t do much with it. That’s not to say the story is bad per se, but while some interesting events unfold every now and then, Far Cry 5 never really delivers a resolution to its promising narrative setup in a satisfying manner. Its completely open-ended and unstructured approach makes for unfocussed storytelling, and this pulls the limelight away from the narrative quite a bit.
Ultimately, though, that ends up mattering very little, because of just how much fun you’ll be having while you’re exploring Hope County. There’s just so much to do, and none of it ever feels oppressive or pushy in any way. Mission structure, too, is excellent, whether it be for activities that series veterans would be familiar with – such as liberating outposts – or side quests – such as the prepper missions, which require unique and interesting environmental puzzle solving and rank among the best missions of the game – or the story missions themselves. Everything feels polished and refined, and no matter what you’re doing, everything feels appropriately hefty and gratifying.
Driving vehicles is fun, whether you’re in the air, on water, or on land, while firing weapons feels as weighty and responsive as it should, whether you’re mowing down enemies with a machine gun or silently picking them off one-by-one with a compound bow. It also helps that there are countless ways to complete every objective, which is something that Far Cry fans would know all too well. Stealth and guns-blazing are equally viable options, and they’re also equally fun. Like its predecessors, Far Cry 5 is a highly dynamic and systemic game, which lends it huge amounts of depth and variety, making for moments of truly emergent gameplay. Levelling up and upgrading your equipment has also received an overhaul- you no longer use animal skins for crafting material. Instead, their only purpose now is to be sold at vendors, while receiving upgrade points is now more a matter of completing certain challenges, such as killing a certain number of enemies with a specific kind of weapon, or skinning a certain animal a minimum number of times.
This, too, is a change for the better, since these challenges and benchmarks are met naturally during the course of the game (for the most part). Further, the animation for skinning animals is no longer a thing, so you won’t have to sit through those long, repetitive animations every time you skin an animal anymore. Far Cry 5 also borrows a few elements from some of its predecessors. For instance, the people (and in some cases, animals) you liberate or help during the course of the game can be called upon for support in the middle of firefights, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. While some of these allies might be adept at being silent and stealthy, others might be more suited to a more in-your-face approach. Picking which allies to take with you on missions (if you so choose) is always an interesting decision, and can shape the way you tackle objectives in interesting ways. Alternatively, you can also play the entire campaign with actual, real-life companions. Far Cry 5 lets you play almost the entire game in co-op with your friends, which is something that can be chaotically fun.
"As excellent as the narrative premise and the cast of characters is, Far Cry 5, much like all other games in the series, fails to build on the initial premise in any meaningful way."
Far Cry 5 also has a map editor, which makes a comeback after its absence in 2016’s Primal. Found in arcade machines littered throughout Hope County, the map editor in Far Cry 5 stands head and shoulders above the ones we saw in Far Cry 3 and 4. In addition to giving you access to assets from not only Far Cry, but also other Ubisoft franchises such as Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed, the map editor also lets you make everything from maps that act as the backdrop for PvP battles to objective based scenarios. The creation tools available allow you to flex your creative muscles quite a bit, and Arcade is easily something that players could foreseeably pour dozens of hours into.
Far Cry 5 is more of a smart evolution of the franchise than a radical reinvention. It’s not revolutionary, but it accomplishes so much, and accomplishes so much of it so emphatically. Hope County is without a doubt one of the best open world settings Ubisoft has created, and its unstructured and completely open-ended approach to exploration and progression acts like the perfect foil for Far Cry’s trademark brand of bombastic pandemonium. It’s also a beautiful looking game with impressive visual flair, and though it has a few very minor bugs, most of them are easy to ignore. With Far Cry 5, the series has managed to retain its core identity, and while doing so, it has also touched unprecedented heights.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Hope County is an inherently interesting setting; Intriguing central narrative premise; A number of fascinating, well-written, and well-voiced characters; Exploration is organic and bucketloads of fun; A slew of things to do, all of them engaging; Everything you do contributes to the larger narrative, and nothing feels like a waste of time; Gunplay, stealth, and driving are mechanically solid and extremely enjoyable; Far Cry Arcade can potentially soak up countless hours of gameplay; Impressive visuals.
Unfocussed storytelling fails to do justice to the fascinating premise; Minor visual bugs.
Far Cry 5's open-ended and free-form brand of exploration, chaotic and emergent combat, immersive setting, and inherently fascinating narrative premise all come together in what is easily the best Far Cry game ever.