Far Cry 5 has a dark, austere story that invokes modern political tensions. It also has a Grizzly bear named Cheeseburger.
The latest chapter in Ubisoft’s open-world first-person shooter anthology series wants to convey that it breaks new ground. Unlike its predecessors, the game pits you against a religious cult in the U.S., not the government of a country the game’s western audience would deem “exotic.” Surprisingly, Ubisoft has used the change in setting as a chance to dial the gore up to eleven. Far Cry games have not shied from graphic violence, but this game inundates you with it.
Far Cry 5 is also a less restrictive playground than its predecessors. After a short introduction, you can go to every corner of its world map and take on most of its content. You can go where you want and do what you want. You can hike to a remote spot in the woods and go fishing. You can ignore the game’s story and simply blow shit up.
Far Cry 5 is a story-driven experience of the human condition. And you can steal a monster truck with guns on it.
These two halves are at odds. Far Cry 5 is a story-driven experience with something to say about the human condition. It’s also a game where you can steal a monster truck with guns on it, or take breaks from saving lives to do stunts that would make Evel Knievel jealous. Many games, including past Far Cry titles, have swung between deadly serious and funny in the same package — but this one swings so hard in both directions that the game begins to fall apart. As a result, Far Cry 5 feels like an Americana-skinned rehash of the series’ signature style, which is okay – but it falls far short of the game it could, and wants to be.
Knocking on Eden’s Gate
In Far Cry 5, you control “the deputy,” a rookie sheriff’s deputy in Hope County, Montana. (Unlike past Far Cry games, you get to choose your character’s gender, race, and appearance). At the game’s outset your posse, including the Sheriff, your two fellow deputies, and a U.S. Marshall, fly out to the compound for “the Project at Eden’s Gate,” a Christian-style cult that has earned a reputation for secrecy and brutality. You are there to arrest its leader, Joseph Seed — A.K.A. The Father.
The exact reason seems to be irrelevant, but the game makes Seed’s villainy crystal clear. Also, as you’re told in no uncertain terms, you are on a suicide mission. The group of religious zealots, thousands strong, isn’t just going to let five people take their leader away. Why is law enforcement sending five guys to arrest thousands? The game doesn’t say, but the (lack) of logic is lost in the intensity of the moment. It’s a tense, effective introduction.
After your predictable failure to arrest him, The Father initiates “the reaping,” giving his followers carte blanche to start kidnapping the people of Hope County to “save” them from “the collapse,” their coded term for the end of the world. Effectively, the cult has invaded the land and become an occupying force. You must rally the people who have survived to fight, and free the forcibly converted masses.
Hope County, and its inhabitants, paint a
surreal but relatable picture of the U.S. countryside.
Hope County, and its inhabitants, paint a surreal but relatable picture of the U.S. countryside in a state of de facto apocalypse. Most homes are empty, but people are scattered across the woods and mountains, camping out to hide from the cult. The cultists, meanwhile, roam the highways and control the county’s infrastructure. Everywhere you go, you see billboards with the Seeds’ individual mottos — “Cull the herd” and “welcome to the bliss.” There is even a colossal statue of The Father on a hill, looking down on you.
When Far Cry 5 was announced, there was a lot of hand-wringing over whether the game would take a political stance, be it about the prominence of evangelical Christianity in American government, gun ownership, or any number of issues that could arise from setting the game in the U.S. The game deftly dodges these real-world problems with a dose of patriotism. The Resistance plants or raises American flags in all its bases. Everyone has a gun (or wants one), but with a murderous cult actively kidnapping people, they have good reason to carry them. The game’s not likely to offend any particular group – except cultists, of course.
Roam if you want to
How you rally the people of Hope is almost entirely up to you. The county is broken up into three regions, each one under the supervision of a member of The Father’s “family.” John, Joseph, and Faith Seed each have a bunker full of kidnapped people, who they are converting to become “Peggies” — the local nickname for the cultists — using their own magic blend of psychological conditioning and mind control.
The three regions each have their own story arc, the tale of your struggle with each of the Seeds. Everything you do in the region earns points that fill your “resistance meter,” from completing essential story missions to smaller, unstructured encounters, like saving a civilian from a roadside execution. At various points, as the Resistance meter fills, the game interjects with new cutscenes and essential story missions to paint a picture of the Seeds and their work.
This system means there’s no single mission you must complete to advance a regional story, and thus complete the game. It also gives you the freedom to bounce from one region to another. Tired of fending off drug-induced cult zombies in Faith’s domain? Head over to Jacob Seed’s para-military zone to fight more hunters and packs of overgrown wolves. Though characters often suggest that their goals are urgent, there’s almost always time to change gears.
It sounds like the perfect evolution on a formula the series has followed since Far Cry 3, but the lack of structure slowly ruins the intensity
It sounds like a perfect evolution on the formula the series has followed since Far Cry 3 revitalized it in 2012, but the lack of structure slowly ruins the intensity of the game’s first hours. Worse, each of the three regional stories adhere to a remarkably similar plot. The mandatory story missions that punctuate each section are among the most intense and interesting portions of the game yet lead to different flavors of the same big twist. By the end, you’ll feel you’ve completed the same story three times, not three chapters of a single story.
It doesn’t help that your interactions with other characters, friends and foes, doesn’t change based on whether you’ve completed other regions. The Seeds’ emotional stories feel more and more disingenuous when their feelings towards you don’t reflect the fact that you’ve thwarted their siblings’ plans.
Despite its freedom, the game has an unfortunate habit for meddling in the gameplay. The mandatory regional story encounters, which pop up after you’ve completed a certain number of a region’s primary, character-driven missions, must be completed immediately. The game forces you to drop what you’re doing and play through them, even if you’re in the middle of something else. These occasional, strictly enforced missions don’t fit with the rest of the game.
Far Cry 5 feels nearly identical to its predecessors in each moment. Like many large, open-world games, the game offers a wide variety of passable experiences, none of which feel as tight or refined as more specialized titles. The gunplay never let us down, but we were never excited to try new guns or fight new enemies, either. Driving gets you from point a to point b, but the steering feels loose, which makes racing a struggle.
Fans might notice a lot of the game’s crafting mechanics have been removed or streamlined. While there are plenty of animals to hunt and fish, doing so is no longer a necessity. While we rarely noticed its absence, the game’s progression feels less interesting for it. Players still earn new skills by hitting statistical milestones — 10 kills with a pistol, flying 2,000 meters in a wingsuit, etc. — but earning new abilities no longer feels like a core part of the experience.
The largest, and only novel, change is the game’s increased emphasis on collaborating with AI partners. The Deputy can recruit people he or she saves as “guns for hire,” who will follow you around and back you up in combat. (The name, an archaic term brought over from past Far Cry games, is misleading — you never pay for their help.) Each member fits a class and playstyle based on their primary weapon — many use the standard assault rifle, but there are stealthy squaddies who use a bow and arrow or sniper rifle, demolitions experts carrying rocket launchers, and so on.
Though you can find generic squad mates at nearly every turn, you will likely spend most of your time using the nine “specialist” teammates — special characters with a backstory, personality, and special skills. While some are simply the best version of the generic class, many of the specialists also fall into unique classes. Nick Rye, a pilot, supports you with bombing runs and anti-air support. My favorite is Cheeseburger, a pet Grizzly bear that can take down anything on two legs and soaks up enemy gunfire like a sponge.
No matter who you choose, your squadmates act more like an extension of your arsenal than an actual teammate. You can select targets for them to take out by pointing at an enemy and pressing left on the d-pad (and right, once you earn the perk that lets you bring two teammates along at once). Outside of specific, directed use, they mostly work as good distractions for your enemies. The AI isn’t great, but it’s easier to win battles if some of the guns are pointed away from you.
The game also features drop-in, drop-out co-op, if you’d like to play with an actual human being. Co-op, in general, skews towards wild, unpredictable gameplay, so it makes sense in some situations and not in others. We wouldn’t recommend playing the whole game in co-op, but taking out cult outposts or running around and blowing up shrines is almost certainly going to be a fun.
As with previous Far Cry games, Far Cry 5‘s post-launch content model includes odd, mostly unrelated expansions. The season pass ($30) features three expansion packs, two of which are available now. Unfortunately, neither adds much to Far Cry 5.
Hours of Darkness, the first expansion, takes players to the Vietnam War, as described via flashback by Hope County resident and veteran Wendell Redler. Redler’s helicopter was shot down in North Vietnam, forcing him to fight his way to safety. That’s about as much story as you get. Hours of Darkness can be completed in about an hour, and even if you complete all of the secondary objectives, you’re looking at no more than three hours of mediocrity. Most of your time is spent fighting off enemy soldiers, securing outposts, and rescuing P.O.W.s.
While Hours of Darkness disappoints, Lost on Mars, the second expansion, utterly fails. Lost on Mars takes Nick Rye and Hurk Drubman Jr. to the Red Planet to fight off hordes of space insects and save the Earth from total destruction. Lost on Mars has a bit more story and content than Hours of Darkness, but it’s all for naught.
At the start of Lost on Mars, we learn Hurk has been dismembered, and his body parts have been scattered across the planet. Nick gets beamed up to help Hurk, who has entrusted an AI named ANNE to lead him and Earth to safety. The setup and Hurk’s presence leads to some quality comedic moments. Hurk’s consciousness is placed inside of a robot called Brobot, and acts as your inappropriate robot sidekick throughout.
Lost on Mars fails in many of the same ways as Hours of Darkness, just on a larger scale. You jetpack across Mars’ surface restoring power to facilities to essentially rebuild ANNE to full strength. And, of course, you recover Hurk’s body parts, one-by-one, along the way. Yet everything looks the same, from the buildings all the way down to the smattering of alien insects. Even the guns, an array of pew-pew lasers, feel similar to each other.
Although Lost on Mars is about twice as long as Hours of Darkness, the length is a detriment. Like Hours of Darkness, it Ubisoft is filling space with non-essential and entirely forgettable DLC.
Here’s to hoping Dead Living Zombies, the third and final piece of Far Cry 5 story DLC, turns out far better than the first two.
Ubisoft set a high bar for itself in 2017 when it presented a thoughtful concept that turned Far Cry’s outlandish and often politically charged lens on the United States. The game ultimately settles something closer to the devil-may-care attitude of past Far Cry games. While not devoid of fun, the game feels hollow. Four previous Far Cry games — 3, 4, Primal, 5 — were built this way, and the formula has grown stale.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re looking for a narrative, single-player driven shooter, we’d steer towards games like Destiny 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which offer a better balance between narrative and gameplay.
How long will it last?
We completed the “Far Cry 5” campaign in approximately 22 hours, though we did not complete every side mission available. We’d expect you to spend somewhere between 30 to 40 hours to consume every little speck of content. The two available expansion packs, Hours of Darkness and Lost on Mars, add about 5 to 7 hours of gameplay to that total.
In addition to the campaign, Ubisoft has added “Far Cry Arcade,” a level editor and multiplayer game generator, which is found through the campaign, but not a part of it. In theory, you will be able to build levels and play other players’ creations for as long as the game maintains a steady player base.
Should you buy it?
Far Cry 5 can be decent fun if you’re looking for an open-world in which to casually shoot enemies and get into hijinks. That said, it fails to do anything better than other games before it.