Far Cry 5 Review - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Far Cry, as a series, has been around since the original Crytek developed game in 2004. That’s fourteen years and five iterations. Six, if you count Primal. Personally, I don’t count Primal. For the most part, Far Cry has hit a well worn groove of cheap and silly thrills, fun gun play, large explosions, and tired writing. Far Cry 5 is everything you expect a Far Cry game to be. It does, however, bring enough of its own interesting improvements and changes to stand out. Sadly, it also brings a few design missteps of its own.
Step Into The Bliss
In Far Cry 5 you play the role of a rookie cop during the aftermath of a police operation gone bad. A local cult known as Eden’s Gate has been up to no good, straddling the line between religious weirdos and violent militia, and it is time for the leader to answer for his crimes. While attempting to serve a warrant to Joseph “The Father” Seed under the watchful eye of his siblings, John, Jacob, and Faith, everything goes pear-shaped. Your group is split up, and you find yourself running through the woods to escape the Seeds. These Seeds are bad seeds, you see. After that, it all gets a little bit Far Cry.
Your job is to take on the various Seeds, save the locals, protect your friends, and blow a lot of stuff up. The map is split up into three different regions, each one controlled by a different member of the Seed family. To take them on, you need to build up Resistance Points. This is done by finishing missions, destroying enemy property, freeing prisoners, and taking over enemy Outposts. Arguably, with regard to minute to minute gameplay, this is the high point of the recent Far Cry games. Tower climbing is gone, replaced with a far more organic method of finding quests and things to do. Simple exploration is now the way to go. See a person, and talk to them, and you get a mission. Locals will tell you stories about enemy activities, old caches of weapons, or weird animal sightings. It is then up to you to decide in what order you wish to do everything. You can travel by land, water, and air, using a variety of modes of transport to explore the game world. Stumbling across a fun mission actually feels good and natural, rather than just traveling to a dot on the map to see what it is.
Missions run the usual gamut, from fetch quests to defense missions. Thankfully, escort missions are extremely rare, and can largely be avoided if you have an aversion to them. Combat is the usual slick fun that I associate the series with. A whole range of weapons are on offer, available to you via cash that you earn in game. I especially like hitting bad people in the face with a shovel. Companions bring a new element to the proceedings, which largely adds to the fun. You can pick from a range of human and animal companions that can accompany you on your adventures. I personally opted for Boomer, the faithful goodboye, 90% of the time. I found the animals to be more useful, and the A.I for human companions was definitely a weak aspect of the experience. Overall, the concept is a nice addition though, and I hope it shows up in a more refined format in a future game.
Lakes, Caves, and The Bad Seeds
The game is set in rural Montana, and it looks glorious. Beautiful forested mountains give way to rolling fields of crops. Rivers meander through craggy ravines, while huge lakes stretch between gently slopping hills. Caves and footpaths hide secrets that need to be rooted out. An effort has been made to scale back HUD noise, I assume in an effort to let the world itself shine. There is no mini map to take up space, just a small display at the top of the screen to let you know where things are. Traveling the world is also fun. You can climb, parachute, or wing suit your way around the map, while also taking advantage of boats, cars, and helicopters. I always consider the open world that these games happen in to be a character, and Montana is great. Filled with detail, Easter eggs, and interesting things to see and shoot, the map itself provides plenty of reason to explore.
I should also mention the superb soundtrack, littered with original compositions that really do a wonderful job of establishing the tone and nuance of the game world. Quite frankly, the soundtrack is far superior at doing this than any of the actual writing, and goes hand in hand with Ubisoft’s rendition of rural Montana to establish a wonderful feeling of rural bliss interrupted by the darker aspects of mankind. While some people might lament the fact that this game isn’t set in a far off land, to most of the world Montana is as exotic as any other place, and the developers have done a wonderful job portraying its rural beauty.
Where things fall apart for me is with the Seeds themselves and the writing in general. With four main antagonists, that is an awful lot of talking that the player is forced to listen to. I really do mean forced, by the way. Hit a certain value of Resistance points and you will be whisked away for a meeting with a Seed. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, either. Mid mission? Off you go. Flying a helicopter? A magic bullet covered in a drugs comes out of nowhere, and you are spirited away to listen to some generic character talking about the end of days. None of the Seeds have particularly interesting motivations, and none of their claims make a huge amount of sense. They think the world is coming to an end, so naturally feel the need to brainwash and murder as many people as possible before it does. And all this because they are filled with a deep love. The only time the writing manages to get interesting is with its ending, and I feel it deserves some credit for avoiding a more traditional end to its story.
In many places, the writing is straight up lazy, failing to explain or even acknowledge massive plot holes. A load of cops go missing, including a Federal Marshall, but nobody outside of the Seed’s territory seems to care. Whoever was at the Marshall’s Office and sent in their colleague appears to go on vacation, because they never try to check up on them again. Phones and social media clearly don’t exist. It is perfectly reasonable to expect a violent cult to be able to rise up in rural America, nail people to trees at the side of the road, and have nobody notice. I don’t mind when games take liberties with story when there is a payoff, but there is none in Far Cry 5. The game isn’t saying anything interesting. It is just the same tired, heavy handed writing that the series has shown since Far Cry 3, with the same quasi-mysticism that the writers always seem to insist on shoehorning into the games.
In Far Cry 5, the mysticism takes the form of the Bliss drug. Some strange compound that the Seeds use to brainwash people and turn them into “angels”. Angels can also turn into animals when you shoot them, but only sometimes. The Bliss also seems to take the form of some kind of giant, shared hallucination, all controlled somehow by Faith. None of this makes sense, and no real effort is made to explain it. I wouldn’t mind at all if it was original, but it isn’t. All the recent Far Cry games have done similar things in an attempt to add some kind of depth of meaning to the story, and it never really works out. The real rub then comes in the the form of the boss fights, harsh reminders that games will always try and follow certain rules, rather than come up with innovative ways to tie up narratives. Being honest about it, story has never been the reason I played the Far Cry games, so unlike others I am less disappointed in Far Cry 5’s failure to have a deep and meaningful exploration of middle-America, simply because it is not something I expected it to do in the first place.
While I wouldn’t be the first person to say that the writing in the Far Cry games is the least important aspect of them at this point, Far Cry 5 displays the worst writing in the series. Part of this is due to a strange feeling of resentment that it kept on interrupting me so that these characters could prattle on about their cult. All the writing does is undermine itself, over and over. You rescue people, who are hiding from the cult, but those people are needed in a cut scene, so the cult magically finds them. The bad guys could kill you, over and over again, but just decide not to…for reasons. It is just difficult to understand why it was felt this system was better than having you naturally run into the Seeds over the course of a story mission. Because both the gameplay and the story end up sacrificing each other at times. Any sense of tension that might build up is lost. It doesn’t matter what you do, the game will undo it should it feel the need.
The writing is also terribly uneven. For a long time a possible event is hinted at, and when it comes to fruition, resulting in the death of a major NPC, nobody seems to care. There is almost no reaction to this terrible event. No repercussion within the fragile social network the game tries to tell you is so important to saving lives. Thankfully, some of the writing around various missions, NPCs, and events is a little more engaging, but story is certainly not a strength of Far Cry 5. Thankfully, fun is. A huge array of different weapons, vehicles, and explosives make the act of dealing with threats a lot of fun. Far Cry 5 is a big game with lots to do and plenty of ways to do it. The removal of annoying towers to climb, the more natural exploration, and the sheer variety of items really do result in the best minute to minute gameplay in the series.
Character progression takes the form of perk points, earned naturally through playing and achieving certain milestones, or by exploring and finding magazines that effectively teach skills. Weapons and vehicles are unlocked with money earned in game, and for the most part everything feels quite natural. All the game’s strengths just feel smooth and easy, and thankfully they do outweigh where it falls down. While playing, I wished they had done a bit more with the grapple hook, as I felt the rules about what could and could not be grappled just led to the same feeling of a game trying to contradict its own fun. Forcing me to find a weird way to climb onto a roof just feels silly when I have grappling hook in my pocket. In fact, I would say that the only places Far Cry 5 really felt weak to me, were when it felt beholden to how games have always done things. A bit more boundary pushing would have been really nice to see.
How It Runs
For the most part, I found Far Cry 5 ran quite well. Frames were steady unless things got very hectic, then I might get a slight dip for a moment or two. There were occasional bugs with texture loading, and sometimes the water would render poorly, but mostly everything ran well and looked wonderful. Bugs would hit from time to time, NPCs would just run away from you while they were talking. This is normally a small issue, but in Far Cry 5 you have to stay in proximity to them until they finish chatting and you get your mission, so it could be annoying to have to chase them down and restart the dialogue. Fast Travel would mess up mission waypoints, forcing a restart to fix the issue. I only suffered one crash while playing, and there was one instance of hanging on a loading that needed a restart.
Another minor complaint is that, while I was running with a maxed out FOV, upon entering a vehicle it would shrink to a more standard size. This meant I found it hard to see the extremities of some vehicles. Not the biggest issue in the world, but it did make handling vehicles a little awkward sometimes, especially during some of the stunt based challenges.
For the most part, Far Cry 5 is for fans of the series. Enough is done to push it forward, and most of the changes work well, leading to a more rewarding gameplay experience. People who were simply never into the series won’t find anything here that changes their mind, and anyone hoping for a deep or meaningful story is going to be sorely disappointed. If you go in expecting the kind of mindless fun that Far Cry traditionally delivers, then you will have a good time with it.