The Far Cry series is many things; broad political tale, update of Joseph Conrad, an uneasy mix of queasy phobias about drugs and other groups of people, and precisely tuned and fun first-person gunplay. But I’ve mostly enjoyed the series, since Far Cry 3, as a sort of contemplative hike through the woods with occasional gunplay.
The series’ locations are stunningly rendered, and Far Cry 5 is no exception with Montana’s rolling fields, rocky mountains and streams, and thick woods. If you could grab a seat on a stump and have a cup of coffee before taking that next outpost, it’d be almost perfect. But Far Cry 5 ($60, PS4, Xbox One, and PC), at least at first, seems to be annoyed players want to grab a sniper rifle and do things their way, and keeps trying to force you to have fun the way it wants you to; namely, with a buddy.
There’s been some controversy about the rural Montana setting and the cult, Eden’s Gate, that infests it. But playing the game underscores how absurd that is. The plot draws heavily from real-life cults, namely David Koresh and the Rajneesh movement, but the “heroes” of the story are butt-rock lovin’ doomsday preppers who go on hikes with missile launchers on their shoulders. If anything, the game should have leaned into the broad political satire harder.
Beyond that, little has changed in the broad sense. You’re still a heavily armed hero in a broad patch of woods going around freeing outposts, blowing up structures, and hunting wildlife. And it’s still an enormous blast to play, especially if you’re a sniping dirtbag like me.
There have been a few tweaks to the upgrade system, where now you need to earn “perk points” by finishing challenges in the game or by finding and platforming your way into the many, many prepper stashes hidden around the game world, which underscores how good this franchise is at the difficult task of first-person platforming. It’s also kept the smart structure of oddball side project Far Cry Primal, where each region of the map tells a different story with a different antagonist.
The biggest change is that a system of hiring on sidekicks, which used to be optional, is now heavily developed with a unique roster you have to rescue as part of the story. They range from franchise mascot Hurk, who turns out to be a native son of Montana, to the local wildlife. The game’s tuned to make going it alone, at least at first, not much of an option; it’s much harder to take outposts and advance the plot if you don’t have help. But, of course, you can always get a friend and go co-op! In fact, don’t you want to go co-op? We’ll give you a few perk points if you spend an hour in co-op!
For some reason, Far Cry 5 has been designed with this odd belief gamers have both an infinite amount of time themselves and a friend who also has an infinite amount of time, and sure, it’s good to encourage gamers to be social, both in general and for Ubisoft’s bottom line. But honestly, I don’t have many gamer friends, and interacting with strangers is draining work for me personally. It’s work I’m happy to do, but I generally need a little time to myself after doing it. Which is why I play video games! This system, at least until you upgrade your weapons and get enough perks to get your feet, is like booking a camping vacation in search of solitude and then being told to bring your annoying cousin.
This extends to the game’s attempt to mix things up with tutorials, which is also a major plot point, so we won’t spoil it here. But it’s so obligatory the game literally forces you to stop what you’re doing and play the mission, and especially when you’re trying to get your feet, it’s a bit annoying. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but it just doesn’t quite work.
Still, these are annoyances, in the end. As you get settled, and upgrade your weapons, you can take a walk in the woods on your own. And you should; this franchise is so finely tuned at this point, and knows so well what it wants to do, that it’s a joy to lose yourself in this Montana county and take in the countryside. Besides, it’s a game where you can make friends with a bear and then tell that bear to maul jerks.
This review was conducted with a code provided by the publisher.