With the murderous world tour having now spanned exotic locales ranging from the isolated Himalayan mountains to the African Sahara to the literal Stone Age, FAR CRY decided to see how its formula of mayhem, madness and monologuing villains would fair in the American North-West. Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, the latest entry into the FPS franchise offers plenty of engaging gameplay and incredible spectacle, but ultimately fails to stand amongst its predecessors due to a forgettable story and underwhelming antagonists.
Slipping into the dusty cowboy boots of a local deputy, players tag along with the Sheriff, a couple other deputies, and a US Marshal on a mission to arrest cult leader Joseph Seed, whose acolytes have invaded an entire US county, and begun kidnapping, drugging and murdering its citizens. The arrest obviously doesn’t go exactly to plan, and before long the player finds themselves isolated from their allies and on the run, surrounded on all sides by unhinged zealots. Before the head honcho can be confronted, the player must team up with resistance fighters across the three regions of Hope County, gain local support, and take down each of Joseph’s Lieutenants – John, Faith and Jacob Seed.
After a short tutorial section that introduces the basic gameplay mechanics, the world is opened up, leaving players to choose which of the three regions to venture into first, and which of Joseph’s siblings to tackle. Where previous FAR CRY titles saw the player scaling radio towers to uncover chunks of the map and the activities contained therein, missions are now acquired by talking to the residents of Hope County, particularly those recently rescued from peril. Liberating outposts, fending off wild animals and freeing prisoners will all lead to side missions, potential allies and points of interest being added to the map. Notably new among these are Prepper Stashes, doomsday bunkers that require a little puzzle solving before yielding a collection of loot and perk points, and perilous races that send players to follow in the star-spangled footsteps of legendary stuntman Clutch Nixon, with death defying routes over land, sea and air to conquer.
As if flying a plane through tight canyons or riding a quad bike down a sheer drop while on fire isn’t high octane enough enough already, FAR CRY 5 sees the welcome return of the map editor function, giving players the chance to take all the pieces from the main game and throw them together to make something brand new. Akin to dismantling a LEGO Hogwarts and using the pieces to make a spaceship, the mode, dubbed Far Cry Arcade, opens up the game far beyond the reaches of the single-player narrative, with thousands of solo, co-op and multiplayer maps being uploaded every day. While the quality of these maps is far from consistent, advanced searching for the top rated or featured maps quickly yields the cream of the crop, some of which are so well crafted that they easily stand among the main content, or in some cases, surpass it.
The open ended structure […] allows for an incredible sense of freedom, and leads to some brilliantly organic, chaotic gameplay.
Outside of Arcade, the stunt races and Prepper puzzles, much of what makes up the rest of FAR CRY 5 is business as usual for the series. Each of the three regions contains a number of outposts that need to be wrestled from the grip of the cult, which will then in turn unlock new fast travel options, missions and weapons. Liberating these, as well as picking up collectables, rescuing prisoners and destroying cult property, adds points to the overall resistance meter for that region, which, when filled, will trigger a final showdown with one of Joseph’s siblings/underlings. The open ended structure employed may make the story feel a little loose, but it allows for an incredible sense of freedom, and leads to some brilliantly organic, chaotic gameplay, with anything from bear attacks to plane crashes waiting around every corner to keep players on their toes.
Despite the constant danger, Hope County is a beautiful place, and offers plenty of sights and locations that match any spectacle from Kyrat or Rook Island. Between Faith’s river region with it’s winding streams and shimmering lakes, Jacob’s mountainous domain filled with jagged peaks and shadowy caves, and John’s valley coated in luscious grass plains and dense forests, this is easily the best that a FAR CRY game has ever looked, and the wilds of Montana are a delight to explore. Whether traversing on foot, engaging in aerial combat with the new array of planes and helicopters, or getting wrapped up in the surprisingly addictive new fishing mini-game, Hope County sounds as good as it looks, especially when scored by the Cult’s selection of propaganda country music tracks that sing the virtues of Joseph, his siblings, and Bliss, each of which is as catchy as it is creepy.
Joseph Seed’s cult, formally known as the Project at Eden’s Gate, has a reach that extends far beyond toe-tapping tunes and the odd outpost; drawing inspiration from real-world cults such as Jonestown, the Manson family and the Rajneesh movement, the Project sees families turned against each other or torn apart as the insidious cult exerts control over the region with bribery, threats and murder. Similarly, all four of the Seed siblings have a dark and horrifying backstory, each with a tale of pain and despair that led them to find their faith, and this works to create a deeply disturbing, macabre atmosphere. As well-conceived and haunting as some of these ideas are, they do find themselves diluted somewhat by other gameplay elements – the “Fang for Hire”, Cheeseburger, who is a diabetic bear that fights by the player’s side, and a mission that demands the testicles of bulls be collected for the annual “Testy Festy”, are among the inclusions that undermine the serious material, resulting in a slightly conflicted and inconsistent tone.
In a series that prides itself on complex, compelling villains, it’s both a shame and a surprise to see FAR CRY 5 deliver four fairly mediocre ones.
As the game world is conquered and the resistance meter fills, certain scripted events will interrupt the random mayhem to allow the region’s boss a chance to have a little chat with the player, and it’s here that FAR CRY 5 really falls short of its predecessors. Unlike 3 and 4, which starred fully established protagonists Jason Brody and Ajay Ghale respectively, 5 offers a little more customisation, allowing players to choose the sex, skin colour and hair of their character, and deck them out in a fairly ranged selection of outfits throughout the game. The downside to this role-playing addition is that the interchangeable deputy is completely mute, meaning that conversations with allies, townsfolk, and worst of all, bosses, are all one sided, leaving little room for the person speaking to develop, and making the protagonist feel like an empty cardboard cutout.
With nobody to actually have a conversation and/or develop a relationship with, the four Seed siblings are forced to monologue with abandon, making encounters with them feel very repetitive and lacking any depth or credible threat. In a series that prides itself on complex, compelling villains, it’s both a shame and a surprise to see FAR CRY 5 deliver four fairly mediocre ones. What’s worse is that each of the four has something special that would have made them an incredible villain in their own right; John is the charming televangelist face of the cult, preaching his message of “Just Say Yes” and tattooing sins on blasphemers to remind them of their flaws, Faith is the soft-spoken snake in the grass who produces the hallucinogenic drug Bliss, and uses it to forcibly convert others to the cult, and Jacob is the militant older brother who uses music to subliminally condition his soldiers and trains murderous, drug-fuelled animals he calls “Judges”.
Most disappointing of all is Joseph Seed, the self-titled “Father” and prophet of the Project at Eden’s Gate cult. First seen delivering a passionate sermon to heavily armed followers, Seed’s gentle, empathetic voice may make him sound like a therapist, and his yellow-tinted aviators and tightly wound man-bun may make him look like a hipster David Koresh, but everyone present is utterly enraptured by his every word. He impresses further with his escape from police custody, and then promptly disappears to the back bench, hopelessly losing any impact he may have made in those opening minutes by the time the final showdown arrives. Donating too much time to his siblings, Joseph neither develops a meaningful relationship with the protagonist like Pagan Min, nor exerts the sense of omnipresence that made Vaas Montenegro so thrillingly unpredictable, leaving him as a wealth of potential that is unfortunately wasted.
Despite the tone issues and lacklustre antagonists, FAR CRY 5 triumphs as an incredible gaming experience filled with beautiful vistas, interesting side characters with a wealth of unique, entertaining quest lines, and anarchic gameplay that encourages innovation and exploration. The choice to forgo the standard setting of a tropical island or remote mountain range in favour of a Western backdrop was certainly a risk, but Hope County is a land so steeped in Americana that the gambit immediately pays off, with everything from the rural farms to the stars, stripes and eagles of the Clutch Nixon Stunts (not to mention finally seeing fan favourite Hurk in his natural habitat), a love letter to all things American. The story may not be the most memorable, nor the villains the most imposing, but the freedom of gameplay and inclusion of Arcade mode make FAR CRY 5 the most fun the series has ever been, and easily one of the best games in its generation.
Verdict: 4/5 Paddles