There’s a moment early on in Far Cry 5 where you are tasked with climbing a tower before being told not worry, you won’t be climbing towers all over the place. This is a cheeky acceptance that Ubisoft have been putting out very samey games for a while now. Both within the Far Cry series but also their other flagship series: Assassin’s Creed, Watch_Dogs and Ghost Recon. Even their driving games, The Crew and its sequel, all kind of follow that standard Ubisoft: The Game blueprint and so it is nice to see them attempting to change things up. But going into Far Cry 5 expecting real change would be ridiculous, so make no mistake this isn’t a revolution for the series (or publisher) but this may well be the best Far Cry game since the very first one.
This year’s open world is based in America, rather than the usual exotic location, and this sets the game in what feels like familiar ground (even if I’ve only ever visited Washington in the States). This rural setting still has plenty of pretty, but spacious, gaps between landmarks but for once it feels like you belong there and aren’t just a tourist. Indeed, this game is far from being a vacation because you play as a young deputy who witnesses an arrest going awry when local law enforcement tries to arrest Joseph Seed, a religious extremist whose cult, Eden’s Gate, has taken over the area and is torturing and killing pretty much everyone they find.
After the dramatic opening scenes, you find yourself alone in the woods of Montana trying to make sense of the carnage you’ve just witnessed and it is from here that you start taking on story missions in order to work your way to the big boss by taking out his lieutenants, who happen to be his siblings. This murderous family aren’t a million miles away from Far Cry 3‘s Vaas Montenegro or 4‘s Pagan Min but are easier to process as antagonists because of the setting and the general sense of worry that everyone has around religious fundamentalism these days. They are also absolute pricks and so gunning for them and their many followers feels pretty satisfying.
Of course, you’ve got plenty of ways to dispatch foes in this game. The series has always relied on its decent gunplay and that’s all on offer here with all manner of handguns, rifles, rocket launchers and whatever else all being easy enough to obtain but you can also go full stealth with throwing knives and a decent bow and arrow, while noisier gamers have plenty of explosives to play around with too. As ever you can also just run them over in cars or fling bait at them in the hope of getting a cougar or bear to kill them. You can even recruit AI partners (including Boomer, a dog who is very useful at seeking out loot and ripping the throats out of zealots) to support you or rely on a co-op buddy to play the campaign with you online. Far Cry 5 is definitely a game all about options.
With tower-climbing now off the menu, Ubisoft have adopted a more organic approach to putting icons on your map. Now you have to find documents during missions or have conversations in order to chase down leads for your next side quest or ‘prepper stash’ (puzzle-like sections where you have to find your way to a weapons cache). It’s a bit more natural and stops you getting inundated with things to do but there’s no denying that it still has the same end effect which is you occasionally leaving the main story arc in order to clear a few missions to get them off of your journal and map.
However, there’s something odd about this series which Ubisoft’s other games don’t really have and that’s just how much I seem to forget how much I enjoy them. It’s as if Far Cry 5 has been designed to keep you playing. One more mission, one more loot cache, one more challenge. There’s always something to do and usually a good enough reason to do it. The challenges are particularly sweet. Completing a challenge will earn you perk points that you can use however you like to buy perks (there’s no skill trees to work through, everything is buyable if you’ve got the points). These challenges tend to be for doing something a certain number of times, like getting shotgun kills or takedowns. Working through them all makes you play the game various ways until you ultimately settle on your preferred load out.
So, I’m now running around Montana with a silenced sniper rifle, an assault rifle and a shotgun (for close encounters) but that could have gone various ways. Indeed I never seem to play any two missions the same way. Sure, I opt for stealth for as long as I can but when all hell breaks loose it’s fun to start mowing everyone down like you’re John Matrix at the end of Commando.
Being a big, open world game there are very occasional physics-related glitches or moments where the story starts to get spread a bit thin but for the most part the illusion doesn’t break. This is thanks in part to the spectacular visuals which are just ridiculously good. The faces on characters you meet are even better than LA Noire appeared to be when that first came out and the scenery is lush and beautiful. The sound design is also fantastic. Sure, it’s not doing anything audacious but the world sounds as real as it looks.
The now-familiar emergent gameplay is still evident as crazy things happen at random during the game. Gun fights get interrupted by animals or by traffic accidentally taking out the guy who is shooting at you. Or you might shoot a plane out of the sky only for it to land on a red barrel that then explodes, killing your latest foe.
There’s not much about Far Cry 5 that I can complain about apart from that general familiarity that will always be attached to a game from Ubisoft but I’m enjoying this one so much that I’m barely thinking about that. The game is a little more difficult than the usual Far Cry entries as well which means that you have to be a bit more focused about the combat rather than just treating the whole thing like a murder-themed physics sandbox and that really helps too. I’ve had more tricky moments from this game than the last three Far Cry games combined and I’m very pleased about that.
The upcoming DLC entries look kind of interesting (from their placeholder art), which means there should be plenty of gaming to be had here for the next couple of years and by adding Far Cry Arcade, a bizarrely titled map generator mode where the community can create shorter levels to play through, there’s going to be plenty of reasons to keep hold of your copy of the game once you’ve beaten its sizeable campaign.
By now you should know not to expect much innovation from this series but Far Cry 5 feels like it has been crafted with some real pride. Even with its adherence to standard Ubisoft gameplay elements, it still has the power to surprise and delight players with great set pieces and unscripted moments of madness. We’re not sure how much longer Ubisoft can keep pulling this same rabbit out of the hat though and if the next Splinter Cell ends up being open world we’re going to go Sam Fisher on their asses but of all their action games so far, this may well be the best yet.
+ Tons to do, but in a less arduous way than usual
+ Great combat as ever
+ Engaging story
+ Full online co-op
+ Map editor