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March 26, 2018 8 min read
The setting and ideas of Far Cry 5 have a ton of promise that don't bear much fruit in the final product. There's probably a great story you could tell around a Christian Doomsday Prepper Cult that has you fighting them off as they prepare for the End Times by murdering everyone around them and stealing all the resources they can. That's meat that few games even attempt to chew. But the ambitious setting doesn't pay off in this story that seems to want to hedge every chance it gets. The end result is a story that goes nowhere, says nothing, and fails to live up to the previous settings and villains in the franchise. If you can get past that... the rest is pretty much fine if you're up for another Far Cry game.
The cult you're fighting has four leaders. Three control territories, and once you've executed enough missions in those territories, you can take that area back. Take over all three territories and you'll trigger the game's final mission against the Father, Joseph Seed, who looks and acts like a C-tier Matthew McConaughey character. Each cult lieutenant gets a bit of screen time as the game very much overuses the idea of you getting captured and hauled off to listen to a bunch of rudimentary rambling from the torture guy who looks like a low-rent coke dealer, the lady pumping hallucinogens into the water to ensure an orderly flock, or the ex-military guy who wants to train people like they were Pavlov's dogs. I found that most of the long speeches from these characters just go in circles and don't actually give any of them any real weight. They aren't charismatic the way Pagan Min was, they aren't menacing the way Vaas was, either. They seem flat. Monotonous, even.
The lack of conviction in Far Cry 5 permeates the entire product. It doesn't just make its bad guys feel like generic, uncharismatic cultists. The militias and other characters you befriend along the way are also just... there. Maybe it'd be interesting to know why this particular valley in Montana has multiple militias and what their whole deal is beyond "we're a militia and we hate this cult." Maybe it'd be nice if you occasionally met a meaningful character who wasn't already armed and talking about what's up with "their squad" mere days after the cult started going nuts. For as much as it's disappointing that the villains aren't given enough dramatic weight, the way the game portrays rural America is somehow even darker. Everyone is either crazy, stupid, or both. Multiple missions involve "getting someone's truck back, aw shucks, we sure loved that truck." Meanwhile, after you've rescued dozens of people including a guy who owns a freakin' airplane, no one thinks to revisit the game's first idea of "we should drive to Missoula and get on the phone to someone about this." In the end, most NPCs are just people holding guns, wearing distressed American flag T-shirts, telling you about some paramilitary shit they got into or want to get into. Meanwhile, the first "good" prepper you meet is a vet with a USA jacket and a Canadian accent. It doesn't feel like a believable portrayal of rural life, even rural life under extreme duress.
Because so much of the game traffics in mindgames, either via Faith Seed's drugs or Jacob Seed's brainwashing--large parts of the game's biggest moments are spent with the screen all filtered or wavy because you're "not right in the head." You'll see things that might not be there, you'll do things that would definitely be impossible, you'll see stuff that couldn't possibly be happening. That's fine, up to a point. Beating one of the cult lieutenants who can seemingly teleport around at will, control minds directly, and both fly and shoot fireballs at you during her boss fight is a decent departure from reality, but with so much of the game leaning on this seemingly supernatural stuff, it's hard to take any of it seriously.
I guess I won't get into specifics, but did the earth-shaking events of the final confrontation even happen? Considering you're able to load back into the world after the credits and play like nothing happened, I want to say that it was all just another drug trip in a game with far too many drug trips. It only further undermines the potential of setting a Far Cry game in Montana and taking on a religious cult. At one point the leader of the cult gives the generic "free will is an illusion, maaaaan" speech and I nearly started just skipping cutscenes. The story leans on altered states and empty words too heavily and feels utterly weightless as a result.
The rest of it is fairly par for the course when it comes to Far Cry. Some changes have been made around the edges, some are improvements, some aren't. The more organic way you happen upon side missions and fill out your map is a nice touch. You'll find friendly AI characters out in the woods who will tell you "hey, this youth camp has been turned into a cult outpost, we should go kill 'em" and that will pop an outpost marker on your map. Or you might just stumble into the outpost while going from place to place. The cultists like to hold hostages, and saving a hostage usually gives you a person who will fill in another point on the map. This is a meaningful step up from the old "climb tower, populate region" style.
Despite multiple missions dealing with truck recovery, the missions usually feel like they fit into the world more organically, too. The game feels less like a set of checklists while also helpfully contextualizing the overtly checklist-y quests like "destroy all cult equipment in this region" or "save X hostages in this region." There are interesting little "prepper stashes" that require a bit of puzzling out to unlock. The game has its share of goofy side characters, some of which work, while others most definitely do not. I'd also argue that the goofy side characters further take away from the potential for a weighty main story, but considering how far off the mark the game is with the tone of its main quests, the idiots on the side were a lot more welcome.
Player progression has been rebuilt via an in-game achievement system instead of the standard experience points and perk trees. Doing specific things, like getting 10 pistol kills, gives you points that can be spent on perks. Most perks don't have any prerequisites, so you can more or less grow your character as you see fit. That said, being forced to play the game in stunty ways, like getting flamethrower kills even though the flamethrower isn't a particularly great or fun or useful weapon, is pretty lame. The crafting system of hunting to get specific skins to build specific upgrade is also gone. Instead you'll sell skins for money and there are achievements (and, thus, perk points) for skinning a set number of each animal. The old system better rewarded you for playing the game the way you want to play it while making hunting feel like it mattered, and this system feels like a real step back.
The weapon selection is also weirdly weak. It's broken up into categories, but you'll see multiple weapons in some categories with the exact same stats, like different models of an AK-47 and such. This is made even weirder by the game's gun customization options, which offers skins and attachments for everything. Why have two of the same rifle for sale in the menu? Why isn't one of them just a skin for the other? The arsenal feels light, as a result. Also, getting into a store seems to take an extra second or two, like it's hitting a server or something. Considering there are "prestige weapons" and other skins that you can optionally buy with a premium, real-money currency, maybe that's why it takes so long to get into the store. While some of the skins, vehicle paint jobs, and outfits are fun, Far Cry 5 is a first-person game. You barely ever see that stuff when you're playing the game.
Far Cry 5 is, at times, very fidgety and glitchy. I ran into multiple quest-bearing NPCs who ran off mid-sentence and refused to activate again, forcing me to quit and restart. One such character was in the middle of telling me that he couldn't swim, then he got into an actively scared "there's an enemy nearby" state and immediately swam away. Pretty good form, too. One boss fight simply instructs you to kill the boss, so I pulled out my sniper rifle and smoked him. But he'll pop right back up, awkwardly, if you do it that way. You need to get up close so you can trigger a cutscene death. At one point in the game you're being constantly hunted by planes, but getting spotted by a plane doesn't activate enemies on the ground, so I was able to stealthily take over an outpost while also being bombarded and strafed from above. Characters flop around the environment, your AI helpers use their loud voices in stealth situations and sometimes use their stealth voices in open combat... while some of these glitches are funny and all, there are a few too many of them. They've been making these games for years, you'd figure some of this stuff would have been cleaned up a bit better by now.
The game has a map editor and a whole separate mode called Far Cry Arcade that lets you share, play, and rate user-created levels and multiplayer maps. Some of the outposts and assault missions I've seen in these early days have been pretty good, and you'll earn some cash and perk points to take back into the campaign, but after 20 hours of finishing Far Cry 5 and messing around a bit with some arcade maps, I'm just not sure that I need an infinite array of mini Far Cry levels. The campaign was more than enough. The Arcade mode is well-made, though the competitive multiplayer doesn't feel great.
A big part of the cult leader's final plea to you as the player is a large speech about how you're the real monster, running around the environment and murdering everything in your path. He even goes so far as to say that there are some problems that can't be solved with a bullet. But aside from a good ending/bad ending choice, a gimmicky fake early ending that was done better in Far Cry 4, and one or two minor points along the way, Far Cry 5 isn't a game about choice--unless you count the choice of which cult leader you're going to kill first. You might not be able to solve every problem with a bullet, but when the game only gives you bullets to work with, you aren't left with too many other real options. It seems like a dumb move on the writers' part to shine such a bright spotlight on how inflexible their open-world game actually is, but that's Far Cry 5. A decent video game undermined by bad pacing, weak characters, and a wishy-washy world view. Play it cooperatively with a friend, ignore the characters and their motivations, and you'll probably have a good time.
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