In Ubisoft’s latest open world adventure that doesn’t relate to historical assassins and hipster hackers, a Montana deputy without a voice but customizable gender and race faces off against a mad doomsday cult in the vein of the Branch Davidians, but even more loaded to bear. With help from the non-converted people of Hope County, you ‘ll bring down the cult and its leader Father Joseph Seed with guns, explosives, metal pipes, bows, armed vehicles and yes, literal bears. It’s the creative madness of Far Cry at its mechanical and exploratory best, but with its most uneven narrative, though the macro story and message is quite worthy of praise, pun intended.
Ever since the Far Cry series was essentially rebooted and retrofitted in the 2012 favorite Far Cry 3, it’s been about one man or now if you so desire woman, taking back a large, nature filled land from an assortment of easily detestable though entertaining adversaries, inch by inch, outpost by outpost. Along the way there are animals to hunt, weapons to unlock, treasures to loot, stories to be told and fun to be had, though often to excess. It’s easily my favorite franchise from the French publisher Ubisoft and the one that often gets to the point fastest, rather than wear you down under exposition and tutorials like Assassin’s Creed. The framework for 5 is not all that different from 3 and 4, it’s how they tweak the formula and cut some fat off that makes it the most enjoyable of the three modern titles. It doesn’t hurt that the world you’re exploring and liberating feels more handcrafted and less repetitive than before.
Once you have liberated an island in the middle of the county, which acts as tutorial for the open world antics to come, you can tackle the task of taking back said county from any direction you desire. The three surrounding regions to be saved are controlled by 1,John Seed, the cult’s recruiter and indoctrinator,2, Faith Seed, who only appears under the influence and control of the “bliss” which acts as a drug to convince and brainwash people into the cult and 3, Jacob Seed, The general and survivalist with a penchant for “Manchurian Candidate” tactics against his enemies.
Each region acts as a small story within a wider story with a separate local resistance fighting off against a specific Seed Family member. While it is nice to see how this diversifies the regions in tone, it can feel jarring in how it affects the pacing. During the course of your quest, beating story and side missions, clearing outposts and the like, your “resistance meter” goes up and along with giving you access to a new tier of weapons to buy, it also will signal mandatory story missions to begin, with the Deputy suddenly getting captured by local Seed member and receiving some one-on-one time with the local boss. While that does mean the game, unlike in past games, doesn’t allow you to delay story moments almost indefinitely, which could create a drag, it does interfere if you’re in the middle of something important or interesting you’re doing. It’s a trade-off that does let the game move faster and there is a monetary reward for doing side content after a region has been liberated, so there is a reward either way.
Of the four Seed members, including their leader and main antagonist, the Father Joseph Seed, they are not as charismatic or scary as prior bad guys in the series. They all have their moments and do some shocking things to make you dislike them, but of the four, Joseph and Jacob work the best. Joseph’s placid and sober demeanor combined with his religious fervor creates an eerie mood when he’s present and despite the absurdity of his message, Joseph seems to be absolutely not a fraud and that is what’s most frightening. What’s worse, they’re hints within the world, such as radio reports coming outside the county, that the Father might have a point to his message. Jacob, a First Gulf War veteran with a desire to go back to the primal ways of survival, is intimidating in how earnest he is in his philosophy of “survival of the fittest”. In spite of his gruff, bearded appearance, he’s soft spoken and never raises his voice in anger, unlike the other Seeds. He seems resigned yet determined and ultimately comes across as almost tragic. All of the Seeds have demons from their pasts, hence why they have chosen a twisted, divine salvation and they want to share it with you, whether you like it or not.
Weaknesses in characterization are stronger in the characters that don’t try to kill or convert you. The Hope County resistance aren’t given enough time to develop to make you truly care for most of them, and the open ended approach to discovering and reclaiming the world can also affect your time interacting with them. It doesn’t help that your Deputy can’t converse back. The “guns for hire”, characters human and animal, fare better, mostly on account of you having the chance to recruit and spend time with them while fighting the cult. After a mission that you find and help them out of a jam, they become available to assist you at any time. There’s Boomer the dog, who scouts out enemies and Grace the Sniper with hints of existential dread inside herself. Nick Rye, a Gun for Hire who provides air support from his seaplane, has the best personal story involving the protection of his pregnant wife and maintaining his family business amidst the chaos.
Returning comic relief Hurk, deals with family issues involving his bigoted father running for state senate in spite of the cult takeover and his mother, Adelaide, happily divorced helicopter pilot, boy-toy included. He takes that all in stride though in part due to his lovable stupidity and his talent with an RPG. Don’t forget the two other animal friends to hire, Cheeseburger the diabetic bear and Peaches the friendly (to you) cougar.
In spite of the narrative and character shortcomings, Far Cry 5 is saved twice over by its still great gameplay suite of options not to mention the majority of missions being varied and at times, quite darkly hilarious. You can expect to help prepare for a “testicle festival” (look it up), helping two different conspiracy nuts, one of whom is trying to get to Mars to stop an alien invasion (a tease of an upcoming DLC), and helping a tweaker cleverly called “Tweak” make and test super-drugs. To fight an insane cult, go insane yourself. That’s the Far Cry way! The best activities however are the prepper stashes. The cult aren’t the only Montana denizens preparing for the end-times and scattered across the land are locations containing guns, ammo, perk magazines to upgrade yourself and money. Whether they come in the form of safe rooms, bunkers, cabins or other secret locations, solving the environmental puzzles and the little stories they tell create a sense of making Hope County feel authentic and a land worth exploring. It goes a long way too that in order to get to them, you talk to people or come across them by accident on your journey. Aside from basic story missions, there’s little hand-holding in your crusade and and it mitigates the issues of being another “check the boxes off” sandbox adventure.
Whether you’re a fan of the series or are new, Far Cry 5 is the best of the series. It doesn’t have the best realized story and cast but it most certainly has the best realized world to get lost in and at the end of the day, that’s what’s best about open world games. You can have the best story in the world, but without a playground to enjoy it in, it can be a ironically hollow experience. Far Cry 5 will swallow you whole and spit you out. You’ll have a menagerie of emotions at the endgame but disappointment won’t be one of them. Now go forth and spread the good news!