Hell hath no fury
Hope County is heartbreaking. The stretch of Montana country is beautiful but racked by tragedy; a region of breathtaking views marred by the violent and vengeful grip of a doomsday cult called Eden’s Gate. That clash of bucolic, frontiersman-like Americana and end-of-days gloom brought on by the cult informs every aspect of Far Cry 5 but also highlights some of its biggest shortcomings.
Far Cry 5‘s opening sequence establishes a dark tone. As the junior deputy on a mission to arrest Joseph Seed, the leader of Eden’s Gate, players arrive at the commune’s base woefully outgunned. Seed stands in his chapel, preaching to those gathered of society’s failings and imminent collapse right up until the moment the deputy places him in handcuffs. It’s a tense few minutes after that, as players escort Seed back to a helicopter as his flock begins to close in. Eden’s Gate is powerful, seemingly unstoppable, and with their leader threatened, it’s no surprise that the cult is quick to action. Members throw themselves onto the helicopter willingly, as if their only purpose in life was that single action, and send it hurtling to the ground. Before long, Seed is free, and the deputy takes up arms to stop the cult once and for all.
Far Cry 5 (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: March 27, 2018
Although Far Cry 5‘s first hour conveys a sense of urgency, it quickly falls in line with the series’ established framework. Hope County is a playground dressed up as an inviting, albeit chaotic, environment. The ongoing threat of Eden’s Gate always looms overhead — it’s hard to go a few minutes without running into a dozen armed cultists — but players can distract themselves by fishing, hunting, and exploring the map just as easily as they can work towards taking Seed and his family down. There’s plenty to do, and while Montana might not sound like the most exotic or exciting location on paper, there’s even more to see.
But by throwing players into an open-world sandbox, Far Cry 5 casts its narrative direction by the wayside. Although your goal is to kill Seed’s three generals (one in each of Hope County’s different biomes) before capturing the cult leader, the storytelling quickly takes a backseat.
The game’s more interested in joking about Seed’s man bun than exploring Eden’s Gate with a critical eye, opting to paint the cult in broad strokes as a group of vague zealots and torturers than an organization built on the backs of broken people. And while the scattershot storytelling doesn’t make the game any less fun to play, it makes for an experience that feels toothless rather fast — Seed and his lot are easier to understand as cartoonish villains spouting rhetoric than characters capable of complexity, all the way up to the game’s final cutscene.
Fortunately, Eden’s Gate cultists aren’t the only people you’ll meet in Far Cry 5. Hope County is also home to a small grassroots collection of rebels and freedom fighters. Among them are nine (six humans, two wild animals, and one Very Good Boy) characters who can accompany The Deputy into the wilderness and provide support. Each one of the partners has a unique set of skills that complement varying playstyles, like Nick Rye, who uses his agile plane to strafe and divebomb enemies. AI buddies often get a bad rap, but they’re mostly all useful here, especially considering that Far Cry 5 isn’t afraid to overwhelm players at any given moment.
And though it’s not uncommon to be up against a dozen foes at once, firefights are where Far Cry 5‘s sandbox structure shines. During both main story missions and open-ended play, Eden’s Gate cultists have a bad habit of fighting dirty. They’re armed to the teeth and unafraid of calling in reinforcements, be it waves of fresh fighters or aerial support. Even with a partner or two, surviving large-scale fights isn’t a guarantee. It’s best to prepare before assaulting a cult outpost, though even the stealthiest approach tends to go tits up, leading to shootouts full of explosions, near-death escapes, and absurdly high body counts. Gunplay in Far Cry 5 is feverish and enjoyable, with customization and a steadily unlockable arsenal that allows players to mix up engagements however they see fit.
There’s something deeply satisfying about approaching a guarded camp with a recurve bow and silently picking off enemy snipers. There’s something cathartic about tossing remote-controlled explosives at a cult VIP and rushing in with a shotgun to clean up anyone left standing. But there’s nothing better than starting a gunfight and reacting with fury in the form of a few well-placed headshots. Violence is Far Cry 5‘s primary language, and if nothing else, the game speaks it well.
With so much combat, it’s only natural to seek some quiet respite. Hope County, with its mix of forested mountains and rolling rivers, offers plenty of pretty scenery to soak in. It’s hard not to be impressed by the environments, which balance the beauty and brutality of the American wilderness in a way that few games have before. Reaching the summit of a steep peak, tracking down a doomsday prepper’s long-forgotten supply stash in an underground bunker, and wandering through a park dedicated to prehistoric mammoths are just a few of the poignant, quiet moments that make Far Cry 5 worthwhile when the shooting stops. It’s possible (and recommended) to take a break from the action, turn off the game’s HUD, and wander around in the woods for a while. That Far Cry 5 lacks a photo mode is a crime.
Far Cry 5 is a solid first-person shooter set in a vibrant, breathtaking location. It plays well, looks great, and is packed with enough content to keep players invested in Hope County for a good, long while. Though Joseph Seed and Eden’s Gate work better in theory than in practice, the Montana-based doomsday cult marks a departure for the franchise that pays off.
[This review is based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher and pertains to the core single-player story. An in-depth report on Far Cry 5‘s Arcade mode and online features will be available later this week.]