Kinder eggs. Orange plums. Haggis.
All three have been banned in the United States, yet if you want to purchase an AK-47 in Montana? No problem! You might even get a handgun thrown in for free. But whether you support or oppose America's gun control laws, there’s one thing we can all agree on: it's the perfect location for a shoot-em-up video game.
Step in Far Cry. The Ubisoft series – renowned for setting its games in some of the most dangerous corners of the globe – has settled on Montana, US for its latest entry.
OK, so the Land of Dreams may not compare to the harsh climates of Africa or the Himalayas, but when you throw in political unrest, armoured muscle cars and weapon-mounted planes, you’ve got the perfect mixing pot for a proper blockbuster.
Whether Ubisoft has delivered on that potential… well, that’s another question entirely...
Sowing the seeds of love
There’s a definite argument to be made that the Far Cry series peaked with the third entry.
That game’s antagonist, Vaas Montenegro, was phenomenal, and his line about the “definition of insanity” is now up there as one of the best moments in gaming. The issue is that since Vaas, nobody has quite come close.
In Far Cry 4 Pagan Min approached his brilliance, but the game was let down because after the introduction he vanished save for a few radio conversations. Far Cry 5 fixes this in the most brilliant way.
There’s no psychopathic pirate or flamboyantly dressed drug lord this time – instead, we’re treated to a sinister threat that’s all too familiar: religious extremists. Joseph Seed and his flock of siblings lead the doomsday cult 'The Project at Eden’s Gate', using threats of apocalypse (and a stupendous supply of guns) to rule over the fictional Hope County.
The Seed family kidnap and torture people into believing in the cause, and you are messing with their plans.
You gotta have faith
It’s easy to get lost in the fictional setting of Hope County. There's so much to see and do, yet this is a world that never feels as though it is forcing you into any inconsequential side-quests.
It’s split into three regions, with each one controlled by a different “sibling” of Joseph’s family. John rules in a more religious manner, kidnapping and threatening with imagery of sin and forgiveness: he demands you just say “yes” to the cause.
Faith is an angelic figure of kindness who manufactures the drug “Bliss” to control her zombie-like followers, yet she also has her own tragic story.
Rounding out the trio is Jacob, a military man who requires soldiers for his “noble” cause. Thanks to these supporting characters, you are never in a situation where the story feels slow. Everything you do in each region adds to a resistance meter which has stages to it.
Leading up to the final encounter, you’ll have multiple separate meetings with the Seed family. Joseph will show up, too. Rather than one Vaas-like character, there are four, who on another day could each have their own game: they’re that strong.
But we mentioned refinement, and that’s not just down to the story. Gone is the mini-map from previous games, which may seem a scary thought given the size of the game. The reason it works so well for Far Cry 5 is simple: emergent gameplay.
Look, we know it’s a bit of a stupid phrase, and it’s over-used, but it is exactly what makes this environment so moreish.
There is never a moment of boredom, and you will be kept on your heels throughout. Like a dog chasing a fox, only to be distracted by a squirrel, you’ll set off in one direction to do a mission only to be drawn to another you find on the way.
PICK A PERK THAT’S NEW
The enemy is everywhere. Trucks, tankers, cars, and quad-bikes will pull up at junctions and open fire on you, and once you’ve destroyed them, you’ll likely encounter another instantly. It can be exhausting, but it’s always enjoyable.
It helps that weapon progression is smooth. You’ll start with pistols, machine guns, molotovs, remote explosives, and a bow, but ten hours later that bow will have fire arrows and the remote explosives will be sticky ones.
Hunting takes a back seat, and instead of finding ten jaguars to craft a bigger wallet, or finding 13 zebras to make a bigger gun holster, it is tied into the new perk system.
Designed to make you experiment, perk points let you unlock and upgrade skills (including a wingsuit, which is less useful than it sounds), and they’re attached to everything.
Get ten headshots: three perk points. Hunt a certain number of deer: more perk points. You get the idea. It’s a useful system that makes you try out new things, though you’ll eventually grab most perks you want and stick to the weapons you enjoy.
Practice what you preach
Elsewhere, towers that reveal the map are gone, instead you’ll find maps of the local area hidden at outposts you take back. These are great fun, and even though it’s early in 2018, we’ve had some of our favourite moments in a game this year raining fire from a helicopter above an outpost to take it back for the resistance.
Something else that feels refined is the movement. It may be because there are “prepper stashes” (mini puzzle areas that reward you with cash and perk points) as well, but the whole game feels like it has a more parkour-like feel to it.
Everything feels more fluid: you can jump from car to bus, then to the roof of a building. It’s not that there’s more verticality, it’s more that we got a slight Dying Light vibe to the traversal, which is most welcome.
You're my best friend
Things aren’t perfect, though. We fell through the world once, and have had repeating dialogue from the side-quest characters who aren’t vital to the main story. The button prompts can be awkward, and you’ll have to wait for an NPC to finish what they’re doing before you can talk, and thus get a quest from them.
It can also be rather finicky when too many actions are mapped to the same buttons. For example, you’ll pick up an enemy weapon instead of looting a body more times than you’ll like.
Another drawback is that, while the whole game is playable in co-op this time around, there are a few issues with it.
Firstly, if you aren’t the host, this isn’t your world. You’ll keep your perks, items, and money, but any story missions you complete will only count for the host. This means that upon returning to your own world you will have to replay missions you’ve already done in your pal’s world. The solution is to always be the host, then, which isn’t ideal.
The second problem ties into this: the co-op partner is a helper. This means you can’t stray too far from your buddy, or the game will spawn you back to them.
It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s a bit strange in a world this big that otherwise encourages you to approach fights cleverly.
Basically, you can’t fly off in a sea-plane while your mate drives a big-rig with machine guns to the same place as you’ll like get too far away from one another.
The Good Boy
Playing solo, you can choose from a few AI-controlled partners, including “The Good Boy”, Boomer the Dog. It feels a little like Ghost Recon: Wildlands in how it plays: if you crouch, they’ll go into stealth mode, and you can tell them to take out enemies. It’s not always successful, so don’t rely on it.
It’s a bit of a shame the animals can’t get into vehicles with you. Cheeseburger the Bear will be left behind if you jump into a chopper or car, but he’ll mysteriously be close by again when in your hour of need. These partners can also revive you, so it’s rare you’ll want to go it alone, but this is hit and miss, too.
But these minor gripes aside, Far Cry 5 is a beautiful game. On PS4 Pro the HDR is gorgeous. Whether you’re running through the woods or attacking an outpost you will never cease to be amazed by the visuals.
Another audio/video success is in the soundtrack. Whether it’s the hymn-like music designed for the game, or the liberal sprinkling on the radio of the likes of Eels or even The Vines, every note is a banger, and there’s plenty of twanging acoustic guitars throughout.
But there are a few missions which feel a little at odds with the story and realistic looking aesthetic: this is a Far Cry, after all. Conspiracy theories about aliens? Check. Daft mission where you have to slap cows to get them back in their pen? Check! In fairness, there aren’t too many of these, and they are fun diversions.
Far Cry 5 verdict
In case you hadn’t realised by now, we like this game a lot. It’s a clever refinement to a series that needed a refresh. Like Assassin’s Creed: Origins last year, Ubisoft has taken a beloved series and given it enough attention to make it feel new again.
An almost complete success, then. With fantastic villains, a compelling narrative, and gameplay that begs to be devoured, after 30 hours playing the story, we are still going back to mop up side quests. Far Cry 5 might just be the best one of the series yet, and that’s before we even see what the community does with the intriguing Arcade Mode.