In Far Cry 5, the fight comes to you. It’s a cacophony of systems all struggling to see which one will win at any time.
Its chaotic, beautiful, addictive and repetitive all at the same time. It is perhaps the most quantiful Ubisoft game ever made, for better, with all the benefits a AAA high-budget game can give and definitely for worse, with all the downsides a AAA high-budget game can expose.
The story centres around the cult of Edens Gate, led by Joseph Seed.
Seed and his allies have taken over a county in Montana, USA. You are a Deputy sent to arrest him before it inevitably goes to Hell. You, as the player, have no identity beyond that as a deputy sheriff. You can choose male or female but beyond that there’s nothing identifiable about “you”. I personally missed having an actual personality and seeing my character react as in previous Far Cry games. Instead Far Cry 5’s NPCs will just stare blankly at you and keep telling you how good you are for saving them, and that’s the extent of character development. It’s a narrative that never really goes anywhere, instead hinting how it could be controversial before pulling back.
Thing is, while Ubisoft have tried to present this year’s story as a more grounded, realistic affair, there are all these caveats they place on it that in the end give it the same schlocky, B-movie–grade style that Far Cry games are typically made of. Fundamentally, the story is only there to give you an excuse to shoot bad guys, so no matter how much Ubisoft wants to convince you otherwise I doubt it would ever end up nuanced, meaningful or impactful. Like Nintendo games, the story in Far Cry is there to serve the mechanics, and it is more dangerous and potentially controversial to present what’s supposed to be a deep story than just accept it for what is: a narrative cover for a whole lot of violence.
This new iteration of Far Cry is structured like Ghost Recon: Wildlands or Mafia III. There’s multiple lieutenants to take out and regions to explore before you can get to the head honcho. Now technically you can go anywhere, meet anyone and start almost any mission at anytime (and I’m sure some fantastic speedruns will come out of this freedom), but at least for the first few hours you are not only strongly guided to specific locations and events, but also far too weak to take on the higher level enemies in later regions. So while the world is tantalizingly open, in reality its soft-gated into something more manageable.
The Achilles heel of the game though, rather than its structures or mechanics, is the AI. The AI, and how these AI systems interact needs some serious upgrades. From little things like how when my AI partner drives she backs into red barrels, blowing us both up, to enemies’ seemingly perfect shooting accuracy and incredible eyesight to spot you, it’s like they took great ingredients but didn’t quite get the ratios right. I wouldn’t be surprised if these systems, the driving, the animals, the shooting etc were developed completely independently.
For example, I am driving by the road to a mission. I see a hostage kidnapped by the side of the road, so I stop to help save them. I manage to down the kidnapper, but then a cult ute drives by, sees me and engages me. That in turn draws the ire of other cultists and their perfect aim hundreds of metres away. Soon there is no escape from cultists coming from all angles and I die. I turned to fast travel over the cars, wingsuit trips or helicopters that I favoured in previous Far Cry games just to avoid aggravating situations such as these.
Or take another: I go to find a “prepper stash”, new little spatial puzzles that give you access to some cool loot if you can find out how to get in. I get to this one by a reservoir, but an enemy sniper sees me. Luckily though, there’s a zip line right across the lake. “That’s handy!” I think. But the sniper manages to hit me three times (!) as I’m zipping across, leaving me critical on health as I then have to jump onto his platform before finally downing him. But it’s not over yet. I can’t zip back across, so I have to either take the dangerous bridge or slowly swim over the reservoir. Nothing of what I’ve done yet has actually let me start the prepper stash quest yet. So I swim over, but as I finally get back to the other side a helicopter finds me and shoots me dead in the water. I have to start all over again. What was meant to be a fun little loot quest turned into a frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful trip to an unexpected, almost impossible to prevent death.
It can be very difficult. Enemies have a lot of health and the healing system has been massively toned down since the last game. Cultists infest every part of the landscape, and it’s hard to avoid constantly being shot at.
There’s also plenty to shoot, between outposts, roadblocks, convoys, and other activities. That’s not to say it’s exactly the same as Far Cry 3 and 4. Almost everything has been refined from previous games, by, for example, taking away tower climbing. Instead, in a nod to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, objectives are marked on your map as you talk to NPCs or discover them organically. Ubisoft has marketed this as a complete overhaul, but just like the improvements to Assassin’s Creed: Origins last year, it’s much more a refinement than a wholesale revolution in mechanics, activities and world-building.
The shooting itself is fine but even on easy most enemies seem a little too bullet spongy, especially the VIP, mini-boss style cultists. This encourages a stealthy approach, as takedowns are thankfully still one-hit-kills (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed: Origins) but more than ever this is a Far Cry that focuses itself on gunplay rather than sophisticated stealth mechanics. And enemies perfect vision means they can spot you even if you stick out a tiny bit for a fraction of a second, so it’s an approach that rarely worked for me in practice.
Now all of this slowly gets better over time. As you get more health, better weapons, your AI companions level up, you unlock perks and more, your ability to deal with these frustrating situations eases. But it’s fighting a losing battle against emergent systems that are seemingly designed to overwhelm you with things to do and enemies to kill.
At least it looks absurdly stunning. It’s hard to imagine that it’s running on a PS4, even a PS4 Pro. Far Cry Primal was a looker, especially on a high-end PC but 5 blows it out of the water. From the fields of wheat to dense forests to flowing rivers, it’s all rendered to a superfluous degree of detail. Ubisoft have become very good at environmental design as of late, with Assassins Creed Origins, The Division, and For Honor being two other standout titles, but it’s what happens in these environments that’s what really matters.
In recent times, Far Cry has had a bit of a wild side. Far Cry: Blood Dragon was a standout sub-game that took the best parts of Far Cry and ramped it all up to 11. Far Cry 5 features a comprehensive map editor mode called “Arcade”, where players have been readily recreating de_dust, battle royale game and other experiences. There’s massive potential here, and if some of these get big enough there’s always the possibility Far Cry 5 itself becomes the side dish, not the main attraction.
Far Cry 5 doesn’t give you time to breath.
You’re always firing a weapon, in a way that never feels quite controlled. It’s so desperate to show you what’s in it that you never get a chance to stop, or even slow down. It’s not so much a roller coaster as a house of horror, leaving you overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted coming out of a play session. And while it has a strong start, and is absolutely gorgeous, the weight of its various, intricate systems causes the whole thing to buckle, breaking immersion and showing the seams a little too clearly.
Has Far Cry 5 manage to break the “Ubisoft Game” cliche? Well, yes and no. Yes, the structure and mechanics are clearly refined and improved from the tower-infested games of yore, but what’s replaced it is the New Ubigame. Far Cry 5 feels a bit too much like Ghost Recon: Wildlands for example for its own good, sadly except for the amount of jank, scrappiness and failed emergent systems that Wildlands managed to get right.
Far Cry 5 is a bit too ambitious, and while it shoots for the stars, it manages to fall down, and fall apart.
Released: March 2018
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 10)
Genre: Action, First Person