It’s safe to say that lots of gamers were looking forward to Far Cry 5, the latest installment in what has become a reliable, and sometimes extremely fun, shooter franchise for Ubisoft. Unlike most game series, the Far Cry games are mostly unrelated to one another, with their location changing every time. And then you have outlier games like Far Cry Primal, which takes place during the stone age, and Far Cry Blood Dragon set during what appears to be a 1980’s television show. Yet, despite their differences, the gameplay and general feel of the games are surprisingly similar.
Far Cry 5 takes place, for the first time, within the United States. Specifically, it focuses on Hope County, Montana, which is a curious mix of backwoods cabins, secluded hunting lodges, agricultural areas, lots of lakes and streams, and a few scattered towns. The map is extremely large, and players can spend a lot of time exploring everywhere and not uncover everything.
The plot of the game is a little farfetched, but still barely believable. A doomsday cult known as Eden’s Gate has taken over the county, and blocked off all communications and transportation to the outside world. They are now rounding up everyone who lives there and either forcefully converting them to their cause, or simply killing them, or sometimes both. Nobody is coming to save you, as the game makes clear right from the start.
You play a U.S. Marshall, newly placed on the job, who is tasked with arresting cult leader Joseph Seed right at the beginning of the game. Why the Marshalls would send four people to arrest a cult leader with thousands of heavily armed, fanatical followers in rural Montana is anyone’s guess. But the mission goes sideways and leaves you stranded there with all the innocent locals. So, you have no choice but to go on a rampage of epic proportions, and do what you do in most Far Cry games, liberate outposts and other strategic locations in a long fight back to where it all began with Joseph Seed.
Far Cry 5 does diverge from previous games in a few ways. For one, the entire map is unlocked right from the start, though much of it remains shaded in terms of precise details. There are three main regions in the game, each controlled by another member of the Seed family. Freeing up a region will unlock, actually force, the boss battle with that sector’s owner. And after you defeat all of the sub bosses, you can go after the cult leader once and for all. The game, through an ally who talks with you on the radio, will recommend that you tackle the map in a certain order, though you don’t need to, and I found that the difficulty is fairly similar in each region, perhaps with a slight increase in the northern most part of the county where the Whitetail Militia is holding off the cult up in the Montana mountains.
You also reveal the map by simply exploring it. Thankfully, there are no tower climbing puzzles to remove the fog of war this time out, something that most players universally hated. You are tasked with climbing one tower in the little tutorial island, but it’s almost done as a joke, with your contact stressing that he is not going to send you out to climb 30 more towers scattered throughout the landscape.
Another addition are companions, which go along and help you fight, and who can follow basic orders about who to shoot, where to go, and when to hide. There are two kinds of companions. The first group are basically resistance fighters that you meet holding captured outposts or simply wandering around the map. You can recruit them by simply talking with them. Generally, they have one main skill, like brawling, shooting or sniping, and two abilities that are unlocked as you get them more kills. So, they might be able to repair a car you are riding in, loot bodies for you for extra cash (beyond what you could have already found), make you invisible in tall grass, collect plants for crafting while you travel, and few other skills. They are competent fighters, especially when leveled up. You can have up to three of them in your roster, but need to fire someone if you really want someone new after that.
The second set of nine companions are basically NPCs. Each of them come fully leveled up in their chosen skillset, but require the completion of one or more side missions to unlock. Plus, you have to find them, though they do have markers on the big map. There are even animal companions included in the elite nine, including a dog named Boomer who will steal enemy guns, and bear named Cheeseburger that acts as a damage sponge while mauling entire enemy camps with you.
They nine main NPCs are good because their skills are obvious, and you can bring them on when the mission calls for it, or to compliment your personal skills. For example, you might want to call Peaches the cougar and Jess Black the hunter for stealthy insertion, as both of them are silent killers. Or call on Hurk (yes, that Hurk from the other games) with his big guns and Nick with his airplane when you need to blow up some vehicles. Or combine one of them with a resistance fighter. Regardless, you can have two active companions traveling with you, which almost gives you a full squad like in Ghost Recon Wildlands.
Interestingly enough, the nine main companions seem to know one another, and talk whenever they get together. They will also talk with the generic fighters on your team, though its mostly restricted to commenting on their guns, or the weather, or non-personal stuff like that. All of the companions also, unfortunately, tend to repeat their conversations a lot. During one scripted car ride, I heard Hurk asking Grace if she was in the Army like six times. There is even a secret pizza shop where they all hang out when not on a mission with you – making for a fun Easter egg if you can find it. Hint: It’s called the Eight Bit Pizza Shop.
Crafting has been way cut back in Far Cry 5 too. You don’t need to hunt 30 leopards or elephants or whatever (not that you could find them in Montana) to get a new sash for a new gun. Instead, animal skins and now fish which you can catch, can all be sold for cash – and pretty good money too. You then turn that cash into new guns, ammo and equipment, just like a real American. Fishing has also been added to the game, including a challenge to try and catch the biggest fish in the county. Fish, like animal skins, can be sold for a couple hundred dollars each, so cast those lines!
Guns, which are of course a feature of any Far Cry game, other than Primal I suppose, make a big entrance here. Weapons are grouped into various categories including sniper rifles, shotguns, pistols, melee weapons, assault rifles, submachine and heavy machine guns. There are also miscellaneous weapons like flame throwers and compound bows.
While the guns and other weapons are cool, here is where I was a little disappointed. The so-called prestige weapons, which you can buy for either cash or silver bars, both of which can be collected in the game or the silver can also be bought for real money, are no better than the normal ones. They generally just have a fancier paint job, with some of them being quite gaudy. Every weapon gets a score in areas like damage and handling, based on a 10-point scale. But most of the weapons are identical. For example, the AK-47 might be 5,5,5,6,7. But then the AKM, which is harder to unlock and costs more, is also 5,5,5,6,7. So why would I even bother to unlock it? Pistols are the worst, with pretty much every automatic having identical scores. Revolvers are different (more damage and less rate of fire) but again, are mostly identical to one another within the class. Even Far Cry 2 had vast weapon differences, even if they did have an annoying maintenance requirement, which thankfully is not the case here.
There are also customization options in clothing, but again, this has no real effect on the game. Other than seeing your character in an occasional wanted poster (which are kept updated somehow based on your current outfit) the only time you see yourself – is when you are buying the clothes themselves!
In addition to walking around in your (not visible) clothes, you can also drive cars, ATVs, motorcycles or trucks. And there are boats, airplanes and helicopters. Unlike previous Far Cry games, the mounted weapons can be used while you are driving, because your companions will man them. You can also trigger auto-drive and fire them yourself, which is kind of a nice feature if you like shooting the mounted cannons.
Some people may also be disappointed at the amount of gameplay time in the campaign, especially compared to other Far Cry games. The way it works is that as you adventure in one of the three zones of control, you earn resistance points there. Once the resistance hits one of several milestones, a mini-encounter triggers with that boss, with the final one liberating the area. You really can’t hold those missions back to try and extend the gameplay, because almost everything you do generates the points. Kill a cultist VIP, earn resistance points. Blow up one of their trucks or fight through a roadblock, earn more points. Completing interesting side missions, you guessed it, earns you more points. I even avoided liberating this one town to try and make the game last longer, until I learned that the residents were “inspired” by my deeds, and went ahead and saved themselves.
Like I say, those event stages can’t be avoided. In one region, the poison gas simply overcomes you at that point regardless of what you do. In another, hidden hunters tranquilize you, even if you are standing in the middle of a building surrounded by allies. Then you have to fight or do some other challenging event with the mini-boss, until you are eventually rescued by the resistance again. It all feels forced, which I didn’t like at all in a supposedly open world game. Anyway, even if you are fighting it, you will complete the main game in less than 20 hours. I know a few people who finished in five. Compared to something like Wildlands, that is a really short experience.
There is also Far Cry Arcade, which you can enter any time by, in a very cool addition, by activating an arcade console within the game. The Arcade maps are created by players, other than a few that Ubisoft did themselves, so the quality varies wildly. Some are downright terrible. Others make me think that Ubisoft should probably hire their creators, as they are that good. You can play other people’s maps, or create your own using a surprisingly good creation engine.
All your experience earned in Arcade, which you can buy perks with, carries over to the single player game, and vice versa, so there is no reason not to try your hand at a few maps. I guarantee there will be something there you like, as there are thousands of maps to play at this point.
Far Cry 5 is a lot of fun to play, even though shooting a bunch of rednecks almost feels like the old Redneck Rampage game at times. There is lots to explore, even hidden places, and a passible if not overly dramatic storyline. This might not be the best Far Cry game ever created, but is more than worth the price of admission if you like open-world shooter gameplay. And if you get the season pass for an extra couple dollars, you get access to a Vietnam, a Mars and (of course) a zombie adventure. All of those look pretty interesting in their own way, and should add some more variety to the core gameplay.
Unlike Far Cry 4, I doubt that Far Cry 5 will be in the running for Game of the Year, but it is a solid and fun title that shouldn’t be missed.