I’ve been a fan of the Far Cry series since the very first beautifully rendered open-world shooter came to PCs back in 2004.
Far Cry 5, the latest edition, is now more about gameplay than showing off graphical prowess. And it’s yet another addictive thrill ride into mayhem. For fans, that’s a good thing to carry on.
The setting here is probably the most unusual in recent memory, despite it being a fictional Hope County in rural Montana in the United States.
Strange, because you are fighting against a religious cult that has taken over the town and forced people to fight on its behalf.
Okay, the communications seems to have been cut, but why isn’t anyone outside the community even remotely concerned that a county has suddenly gone silent? Well, never mind. The good fun that you expect of a Far Cry game is still here.
You start off in the centre of the map, alone against the elements (including hungry bears and wolves) as well as an army of cultists bent on killing you.
The aim is to take back the county by removing the three lieutenants of the chief baddie Joseph Seed, also known as The Father, before getting rid of him.
So, instead of one psycho, like Vaas Montenegro and his mohawk in Far Cry 3 or the bleached-haired Pagan Min in Far Cry 4, you get four evil leaders to contend with in Far Cry 5.
As in Grand Theft Auto, you choose your battles. There are Story Missions, which help advance the plot and slowly wrest control from each local baddie. Do enough damage and you will trigger a showdown that ends with the liberation of that section of town.
In the open forests and lakes of Montana, you can either gun and run into a firefight or you can stealthily get in, say, through a sewer, and take down the bad guys quietly.
The tried and tested method of throwing a molotov cocktail into the long grass to get things burning still gets the enemy in a fix, allowing you to swoop in.
Or, you can do as I did – be a coward. Pretty early on, you’d gain access to an armed helicopter that comes with guns and missiles and you can hover over a cult outpost to rain death from above.
Many times, I didn’t even have to land the chopper before I killed everyone and liberated the outpost. It helps if you have unlocked skills such as auto-repair, which keeps you up in the air. Or, if you have a buddy on a plane taking care of pesky enemy choppers coming to harass you.
Speaking of that, the biggest new feature in Far Cry 5 is probably the buddy system. You can pick as many as two sidekicks out of nine characters in the story, or a random bunch of strangers you pick up along the way.
Each has a simple back story, again GTA-style, so they are not empty characters. Hurk Drubman Jr., the bumbling wannabe you saw in Far Cry 3 and 4, makes a return. He is joined by his pyromaniac of a cousin, Sharky Boshaw, who is similarly more talk than walk.
You also get the serious sniper Grace Armstrong, the strong, silent type. Plus, there’s Nick Rye, the pilot who can be counted on to provide air support.
All these allies gain experience and get more proficient, as they whack more bad guys. You benefit too by being able to, say, salvage more gear when looting dead bodies. So, there is a reason to stick with someone you like.
The three animal allies on the roster bring a different dimension too. Cheeseburger the bear is strong, Boomer the dog is loyal and lovable and Peaches the cougar is one tough harasser.
Together, there is a lot to do in the vast, open country. Besides whacking the cultists, you may be tasked to hunt down animal skins to craft medication. One mission even has you smacking pigs with a baseball bat.
Or, you can stock up on your cash by looking up Prepper locations. These loony survivalists have hidden gear and money in usually remote locations and you can get to them by usually solving a simple puzzle. Flick on the power, for example, to open a locked door.
What Far Cry 5 has got rid of is an elaborate system for crafting stuff. So, instead of hunting for X number of Y plants or animal skills to craft a bag, you spend more time playing the game instead.
You can still craft powers that, say, reduce the damage you take but for most of the gear you want, you can buy them or pick them up from hijacking cultist vehicles.
Another quirk of Far Cry 4, climbing up signal towers to unlock a region, is also gone. In fact, you get asked to climb up once at the start of the game, and a character laughs at the prospect of having you do that repeatedly.
However, that’s probably as “meta” as Far Cry 5 is going to get. In the last instalment, the developers had an Easter egg and surprise ending that made you rethink the violence you had to go through in the game to get to the end.
Well, I won’t spoil the fun for Far Cry 5, but I think the endings here – yes, there’s more than one – are not as compelling as the previous Far Cry instalment.
Perhaps this is also down to the weight of its subject matter. Yes, extremist groups are a modern-day menace, especially in today’s uncertain times, but the game only skims the surface and doesn’t really go to the heart of things.
Then again, perhaps that would make the franchise too serious for its own good. This isn’t so much social commentary, as it should be a blasting good time, if you ask me.
What I am more concerned about are the bugs that spoil the fun. In the journey through Hope County, I generally don’t get into problems, say, being stuck in an artificially blocked-out area by a steep cliff. You can travel where you want.
Unfortunately, some characters do get stuck. For example, in one mission where I was supposed to go speak to a doctor, he ended up swimming in a pond and was unable to respond to me. I shot him and revived him, but he was stuck for good. Restart game.
The same happens sometimes when you get your buddy to drive or fly. Once I was stuck in a helicopter because a character didn’t know how to reach a waypoint. We got shot down by a cultist plane while hovering aimlessly.
So, in the end, is Far Cry 5 a worthy addition to the franchise? Is it fun? I’d say yes to both. It has got rid of some repetitive tasks in the last game and has a truly open world to wreak havoc on.
However, the story is probably not as strong as Far Cry 3 and 4. Too many villains, for example, make Far Cry 5 lack the same focus as before. Coming too close to reality can also make you look like you’re taking yourself too seriously.
The setting is a little uncertain, I’d say. Unlike a mountainous Shangri-La or a paradise of an island in previous games, you get beautifully rendered rural Montana, sure.
But the bad guys appear one-dimensional and rarely compel the same reaction of fear, anger and sympathy you felt for the iconic villains of the past.
The bar has been raised so high that the current iteration struggles to reach it. I’d still recommend the game, of course, because it’s too fun to gun around in the open game world.
I just wish the characters were more colourful and engaging, rather than cardboard caricatures of today’s polarising politics. They would be more fun to train my gun sights on.