04/04/18 – Final Update: In which I arrive at a conclusion regarding Far Cry 5.
The most remarkable thing about the time I spent with Far Cry 5 is how little my impressions changed from the beginning of the experience to its end. Even after spending just shy of 25 hours completing the campaign, liberating every outpost, recruiting every specialist, and looting nearly all of the prepper stashes, I’m still enamored with Far Cry‘s unique brand of chaos. I’m also still incredibly disappointed that the story never matures past its concept.
I’ve already talked at length about the plethora of ways that Far Cry 5‘s story is a let-down, so if you want to hear my opinion on that particular aspect of the game, update two is the place for you. I will, however, say that despite the overall weakness of the narrative, there are a couple of really excellent moments scattered throughout the main story missions. Faith’s region seems weighted most heavily with these, and her arc comes the closest to examining the nature of the cult beyond it being filled with bad people you need to shoot.
Without a doubt, though, the single best moment of the story comes at the very end. As with previous entries in the series, you are offered a choice at the conclusion that leads to two possible endings. While this more or less feels like a hollow gesture given that we’ve been allowed no opportunities to form a relationship with the protagonist or Joseph Seed, I was pleasantly surprised by both options. If I can offer any advice, when the time comes, choose to resist. The ending that comes from that decision is bold and incredibly unexpected.
Another nagging issue that Far Cry 5 never quite manages to overcome is the bizarre tonal dissonance that comes from its serious story and goofy world. In the same ten minutes, you can find yourself hearing the tale of two children who were starved, tortured, and offered their parent’s toes as snacks, as well as palling around with a diabetic grizzly bear named Cheeseburger. I’m not sure what the intention was, but these two opposites never meld effectively.
With all of that in mind, the best possible way to play Far Cry 5 is in co-op. The emergent mayhem is crazier with two people, repetitive tasks feel less mundane with company, and you can Mystery Science Theater the hell out of the story. Relieved of the obligation to take anything that happens seriously, Far Cry 5 soars to new heights. I actually felt a pang of sadness when I found that there were no more outposts for us to conquer, and that is most certainly a first for a Far Cry game.
And now I present you with a sentence that I never expected I would say: Ubisoft has found a way to implement microtransactions that borders on elegant. Certain weapons, skins, and clothes can be purchased with Silver Bars, which are bought with real-world world money. These items are also available when exchanged for the game’s standard currency, and they don’t break progression or allow the player to level up any faster. It is quite literally just a quicker way to acquire better weapons or clothes, should you want to go that rout.
I never felt like the game was pressuring me into purchasing Silver Bars, and I honestly didn’t notice that they were even a feature until nearly 10 hours in. Ubisoft has certainly come a long way since Assassin’s Creed Unity’s (read: the worst game ever’s) rage inducing currency system, which was a delightful mixture of confusing and exploitative. If microtransactions are fated to remain standard features in AAA games, I can only hope that developers follow the example set by Far Cry 5.
It’s also worth noting that the game provides a pretty solid collection of content in return for the $60 investment. As I mentioned above, I completed the main campaign and a handful of sidequests in just under 25 hours, but completionists could easily spend another 10 or more exploring every mountain in Hope County.
There is also a free multiplayer mode called Far Cry Arcade that allows players to create their own maps and missions, then share them with the world. Aside from the fact that Ubisoft missed a glorious opportunity to call it Farcade, it does offer surprisingly robust map editing tools and a great deal of flexibility regarding what the final product turns out to be. For fans of things like Halo Forge, this could end up being an excellent community and may keep Far Cry 5 on the map for longer than its predecessors.
Far Cry 5 is nothing if not predictable and safe. It sacrifices any potential depth on the altar of mass-market appeal, and in doing so seems to herald the end of the Far Cry series as a vehicle for brave, deep stories. Even so, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The delight that comes from jumping out of a helicopter and wing-suiting 1000 meters into an enemy base, killing some baddies and petting your dog never wears thin, and doing all of that with a friend makes it even more thrilling.
My recommendation is to play Far Cry 5 the way it seems to want to be played: with a complete absence of gravitas. Treat the Seed’s shenanigans as window dressing, and appreciate the quality of the performances and animation rather than focusing on the myriad plot holes and lack of character development. Don’t think too hard about anything that happens, just grab a buddy and a diabetic grizzly bear and blow some shit up.
03/30/18 – Update Two: In which the game perfectly illustrates the difference between a premise and a plot.
I’ve rid the world of Faith Seed and liberated the second of three regions in the game. Unless my math is woefully incorrect, that puts me about two-thirds of the way through Far Cry 5, and my opinions have changed remarkably little.
The game still plays as well as any title in the series, the Challenge system has kept me from clinging too tightly to one kind of gun, and the open-ended structure continues to be a refreshing change of pace. So, given that I have little to talk about on the gameplay front that I haven’t already covered, now seems like the appropriate time to discuss the story.
In the previous update, I said that Far Cry 5 seemed like a game with a premise rather than a plot. By this, I mean that a setting and a conflict do not in themselves generate a story. If you look at Far Cry 3, for example, you see that the game isn’t about a bunch of kids who get trapped on a tropical island overrun by drug-dealing pirates. Instead, it’s almost an adaptation of Heart of Darkness. The Premise is “spoiled suburban kids get trapped on a tropical island overrun by drug-dealing pirates.” The Plot is about watching an ordinary young man lose himself completely to violence and power and eventually become a reflection of the things that he used to fight.
This takes time to develop, and requires other characters to influence his change, ground him in the reality of the game, and clue the audience into his personality. Furthermore, Far Cry 3 turned the mirror on its players and used a brilliant combination of story beats, adaptive dialogue, and level progression to lead you to the realization that you were enjoying the violence too. As Jason travels farther down the rabbit hole, he begins to cheer as he kills people. This goes hand in hand with increasingly brutal unlockable abilities. Abilities built into the game, assumedly, because they were fun.
I say all of that to illustrate the idea that Far Cry 3 was so much more than its simple premise. By utilizing sound storytelling practices and turning the gameplay into a statement, it became a compelling, memorable experience. This is absolutely not the case for Far Cry 5.
In Far Cry 5, any sort of development ends at the simple premise: “a fanatical religious cult takes over a small town in the heartland of America, and you’ve got to stop them.” That’s it. There’s no exploration of the circumstances that might lead people to join a cult, no moment of guilt where people reflect on the fact that they’re fighting and killing their neighbors, and no real sense that any of it matters. You just run from objective to objective, taking down members of the Seed family as nothing of any value changes around you.
Instead, the cult members are referred to as Peggies (after Project Eden’s Gate – the name of the cult) and get mowed down by the hundreds like the faceless targets that they are. They’re nothing more than obstacles between the player and beating the game.
This problem is only worsened by the lack of personality possessed by the protagonist. He is a deputy sheriff… and that’s the whole character. This leaves precisely no room to deliver a story that would mean anything to that person because they have no past, no friendships, no desires, no flaws, and no motivation. A faceless bullet-slinging badass may be a fun avatar, but they’re hardly an interesting vehicle for a story.
The nonexistent protagonist also poses unforeseen problems for the villain, Joseph Seed. His visual design is immediately striking and memorable, and the vocal and motion capture performances that bring him to life are phenomenal. The issue is that, for all of the ominous or philosophical things he says, we have no real reason to fear him. There’s no understanding of his motivations other than that he believes he can return the world to a state of paradise like the Garden of Eden. Why? No idea. How? Not a clue.
The reason that Vass worked so well as an antagonist in Far Cry 3 has a great deal to do with how he related to Jason, the “hero.” He wasn’t just a monologuing baddie who was intent on doing bad things for bad reasons; he was senselessly cruel and seemed to revel in it. By itself, this would be far from compelling, but by the end of the story he had effectively turned Jason into himself; a person who hoots and hollers with glee as he scores a headshot with a throwing knife. Having this kind of philosophical and ideological impact immediately validates Vass and gives him an authority that is sorely missing in Joseph Seed.
Another consistent annoyance is the enormous tonal dissonance between the serious premise and the almost uniformly goofy cast. There are foul-mouthed helicopter pilots, pyromaniac hillbillies, mad scientists building alien teleporters, and (I still love this, no shame) three animal sidekicks. This just doesn’t gel well with a game that asks its players to take it seriously and wants genuine emotional investment during multiple moments. Far Cry 5 seems caught somewhere between its desire to be Bioshock Infinite and Borderlands.
There’s also the matter of the completely toothless political commentary. When I heard, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, that the newest Far Cry game would be about religious extremism in the heart of America, I braced myself for a deluge of controversy. It seems that Ubisoft also foresaw the dangers of actually making a statement, and decided to sanitize the hell out of everything that happens in the game. There is no exploration of the current political climate in any way, and the most biting comment made so far has been to question the worthiness of the leadership to be in charge. That was one nonspecific line of dialogue; not quite the hard-hitting cultural analysis people may have expected or wanted.
While there’s still time for a plot to emerge from the pile of vague esoteric comments and weak characters that Far Cry 5 has been up to this point, I’m growing ever more doubtful. If you’re looking for a game that lets you engage with a massive sandbox filled with guns and cooky personalities, then you’ll find a lot to love here. If you’re looking for a thoughtful story or an examination of the real world, it’s best to look elsewhere.
03/29/18 – Update One: In which it seems that Ubisoft has also played Breath of the Wild.
I’ve done little over the past two days other than taking care of absolute biological necessities and playing Far Cry 5. Even so, I’m still a good long way from seeing the credits roll (unless you count the secret ending). This being the case, it seems prudent to structure this review like Kingdom Come: Deliverance and give daily updates if my impressions change as I progress through the game.
As near as I can tell, I’m somewhere between one third and halfway done exploring the deceptively large region of Hope County, Montana. I’ve spent countless hours doing all of the things audiences have come to expect from a Far Cry game: hunting, fishing, shooting up mountains of baddies, wielding a bow like a badass, and slowly chipping away at some maniac’s hold on the land. All of that functions here just as well as it has in every Far Cry since 3, although there have been a number of tweaks that keep the formula from feeling stale.
The most notable of these is easily the lack of a minimap. Ubisoft games, long famed for their overwhelmingly crowded HUDs, seem to have undergone a renaissance of sorts in the past six months, with their two flagship series opting for more minimalistic, clean interfaces. The change is far more extreme here than in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, though, as the quest system at large has far more in common with Breath of the Wild than any game in Ubisoft’s extensive library.
At the onset of your adventure, there are no icons to clutter your map. Instead, Far Cry 5 asks players to venture out into the land and engage with people in order to progress. The result is a map that becomes populated by things that you’ve found rather than items to cross off of a checklist, and a world that feels like it’s waiting to be discovered, not completed. As a point of comparison, here are screenshots of in-game maps from Assassin’s Creed Unity (read: the worst game ever) and Far Cry 5, respectively.
(Images from geektime.ru and USgamer)
The BOTW comparisons don’t end there, either. Stop me when this sounds familiar; as soon as you complete a brief tutorial on an island, you’re free to go anywhere in the world and tackle objectives in whatever order you see fit, you can quickly get down from high places with the use of a handy parachute or wing glider, and you can fast travel from anywhere, even during combat. Rather than feeling derivative, these changes help refresh Far Cry and make Hope County one of the most rewarding open worlds I’ve found since Zelda. Furthermore, it’s endlessly impressive that Ubisoft was able to incorporate these features so seamlessly into their tried-and-true formula without undermining the strengths of either.
Other noteworthy differences include the removal of the radio tower mechanic, as well as the long-overdue death of crafting. The puzzle-platformer challenges that previously helped keep the act of climbing towers from feeling mind-numbingly repetitive are now performing that service for “Prepper Stashes:” hidden caches filled with money, guns, ammo, and other desirable goodies. So far, all of the puzzles required to access these treasure troves have been surprisingly well thought out, and most encourage you to actually engage with the world and the environment in order to find your way through.
While there is no leveling system per se, accomplishing certain feats or finding Prepper Stashes rewards you with Perk Points. These can then be redeemed for anything from more health to a larger quiver to an extra holster. This removes the irritating grind that came with needing to skin five boars in order to build yourself a larger wallet, and that’s completely fine by me. You can still hunt, but selling pelts is now only useful for making a few dollars in a hurry.
The perk system is livened up even further by the Challenges, which are simply rewards for playing the game in different ways. There are challenges for total kills, stealth kills, kills with different weapon classes, as well as for gliding so far in a wingsuit or talking to a certain number of NPCs. This means that, if you’re willing to vary your playstyle, you can “level up” quickly, and feel like you’re making rapid progress just for having fun with the sheer variety of ways you can play Far Cry 5.
And now we arrive at the single most incredible thing about the game: Fangs for Hire. You can hire certain specialists and fighters to be Guns for Hire: AI co-op buddies that you can order around, but I truly couldn’t care less, because Far Cry 5 also lets you fight alongside animals. So far I’ve got the best dog on the planet, and a cougar named Peaches who will silently dispose of enemies at my bidding, then come up to me and purr like a kitten. I’m not sure I have to explain why this is the most amazing thing ever to happen to gaming, so I won’t. My good boy Boomer and I will just be over here taking on a cult and enjoying high-quality petting animations.
The only place that Far Cry 5 really seems to stumble is in the story. The plot focuses on a small town in Montana called Hope County, which has been taken over by a fanatical doomsday cult named Eden’s Gate. I’ll hold off on criticising the narrative too harshly until I’m further in, but at the moment it feels like a massive wasted opportunity. The political and religious commentary seems too reserved to be impactful, and none of the characters are even remotely as memorable as the infamous Vaas from Far Cry 3. We’ll see if this changes as things move along, but Far Cry 5 seems more like a game with a premise than an actual plot.
As always, I will leave you with some additional thoughts before planting myself back down in front of my TV for an unhealthy duration of time.
- Far Cry 5 looks great. The cutscenes, in particular, showcase some of the best animation work Ubisoft has ever done.
- People insist on calling the protagonist “Deputy.” He apparently has no name, and the developers couldn’t be bothered to write a protagonist, instead choosing to go with the old “strong, silent type” trope. It feels strangely out of place here, especially when previous entries pinned the impact of the plot on the player character’s inner growth.
- Boomer is the best boy, and I love him.
- The map is a marvel to behold. The whole thing is fully 3D modeled and textured. Navigation is intuitive and responsive, and any information you could ever need is clearly marked. It is quite possibly the best overworld map I’ve ever seen. Here’s a picture to illustrate my point.
(Picture courtesy of Windows Central)
- The soundtrack is eclectic and incredible. The original compositions are beautiful and evocative, and easily some of the best written for a Ubisoft game since Assassin’s Creed II. The licenced music is a wonderful addition as well, and the variety is seriously impressive. I’ve heard everything from The Lumineers to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Heart, and much more. Some titles are even mission-specific, like the irreverent “Make it Bun Dem” mission from Far Cry 3.
- Character customization is pointless. Decking out your character in some colorful new duds makes remarkably little sense when you never have a chance to see your character, but c’est la vie. There are wanted posters that pop up around town with your image on them, but you can’t remove them to lower notoriety, and changing your clothing auto-updates the posters to reflect your current appearance. That’s some fancy next-gen printer tech.
- The emergent Far Cry stuff is still great. For instance, I was rummaging around someone’s house looking for a key. I took two steps out onto the porch and BOOM! Big ass black bear.
- Conversation with NPCs can be interrupted by random occurrences in the world, allowing those emergent moments to actually have an impact. This is even more satisfying when the AI character resumes the conversation dynamically with a phrase like “as I was saying,” or “That’s better, anyway…”
- I’m really liking Montana as a setting. It’s far more grounded than in previous titles, but it’s still suitably scenic.
- It’s strange that nobody, at any time, ever considers taking one of the approximately eight million planes at their disposal and just flying out of Hope County to get help. Shocking as it may be, there are alternatives to cell phones.
- There’s some hysterical self-detrimental humor at play in a few missions. One character remarks about making something that’s not too different from what came before but adds enough new features to justify the cost; a clear comment on the game in which he is making the joke. Another time, I was tasked with racing a woman to the hospital as she gave birth. Between her home and the clinic, however, was an obstacle course of sorts, in the grand tradition of timed missions in video games. The woman, though, seemed all too aware of the absurdity of the situation, and demanded to know, “Who is putting this stuff here!? This makes no sense!” Indeed not, Kim. Indeed not.
- Seriously, Boomer is the best boy. I would play Far Cry: Boomer. Get on that, Ubisoft.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a fan of Far Cry games in general, then there’s a lot to love about the fifth numbered installment in the franchise. I’ve been consistently impressed with the willingness the developers have shown to evolve their standard open-world formula to keep the experience feeling fresh. I have also been thoroughly disappointed with the story, which seems intent on making vague implications rather than accusations, and as such loses its power.
This may all be subject to change as I make my way through the rest of the game, but if you’re intent on purchasing Far Cry 5, I can say that so far, it’s been worth the cost of entry. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days.