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Far Cry 5 review: There’s hope for us yet

Far Cry 5 may well be the most confident entry we’ve seen in Ubisoft’s long running series. What seems like the culmination of years of open-world refinements and innovations – and certainly the occasional misstep – this is a game with an identity firmly embedded in the fundamentals of open-world shenanigans.

That’s not to say the game is a shallow reflection of the Saints Rows or Just Causes of the gaming world. It certainly appears to take on the navigational flexibility and environmental randomness of both its predecessors and genre competitors, but it also manages to establish a slick balance between narrative progression and sheer brutality.

While that’s certainly not uncommon for a Far Cry game, the tale of Hope County, Montana’s descent into madness is one of eerie familiarity given its landscape. It’s not necessarily one of modern day commentary, but it feels to be passionately tied to the American notion of fundamental rights and liberty: that one has — should it be necessary — the ability to fight back against tyranny.

This drive, I feel, successfully fuels Far Cry 5’s relatability, on both a narrative and gameplay level. Regardless of your political orientation, the sheer thought of literal mind control, especially when it clamps down on Average Joe Citizen of Any Town USA, gives justification – and satisfaction – to the idea of doing “whatever it takes” to win back some random Joe’s garage or shop. There’s no doubting that, at least for me personally, I cared far more about beating the shit out of Joseph Seed than I ever did about Pagan Min, who might pass as the villain in The Incredibles 2 (by comparison).

Taking on the role of a young deputy, your goal is to lead the rebellion and fight against said tyranny: rescue and recruit civilians; destroy cult properties; liberate outposts; and, as you might have guessed, complete main mission stories. There’s some common ground being covered here: the whole rescuing of civilians has been happening since the early Far Cry days, and it encourages stealth play because, should you make your presence known, the cultists will simply kill the hostage.

These are mostly random encounters, often happening by the side of the road which, should you drive by, make it difficult to remain unseen. Rescuing these hostages might release intel of the area or give you a new ally to help you in your battle.

The important evolution of the Far Cry experience actually comes by way of the good ol’ towers being removed, replaced by special properties under control of the cultists. This ties into rescuing hostages, and is a nice change to the way you approach the open landscape. If you do gain intel on a new property and destroy these structures, you’ll effectively reduce the presence of the cultists in the area, strengthening the resistance’s push to reclaim the land.

And this is where Far Cry 5 appears to really move off the line from its predecessors. This is an open world with no barriers. You can go wherever you want, at any time, with no limits. The ultimate goal is to build a resistance big enough to tackle Seed head on, but to do that, you need to work your way through his heralds in Jacob, John and Faith (because of course that’s their names). Saving hostages, completing missions, liberating outposts, destroying structures all increase the ”resistance points” for an area.

You’ll come across a different kind of cultist in every area: Jacob’s heavily militarized area, for example, is far more heavy handed, whereas Faith’s region, the key to the conversion process, will actively hunt you down and attempt to convert you. It helps create a nice if subtle variation of experience across the different areas, demanding a thoughtful approach to character progression.

The perks system is an intimidatingly large one: you could easily round out your hero as an exclusively stealth-minded one, although the challenge lies much in the sheer amount of choice on offer.

I started things off by focusing on accessories like the grappling hook, wing suit and parachute, so that I could actually survey the area and outposts more effectively, before relying on the guns for hire to attack with me. Later in the game I found myself stocking up for heavy handed combat across a more suitable range of perks.

It’s a slow grind, sure, but I feel the game is nicely balanced in how it naturally progresses and rewards perks based on actions. The queue for earned perks points isn’t so obvious that I found myself scrambling for additional points all the time: rather, I’d occasionally check in to see what I had available, and what I could upgrade to. I almost always found a perk that was suitable for that specific time of the game, or perhaps even a passed mission that I’d previously been attempting but had given up in a rage of frustration (hey, it’s a Ubisoft open-world game, it happens to the best of us).

Far Cry 5’s “guns for hire” system works well as a means to track, plan and approach tougher missions with more confidence. In the early days, I loved Nick’s ability to fly in and drop bombs on unsuspecting outposts. This made stealthily finishing off Cultist VIPs – essentially the game’s mini-bosses – that little bit easier, because I only had to deal with them. You’ll even find yourself calling in help from animals (and, yes, even a bear), not just as actual companions available to you at your beck and call, but also to spontaneously jump into battle for you, should you throw some delicious, meaty bait right into the middle of a bunch of filthy cultists.

There’s enough variety there to constantly keep the action and approach to combat and missions feeling fresh, which is certainly encouraging. Throw in the game’s ever-evolving and growing merchants, and Far Cry 5 never truly feels stale.

That’s not to say it’s perfect, but it offers about as much as you’d want from an open-world game. It still very much suffers from the same issues present in all of Ubisoft’s genre offerings: the map UI isn’t especially concise in how it describes or details objectives for you, and it actually took me an hour or two before I realised how to actually start a new story mission. Once I realised it was obvious enough and I felt like enough of an idiot, it certainly felt as though the game world was more structured than it appears at first site.

There is improvement overall here, though: the likes of Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed throw you into an open-world riddled with tasks, side-missions and whatnot. Far Cry 5 seems cleaner overall, and far more methodical in its mission structure, which is appropriate given the nature of the story. As I mentioned above, Far Cry 5 is a culmination of the genre’s best innovations over the years, and it certainly plays like a refined, perfected version of every Far Cry game before it.

The Final Verdict

Brimming with confidence, overflowing with content, and firmly established among the genre’s best, Far Cry 5 stakes early claim as one of the year’s best. You don’t want to miss the sheer insanity of Hope County, Montana.

NOTE: Provisional score. We’ll update this upon spending more time in the Far Cry Arcade and coop play.

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