Far Cry 5 (PS4)

Last year, Ubisoft made huge changes to its Assassins’ Creed franchise with the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins, which I gave a four out of five.  Thanks to Origins, I’m excited to play Assassins’ Creed games again. Far Cry desperately needed the same treatment. Instead, Far Cry 5 is merely a minor evolution in a series that hasn’t had a numbered entry in nearly four years. Far Cry 5 is another sandbox shooter set in a beautiful environment but dragged down by a bland story and a feeling that you’ve done this a hundred times before.

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Far Cry 5 starts strong. For the first time in the series, you create your own character—male or female—and play the role of “rookie,” a sheriff’s deputy, tasked with arresting Joseph Seed, the leader of a cult called Project: Eden’s Gate that has taken over Hope County in Montana. The opening cutscene is tense, albeit a little predictable. Who would have thought walking into the middle of a heavily-armed militia with no backup could possibly go wrong?

Once the inevitable happens, you wake up in Dutch’s bunker and are told that to take down Joseph, you must first eliminate his three lieutenants: John, Faith, and Jacob. Each lieutenant presides over one-third of Hope County and you can choose to take them down in any order. Unlike previous Far Cry games, you don’t have to undertake a linear series of story missions to reach the boss. Instead, you just need to annoy the lieutenants enough that they eventually confront you. There’s a reputation meter to fill by rescuing hostages, taking over outposts, and destroying cult property.

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This level of freedom is initially refreshing, however it doesn’t take long until you realize how negatively this affects storytelling. Without fixed story missions, there aren’t any great ways to interact with the main and sub antagonists. The solution to this is a series of random kidnappings. Three times in each area, you suddenly drift into unconsciousness and wake up as the captive of the local lieutenant. This can happen at any time. Sometimes it appears vaguely natural, such as when you’re ambushed by a group of cultists, however it can also happen when you’re in the middle of a conversation with an NPC about a side quest. Your character just closes his eyes and the NPC keeps talking; it’s weird as hell. It’s also strange how you consistently escape prison with the ease of a corrupt politician.

The kidnappings give us glimpses of Joseph, but it’s not enough to properly develop his character. At least Joseph gets a few lines of dialogue; our character gets none. Ubisoft went with a silent protagonist and it works about as well as it always does. The choice of gender, race, etc is welcome, but the game treats you like a man throughout regardless of your character. I completely forgot I was playing as a woman at times. You have plenty of customization options which only show up if you play in co-op and even then it’s only for the benefit of your partner.

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I cared less and less about the story as the game went on. To quickly address the obvious controversy: no, I don’t particularly care that Far Cry 5 avoids talking about the dangers of white nationalism. I never expected it to. I did, however, expect it to delve into extreme Christian cults and what motivates people to join them. Instead, we’re left with a couple of crazy leaders plus a drug called Bliss that keeps people under control. This couldn’t have been less interesting.

It’s tough to tell a story that says nothing over the course of twenty hours, but Ubisoft managed it. The closest Far Cry 5 gets to taking any kind of risk is with a few missions that take the piss (tape) out of Donald Trump. A lack of racism in games isn’t something I usually complain about, but here it feels cowardly. The closest I saw to outright racism was with a character who briefly thought I was one of them “eye-talians.” It’s like Ubisoft wanted to show characters being racist, but didn’t want to use any uncomfortable language.

It’s also hard to get a grasp on exactly how bad things are in Hope County for the general population. Many people are carrying on with their lives and walking around the environment without a care in the world for the cultists. However, you also regularly see people being held hostage at gunpoint on the side of the road. Is Hope County completely under Joseph’s control or not? I have no idea.

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While the main story was disappointing, there were glimmers of hope in early side quests such ones dealing with an alien enthusiast, who I expect to see again in the Mars DLC, and preparations for an exotic local festival that has you doing crazy stuff to the backdrop of Sexual Healing. I have to confess, I found this absolutely hilarious. The quality of the side quests whithered as I progressed through the game, which is likely why Dutch nudges you towards doing John’s area first. It’s by far and away the most memorable section.

John is all about “saying yes.” So much so, he has a huge YES sign in the mountains like the infamous Hollywood one. Faith is in charge of manufacturing Bliss, the drug that keeps everyone in line so you can imagine the sort of shit that goes down in her area. Jacob is the military guy and his area is probably the toughest. You’ll likely do this last unless you really want to acquire that huge bear as a companion. And you do, trust me.

Far Cry 5 lets you recruit nine specialist companions in addition to the generic guns for hire. You can have up to two traveling with you at any time. In addition to Cheeseburger the bear, you can recruit a dog for spotting enemies, a cougar for stealth kills, and six humans to cover everything from bow and arrow stealth, to sniping, to helicopter cover.

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You can easily switch around your companions on the fly, which is useful because the pace of battles changes quickly. I usually started encounters trying to remain hidden and therefore companions like Peaches the cougar and Jess the archer were most useful. However, the enemies have a strange and inconsistent tendency to hear shots from a supposedly suppressed sniper rifle. From that point on, you might as well drop all pretense of stealth and send in Cheeseburger the bear to tear them up while Nick does attack runs from his plane. You rarely face any negative consequences for failing to implement your strategy, however the shooting is so damn entertaining that you won’t care too much.

Guns are plentiful and upgrades are not particularly expensive. You’ll have a decent set of guns within about five hours and can use them for the rest of the game if you like. You can buy mods, but they’re cheap and there aren’t all that many of them. Nearly every weapon has the same set of upgrades: scopes, suppressors, and magazines. Weapons are undoubtedly overpowered. There’s no punishment for missing a shot with a sniper rifle because you can immediately fire again. Grenade launchers are not considered handguns this time, however they still carry plenty of ammo and act as a sort of “easier mode” if you need it. You can put suppressors on nearly all weapons without any negative impact on damage or range, making this upgrade a bit of a no-brainer. None of this really matters. Far Cry games are power fantasies and this one is no different.

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I’d have felt a lot more powerful if the enemy AI weren’t so terrible that it basically felt like abuse. Enemy AI has been such a long-running problem in Ubisoft games that I have to wonder whether it’s intentional. Enemies are a little “twitchier” this time around with a tendency to look over their shoulders once in a while, but they are still painfully stupid and easy to manipulate with the sophisticated art of rock throwing. The only limit to your ability to draw every enemy out to the same place for a stealth takedown is your own patience.

Talking of patience, you’re going to need a lot of it. Far Cry 5 is needier than a newborn baby. It’s desperate for your attention and won’t let you go ten seconds without spawning enemies in front of you. If you step anywhere near a road, you’ll quickly be surrounded by identical white trucks, a nearby hostage situation, and a helicopter hovering overhead. There are only a handful of enemy character models, so expect to see twin brothers stepping out of trucks on a regular basis. This gets tiresome quickly.

Much of the tedium can be mitigated by playing co-op with a friend. The entire campaign can be played this way, although progress is only saved by one player. This limitation feels overly stingy but at least you can play with a friend if you want.

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Far Cry 5 introduces a few tweaks to the existing formula. The biggest change is an open perk system instead of a fixed skill tree. You are now free to develop your character any way you see fit right from the start by spending perk points. Perk points are earned by completing challenges such as killing a certain number of enemies with assault rifles or collecting three bear skins. You can also find perk point magazines in Prepper stashes or dotted around the world as a small reward for exploring.

A common complaint I have with skill trees is that too many of the skills feel like they should have been included as standard. Far Cry 5 is an excellent illustration. Ubisoft still insists on restricting you to two weapon slots at the start and one of them has to be a handgun. This has always been needlessly restrictive. Upgrades like the parachute and wingsuit are also locked off at the start. These aren’t necessary by any means, but they are a lot of fun and it seems weird not to let players have fun from the start in an open-world sandbox.

Overall, I slightly prefer the new skill system to the old one and not having to do quite so much hunting for crafting materials is a relief. Animal skins are now there purely to be sold, giving players an incentive to hunt without making it mandatory.

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The other change of note is the lack of Ubisoft Towers. In previous games, you would climb towers to reveal new parts of the map, along with missions and side quests. Far Cry 5 doesn’t have towers. Instead, you reveal the map by the radical new idea of exploring it. Strangely, if you explore by air, that doesn’t count. I’m not sure why.

Without the towers, acquiring new activities is slightly more organic. If you want to know where a Prepper stash is located then you need to stop and speak to someone with a certain icon over their head. Likewise, you need to speak to NPCs to reveal other NPCs who will then give you a side quest. It’s an improvement on the tower climbing days of yore, but it doesn’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. Either way, you’re moving to markers on the map. Speaking of which, there’s no mini-map this time. Instead, you navigate with a compass bar at the top. This makes it much easier to absorb yourself in the scenery instead the icons.

Ubisoft is keen to make all of its games into “live services.” In Far Cry 5, that has translated to regular events such as burning twenty animals to death in a week. However, the real lasting value is found in Far Cry Arcade. There you’ll find a comprehensive level editor which lets the creative amongst you (i.e. not me) create some phenomenal levels incorporating assets from other Ubisoft franchises such as Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed.

Those of us who aren’t creative can play these single player and multiplayer levels. The content created in the first week of release was generally a little weak, but it’s already getting a lot better with players designing reimagined versions of classic Call of Duty levels and even PUBG’s map.

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The single player levels in Far Cry Arcade are enough to keep Far Cry 5 installed on my hard drive, for the time being, however the competitive multiplayer content seems doomed to failure. It’s nigh on impossible to even tell who’s on your team thanks to the inconsistent use of enemy indicators. I played on maps where opposition players would just casually walk to the other team’s base and pretend to be one of them before taking everyone out before they could react. The enemy could then get a few more kills as everyone spawned right in front of them. Ubisoft has to make big changes before multiplayer is worth anyone’s time.

Far Cry 5‘s setting is beautiful to behold, however it’s home to a shallow story, bland protagonist, and repetitive set of missions. You can have plenty of fun sniping helicopters out of the air, but the game never lets you slow down. It constantly cries out for attention as if it knows that once you stop playing you might never return. There was a long gap between Far Cry 4 and Far Cry 5, but judging by the final product, there needed to be a longer one. Ubisoft needs to channel some of the creativity that successfully reinvented Assassins’ Creed; we need more than another by-the-numbers Far Cry game.

3/5

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