While we were in LA we took a visit to Hope County to see the next instalment in the Far Cry series.
The Far Cry series likes to switch settings and scenarios dramatically between installments, from the Himalayas to the Stone Age and now to rural Montana and Hope County. The common thread is simply that each setting and scenario is different, although the subject matter of Far Cry 5 is far more controversial and interesting than what a setting in a quiet mountain state such as Montana would suggest.
"It had everything that Far Cry is," lead writer Drew Holmes told us. "It's mountains, it's exploration, it's a little bit dangerous, the people who live there are very self-reliant, right, and don't like people sort of infringing on what they believe or what they want to do: that's Far Cry for us."
But it's not just Montana. There's the cult. There's its leader Joseph Seed. And this is where Far Cry 5 steps into the realms of controversy as the cult, the Project at Eden's Gate, seems largely based on Christianity, at least from what we've been able to tell in trailers and artwork. It's clearly fictional, and Eden's Gate is a doomsday cult that picks and chooses what passages and truths fit with the whims of its leader, but to some it could be seen as an attack on Christianity. To us it simply brings a fresh angle, and we're more intrigued by this scenario and story than what's been the case with previous Far Cry titles.
"It became: 'what's a bad guy, what's a villain that would feel natural in this space?'", explains Holmes of the choice of villain and setting. "And that's when we started to do some research on cults and militias, and that's where we built The Project at Eden's Gate, which is this doomsday prepper cult that believes that the end of the world is coming. "
The demo we got to play during E3 saw us clear out cult members in a small town, thus liberating it and allowing us to talk to the locals, then we went on to a mission to clear Nick Rye's airfield, do some fishing and fly a plane. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The first, most important thing to mention was our choice of companion. At the start you get to pick a companion for the mission. These companions are locals you'll meet during your adventures in Hope County and you can choose to have them come along as support. There's the dog Boomer who will help you tag enemies and drag them to the ground. There's Nick who's a duster pilot capable of dropping bombs on enemy targets. And there's sharpshooter Grace who'll be able to provide sniper support. These are three of your companions, and the ones that were available in the demo we played. We sampled both Boomer and Nick, and their support is very empowering. Add to that the ability to play through the entire campaign with a friend online, and this Far Cry takes a big step away from its lone wolf origins.
"Far Cry at its best is what we call 'the anecdote factory'," lead writer Holmes told us, "where I'm just exploring the world, and maybe I'm going hunting, and then the bad guys roll up, so I get in and shoot one out with the bad guys and then animals show up. And from a little tiny choice, a huge emergent gameplay starts to happen."
One complaint that not just applies to Far Cry, but several Ubisoft-developed open-world franchises have been getting (Assassin's Creed, the recent Ghost Recon: Wildlands), is that they borrow from each other and end up playing similarly. The "radio towers" in Far Cry, that unlocked missions and content in an area was one such element and it has been removed from Far Cry 5. While it wasn't a terrible idea to begin with, the radio towers just tended to take something away from exploring a new area, and made the game feel "samey" after a while.
The solution in Far Cry 5 is something as old school as quest giving NPCs that will give you quests after you've liberated a town. But there's more to it than that as the game will adapt to what you do from a narrative perspective. It should make for a more organic feeling open-world, and hopefully it will mean that completing quests has less in common with shopping for groceries. It's also a great way to introduce more of the story and background to the events that unfold in the game, as these characters will be shaped by two decades of living with the cult nearby.
You will be free to do things in whichever order you want, but as your "resistance meter" fills, the enemy will let themselves be known. "It's not about I go to a mission and I play it and then I meet the bad guy," explains Holmes. "The cult is constantly reacting to the things that I'm doing, and so really the story unfolds as I progress through the game in any manner that I choose."
There will be lots of vehicles in Far Cry 5, we sampled a pick-up truck, a larger truck, and a plane. The controls are a bit floaty and arcadey, much like previous Far Cry titles, and this will appeal to some, while others will feel they could do with some more realistic behaviour. The developers were keen to have us do some fishing as well, and it's clear that this has been a minor area where they have put in some extra effort as the mechanics here are quite nice and it feels very rewarding to reel in a big catch.
Right after playing a preview build of the game we thought we were going to have to write a fairly negative preview, in spite of all the promise and potential of the setting detailed in the paragraphs above. That's simply because the gunplay wasn't there in the demo we played. Two of us sat down and shook our heads at bullets aimed straight at enemies somehow didn't register as hits. Something felt seriously off. Thankfully, testing the game later on during E3 on a different console (both PS4 Pros) put our fears to rest. Something must have been wrong with that particular station or build. It's not that the gunplay is exceptional, it still lacks a sense of weight (which is sort of what you expect from Far Cry), and it's perhaps most reminiscent of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but it's not broken as we first feared. It's something that comes with the territory of E3 demos. This is not the finished and patched game, but rather a work in progress. There's a relatively long way to go with Far Cry 5 until its release, so these sort of issues in a demo build is nothing alarming.
Still, that's what we're left with instead is a positive impression of a game that looks like it will slightly tweak the Far Cry formula into something that hopefully feels more coherent in terms of story and gameplay, while retaining that sense of freedom. Is it gunning for some controversy? It sure is. But that doesn't deter us from what promises to be an interesting setting and scenario. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect.