Ubisoft serves up an explosive sandbox set in Hope County, Montana.
We're armed with a rocket launcher as a bear mauls our enemy on a stretch of road, only for a truck to plough into both the bear and our enemy. Above is the thudding sounds of a helicopter that's just about to beat down on us with its machine guns. We take aim and squeeze the trigger, and then watch as the chopper spins down to earth with a fiery crash.
When everything comes together in perfect harmony, there's nothing quite like Far Cry.
The Collapse is upon the good people of Hope County, Montana. A cult called the Project at Eden's Gate led by the charismatic Joseph Seed, or "The Father" as he is known, has taken over the area and cut off all communications to the outside world. At the start of the game you're meant to arrest him, but a crashed helicopter and truck later the tables are turned, and it's you who is being hunted and it's your colleagues that need rescuing.
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After having seen paradise islands, the African savannah, and Himalayan mountains the Far Cry franchise ventures into territory that will feel more at home for folks living in the Northern parts of Europe and America. Pine trees, lakes, and farmland make up most of what you'll see in Far Cry 5, and while the setting may not be as exotic to ourselves as previous locations in the franchise, it's still a great fit. It's a game steeped in Americana, and while the main narrative is very serious and immensely dark, much of the side content and the characters you'll meet in the resistance are tongue-in-cheek, checking off every cliché or preconceived notion you may have about rural America.
There has been a bit of a song and dance about the completely open structure of Far Cry 5 that lets you play missions in almost any order you want after clearing the first small tutorial island. And while this is true, you'll also find that it's remarkably similar to how missions work in any open world game. The big difference here is that most activities and missions reward you with resistance points that trigger progression in the main narrative (Far Cry 5 is rather generous with what it refers to as story missions) in the three regions you've got to conquer before confronting Joseph Seed in the game's finale.
Speaking of those three regions, they're led by Joseph's siblings or heralds: John, Jacob, and Faith. Each region has its own flavour and there is a slightly different theme to each. Jacob is all about survival of the strong, and deals with conditioning and being a soldier. Faith is heavy into the Bliss drug that turns its heavy users into mindless zombies called Angels. And John is all about sins, and well, marking victims. As you progress each region your wanted level rises and things get hairier until you're being hunted from up high by "The Chosen" in planes. Jacob's region sees blissed up wolves join the enemy ranks, and in Faith's region there are the Angels to contend with. John's region is more vanilla and we thought it a great place to start out.
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It's not a massive difference between regions, and you'll find that much of what you'll do in each region is similar, from taking out Outposts to blowing up cult property and rescuing prisoners, but it does mix the second to second combat up somewhat.
Speaking of the combat, as you'd expect you've got plenty of choice here, from the bow (with explosive and incendiary arrows) to rocket launchers, remote explosives, shotguns, LMGs, sniper rifles, and just about everything you can ask for. There's nothing really novel here, yet we're not missing a thing. The gunplay itself is as you'd expect from Far Cry, not entirely tight, but satisfying and there's a tendency for some enemies to be bullet sponges (though, it should be said that is what forces you to play tactically, so it's not a terrible thing). Putting half a magazine worth of .50 calibre rounds into the head of a helmet-wearing heavy is a bit silly, but it does force you to mix things up. Maybe look to the environment for help (blow up a car), maybe use stealth, maybe flank, or perhaps have your friendly Grizzly Cheeseburger run at him.
That takes us to one of the new things in Far Cry 5, your AI companions, or guns for hire (or fangs as is the case of Cheeseburger). All in all, there are nine companions you'll run into in Hope County, each offering a different style of support from the tank ways of Cheeseburger to the helicopter support of the somewhat sexually obsessed Adelaide, the stealthy ways of actual cougar Peaches, or the range of an archer like Jess. They also offer comic relief and some of them, in particular Hurk and Adelaide, are constantly delivering one-liners outside of the action. You can command them to a certain degree, but we also found that left to their own devices sometimes they act in what's not exactly your or their best interests. We had one companion run off and attract helicopters and reinforcements as we were trying to figure out a prepper stash (more on those later), and once there was a puzzle where we had to electrify a water covered floor jumping on boxes, and lets just say our friend didn't get that memo and sizzled like bacon as a result.
But AI companions will never replace the real thing and the fact that you can enjoy the open world with a friend is, simply put, brilliant. Basically, you're able to invite a friend into your Hope County as support, they'll get to keep the perk points (Far Cry 5's progression system) they earn, but won't earn resistance points in their campaign. A rather casual approach to co-op then, but one that works well and you'll have lots of fun in this sandbox with a friend. Things do get a lot easier with a buddy (and a lot crazier), but it serves as a great way to speed up progression or tackle an outpost that's been giving you trouble.
We mentioned a couple of things above that need more explaining. You'll earn perk points in Far Cry 5 in several ways and these feed into the skill tree. Most of the skills are unlockable from the start, but some you'll need to progress through the story or earn through unlocking previous tiers. There's certainly every opportunity to set up a very powerful build from the get-go, whether you invest in your bow, or in stealth. One way to earn them is to seek out prepper stashes, which can be more or less elaborate puzzle challenges, sometimes with enemies thrown in for good measure, where you'll need to find keys, restore power, or climb/dive somewhere in order to get to get the goodies. Each stash contains not just gear, but three perk points. These prepper stashes offered some of our favourite moments in the game, and they are nice breaks from the intense action that makes up the bulk of your time in Hope County. If you enjoyed stuff like the tombs of Assassin's Creed Origins or in Rise of the Tomb Raider, these will appeal to you. There's also fishing and hunting and collectables if you're looking for things to do in Hope County that are a bit more relaxing.
There's a great mix of activities (we almost forgot the checkpoint stunt races starring Clutch Nixon - his theme is now imprinted in our heads for all eternity), and you'll be happy to know there isn't a ton of radio towers to climb (there are a few, but they don't unlock regions and missions and are now part of certain mission objectives). Instead, your missions are provided by Hope County folks and you'll get to know quite a few, which by the end of the game makes you care about Hope County and the people who live there. They may be a bit silly, and at times the militia are every bit as bad as the cult, but for the most part you'll come to appreciate them, which makes things even darker as you wrestle for control with the cult.
Joseph Seed is a brilliant antagonist, and his heralds all offer something different, something diabolical. The narrative itself is very dark, and we have to commend Ubisoft on delivering such a strong narrative in a game that otherwise keeps things light-hearted. The religious theme may turn some people off, but we found it interesting and not overly evangelic.
As you may have gathered we really enjoyed our time in Hope County, but there were some issues here and there. We had to restart a handful of missions as they glitched out in some fashion, not allowing us to finish what we were doing, and there was also this weird incident where we couldn't quit out of a mission, and we had to break an endless loop of loading the same mission by fast travelling out as soon as the game had loaded.
It's not game breaking stuff, and they're things you might expect in a sandbox game where players won't always do as expected, but still, it was a bit more than we would have liked to have seen. The companion AI and the gunplay are other weak points, as are the vehicle physics, but you'll warm up to the gunplay and vehicle controls over the course of the game. Something that's more a matter of taste are the Angels, or as most would refer to them, the zombies, and they feel a bit out of place here. We understand their inclusion from a gameplay perspective (they force up close and personal action), but we could have done without them to be honest. Thankfully they're only in Faith's region. There are also passages where Far Cry 5 tries its hand as a corridor shooter, and while these passages offer great narrative experiences, it's also clear that the game is best when the player has as much freedom as possible to approach a situation; it's just not a great corridor shooter.
The visuals of Far Cry 5 leave little to complain about. The Montana wilderness is beautifully recreated, and perhaps the only thing we would have liked to have seen is more faces among the cult members we blew up. Having angry, bearded twins run up to us side-by-side did break the immersion on one occasion. Meanwhile, the sounds of explosions, gunfire, and vehicles make up most of the soundscape, but we also enjoyed listening to the radio stations and there were some great choices as far as the soundtrack goes. The voice acting was also spot on, and we have to send a thought to the actor who portrayed Adelaide as the number of blatant sexual innuendos recorded for her part was enough to make a dead person blush.
We haven't even mentioned Arcade, which is Far Cry 5's multiplayer offering that also includes the staple of the franchise, the map editor. This part of the game offers plenty of freedom and it's something we're interested in returning to after player creativity has had its way with the assets provided by Ubisoft Montreal (players can use features pulled from other recent titles such as Assassin's Creed Origins and Watch Dogs 2). It may not be the main course for most players, but for some, it will be.
Overall, Far Cry 5 offers a delightful sandbox and a very memorable story. It's a great experience, even if it's not perfect, and it's one we certainly recommend to fans of the series and fans of open-world action games in general. The end of the world may be approaching, but at least you'll have a diabetic grizzly bear named Cheeseburger as your companion.
8 / 10
The Far Cry sandbox entertains as always, Beautiful environments, Lots of fun moments, A dark and memorable story, Prepper stashes are a great addition, Co-op is a delight.
AI companions aren't always acting as they should, A few too many mission glitches, We're not fans of the additions of "zombies".