Far Cry 5 continues Ubisoft Montreal’s surprising revitalisation of strong franchises that had lost the element of surprise. Like last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Far Cry 5 doesn’t throwaway the playbook, but does substantial rewrites to craft something that not only feels new (though recognisable), but more complete. It takes the best parts of Far Cry and improves them, and those aspects that had become overplayed or too familiar and reworks or reduces them for the ultimate balance.
Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, Far Cry 5’s immediate introduction to sinister cult leader Joseph Seed, known by his devout followers simply as The Father, channels memories of Resident Evil’s iconic arrival; before escalating into a frenzied run for your life reminiscent of fleeing from an unidentified shooter in PUBG. The press tour revealed the search for an actor to play such an unnerving antagonist ran deeper than usual into development, and Greg Bryk’s chilling performance is responsible for setting the tone within the opening minutes. While he isn’t as visible as Vaas or Pagan Min, because three of his “brothers and sisters” shoulder some of the responsibility, Joseph is an equally formidable presence peering over your shoulder.
Hope County knows guns, hunting and religion. Both sides of the ledger are regular attendees at Sunday mass, but The Father’s belief’s deviate from those of the Church. Devious villains are what set Far Cry apart in a crowded genre, and the Seed clan are no exception. Their demands that characters atone for their “sins” and wear proof hacked into their flesh had me squirming. Our relatively generic progtonist is another matter. Known to the locals as The Deputy, the male or female avatar has a wardrobe of hillbilly outfits that are only shown off in the co-op modes. He or she seems content to be the least memorable person in Hope County.
Changes to the last-gen formula are headlined by the removal of radio towers, for the most part, and an open world without clear linear progression. After finding an ally, Montana opens into a clear three regions, each controlled by one of the Seed siblings, and largely leaves you to your own devices. You’re free to tackle each of the baddies in any order you see fit, and can choose to complete missions and objectives between all regions. Doing so increases your resistance score again each of the leaders, eventually opening up a final encounter after a few minor altercations weighed heavily in your opponents’ favour.
It doesn’t feel like a big change initially, but the more you play the more it feels like a genuinely open world to explore, free of encumbrances. The standard tutorial handholding is quick to take its leave, and you’ll soon discover the need to explore uncharted territories to find new story missions, as they aren’t all presented on a platter. The map unlocks simply by traversing the world, but is vaguely visible beneath the fog to tempt you into exploring suspicious landmarks. It’s liberating to venture into an open world that wants you to explore and forces you to look beyond the beaten path.
Other elements remain true to Far Cry, but in different doses and some have finally taken the long-awaited next step. The biggest map of any Far Cry game allows distance between the predictable outposts, which play almost identically to previous games, which opens more space for random encounters and wild life to thrive. But you won’t be attacked by snakes or bears every five minutes, and animals can largely be avoided if you don’t go looking for them. It has also enabled the introduction of proper helicopters and planes, most equipped with a fierce arsenal of weapons, as Far Cry finally makes a meaningful expansion to its vehicle roster. They unlock a new plan of attack – unrelenting force – as well a handful of engaging battles as Far Cry gets its first dogfights. In many ways Far Cry 5 takes everything down a notch and is slightly more measured in its approach compared to the megalomania of its predecessors, but that all goes out the window when you take to the skies.
Hunting and crafting both return, but take a backseat compared to their focus on Far Cry: Primal. While that was a great reassignment of a familiar franchise, I tired of spending hours plucking flowers and weeds. In Montana, weapons are found or purchased, ammo and medi-kits are scavenged in abundance and health auto-regenerates out of combat, leaving explosives as the main component to craft. If you consider it important, there are minor buffs to concoct and plenty of animals to hunt, but none of it is necessary should if they don’t suit your agenda.
Far Cry 5 is a game about choice. What you play, how you approach and when you do it are all up to you. It prides itself on offering an attacking, covert or plain reckless method to nearly any combat scenario. Hiding in rough foliage, The Deputy can spot patrolling cult fanatics around any secure outpost to mark their locations and keep a watchful eye on them, even when they’re out of clear sight.
From here, you could launch into a full scale attack, or try and distract them and subtly sneak by to complete your objective without raising alarm; a happy medium is the most natural approach, and you’ll need to work at both ends of the spectrum to complete specific missions, but how you approach success in the open-ended scenarios is up to your imagination.
Stealth enthusiasts will do well to attach a silencer wherever possible, while also selecting unlocking perks to match, which are now tied to challenges. Whereas completing objectives will increase your resistance level, you’ll need to complete various challenges to earn skill points to unlock new skills and abilities. While preferred methods and favourite weapons are human nature, the challenge system encourages trialling new ways to play, in much the same way Achievements and Trophies do in games that tie them to specific types of kills, but with an in-game reward instead. It took me a few hours to delve through the menus, but it wasn’t long before I was glad to have incentive to experiment, rather than favourite a single loadout for the entire game.
As well as weapons, challenges prompt you to socialise in co-op and with NPCs in solo play. Far Cry 5’s co-op is a direct adaptation of the single-player campaign, presenting the story and progress of the host player, while a buddy tags along for the ride. It’s certainly a fun game to play with someone, and the vehicles have been designed for more than one player, but outside of the novelty there wasn’t enough to convince me Far Cry 5 is better as a co-op game. Perhaps if progress could be shared, but with the spotlight on the leading player, I lost interest as the supporting character.
If friends bore you as well, Far Cry 5 still wants to play matchmaker and set you up with NPCs called Guns for Hire. These are buddies who owe you big time and return the favour by joining missions at your beck and call. To their credit, most bring something different and useful to the table. From stealthy snipers to a rambunctious bomber pilot and the loyalest dog you’ll ever meet, there’s something to suit every scenario. On the flip side, they sure do die a lot, and for all the advantages to wheeling them out, they can give away your position when trying to sneak in undetected, or beg for assistance while bleeding out seconds after you’ve revived them. Ubisoft has found a way to make an AI squad useful, for the most part, but hasn’t entirely solved incompetence that has always plagued artificial allies.
When taking a break from liberating cult bases, Far Cry Arcade offers a seemingly unlimited selection of maps to conquer, murdering plenty of goons along the way — well, five goons cloned a lot. It’s a means to earn perks and cash that transfer back into the main game, as well as PvP game modes that feature as a nice surprise, rather than a core component. Arcade is hoping the streaming community will lap up the unpredictability of user-generated maps, After a couple of rounds, I returned to the real stuff and it’s yet to entice me to return.
Regardless of the mode, Far Cry 5 is stunning to behold. Hope County is a breathing, living world where the landscape, wildlife and enemies are co-existing in an ecosystem that feels real. It looks amazing in 4K on Xbox One X, enhanced further by a nature use of HDR to brighten the environment and lighting effects.
Far Cry 5 is the thoughtful next step in a series renowned for shooting first and thinking second. The villains are devious, the world is intriguing and the wild animals remind you who owns the land. It takes the Far Cry blueprint and expands the highlights while changing the sliders on aspects that became overused to craft not only the best Far Cry game, but one of the best open worlds to explore this generation, whether alone or with a little help from a friend (or AI dog).
Far Cry 5 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.