Far Cry 5 Review - Almost As Crazy As Real Montana, But A Lot More Fun
After a trip back into prehistory, the open-world antics of this beloved but faltering series return with Far Cry 5, and this time around, we're going to a rather unexpected location in America's Midwest.
I've lived in Montana my whole life, and the gaming community here was pretty stoked when a Ubisoft team showed up to film areas and talk to residents for inspiration. We were also more than a little amused at the supposed controversy that erupted over placing the series here because apparently it's cool to shoot people in Nepal and the Caribbean, but America is just a bridge too far?
Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation as a backwoods area filled with hillbillies and covered wagons, there are areas of my state that very much feel like they belong in a video game or horror movie franchise.
We've had the Freemen, the Unabomber, a serial killer cannibal, religious colonies where boys and girls can't sit on the same side of the classroom, animals that can and will eat you, an annual festival for consuming fried bull testicles, an extreme gun fetish, lots of wide open space, and racking up double-digit DUIs is basically our state sport.
In other words, this place is absolutely perfect for the type of experience Far Cry offers.
Horror and Humor
There has been a tonal shift from the last few games over to Far Cry 5, and that tone is found everywhere from inventory item descriptions to quest objectives to one-liners quipped by your guns for hire. In a very tried-and-true Montanan way, my hireling saw me harvesting a plant to use for a recipe and exclaimed, "Oh no, are you a vegan?"
There are loads of jokes in the inventory screen as you scroll through various items and pelts, from "oregano" that comes in a plastic baggie and is oddly good when baked in brownies to quips about sexy momma cougars.
Although not mentioned by name, Trump gets made fun of -- a lot -- so if that sort of thing is going to tick you off, well, you've been warned. I had a good chuckle when my gun for hire, whose home was recently destroyed and overrun by a cult, stated out of the blue that "last week the only thing I was worried about was the president starting a nuclear war over Twitter."
From custom-painted death tractors (yes, it is very satisfying to run cultists over with those whirling blades) to an unironic look at the doomsday prepper lifestyle, you can bet you will be constantly laughing while playing.
That's just one half of the equation of this well-rounded experience, though, as horror makes up the other side of the Far Cry coin. Although nothing overtly supernatural has happened so far in my playthrough, there are a lot of similarities to the opening segments of Outlast 2 and Resident Evil 7.
The game has some freedom to go in that direction with the psychedelic aspects brought on by a flower used in a local drug. Even plague-style "zombies" who are addicted to the stuff and shrug off gunfire make an appearance. A very strong Outlast vibe appears when antagonist Faith Seed spouts creepy religious proclamations over the radio after completing quests in her area of the map. Based on these encounters, it's easy to see how the DLC will involve martians and zombies.
You can't help but get a little bit of a Covenant family feel along the lines of Clive Barker's Undying when seeing framed pictures of the Seed family clan. Joseph Seed himself is maybe even a better, more crazy-eyed villain than fan-favorite Vaas. The guy is legitimately unnerving, singing hymns softly to himself while staring at you all bug-eyed and getting ready to kill people.
Just How Far Cry Is This, Really?
So with this shift in tone, can you expect the exact same ride as in Far Cry 4 and Primal? The repetitive nature of the series is frequently the biggest complaint fans have, and it's clear the developers know that.
I laughed out loud near the beginning of the game when a character says, "I know what you are thinking, but don't worry, I won't be having you climb radio towers all over the county." They know about those fan complaints, and they are openly making fun of themselves.
That being said, there are plenty of familiar mechanics at play here, like hunting animals, gathering plants, liberating outposts, a vehicle chase sequence, etc., but this one feels different in a way that Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal didn't.
By tweaking a few elements and changing up the appearance of several key objects, this does feel like a reinvigorated version of the franchise. When you throw in the horror and resistance elements, it's sort of like Far Cry meets Homefront meets Outlast, rather than Far Cry Part 87.
The various missions, side quests, and points of interest to discover feel more organic and less like a checklist to tick off across a map. A revamped skill system features perk points gained by playing in different ways and exploring different areas, so it encourages you to vary your experience.
Far Cry 5 is also more immediately open than previous games, which typically gated you into certain areas. After completing the tutorial island, you can immediately jump in a plane and go anywhere you want, even if it's not to the next mission section.
Resistance members can be recruited to go on missions with you, but the big draw here is the three different "fangs" for hire, offering stealth, tank, and scouting options. You have to actually work to recruit and gain the trust of these animal companions, unlike in Far Cry 4, where you could just unlock a skill and, for some reason, elephants would let you ride them into battle.
Having wild cougars and bears as your buddies is already ludicrous, though, so it's a damn shame there wasn't a bald eagle companion to help spread a little freedom.
Apart from the animal hirelings, the Far Cry formula gets changed up by creating your own maps in Arcade mode, and progression is shared between Arcade and the main story, with many perks working in both modes. You can expect to get a lot of extra hours out of the game with Arcade, either before or after completing the main story.
Just How Montanan Is This, Really?
Far Cry is a series that has radically changed locations and environments between games, and that continues here with the switch from India to pre-historic Europe and now to Montana. Just how authentic did they make the experience, though? Pretty darn, it turns out.
The opening vignette with a camera crew interviewing people about the events of the game feels a lot like Montana. People in dingy bars at 11:00 in the morning would say those things and dress that way, and the locations mostly look spot-on.
Ubisoft got a lot right with the topography, the wildlife, the apple and pumpkin orchards, the Testy Festy, and so on. The forest and water areas are pretty accurate, although I was surprised by the rivers. While there are plenty of placid lakes for fishing, the rivers here are not nearly as calm as portrayed. They flow, and they flow fast.
Every year someone drowns trying to swim across the Missouri, which is a uniformly bad idea, so it's kind of silly seeing the deputy main character be able to do that without breaking a sweat. That's just one of those areas where a player has to suspend disbelief to have fun, though.
The climate is a bit of a stretch as well, as there's only a very small window where the state isn't either a frozen wasteland or a smoke-choked hellscape due to the summer wildfires.
The game's rip-roaring Dukes Of Hazard car chase shenanigans are fun, although that's more of a Southern thing. The menu music is also more Southern -- like almost Civil War-Southern, where you expect Ken Burns to start narrating over it -- than anything you'd typically hear in Montana.
Yeah, by and large, we are a bunch of backward, gun-obsessed, religious hillbillies, but we're a different breed of backward, gun-obsessed, religious hillbillies than those folks down South.
The Bottom Line
Familiar mechanics, tone shift, and revamped location aside, there are some negatives here, most notably with regard to the bugs.
There were a few sections where the sound cut out for some reason, and if you stand still while talking to an NPC, the camera randomly pans up every few seconds instead of sticking in the direction you are looking. During one loading screen, I even experienced a freeze and crash. While I expect those issues to be (hopefully) fixed with the day-one patch, others will probably stick around.
While I love the revamped gun-for-hire system, the companion AI can be a bit wonky. In one instance, I was crouching, firing arrows at a deer, and my companion just got up and walked in front of me as I shot the next one, knocking her down and requiring a revive. In another instance, I rappelled down a mountainside with a skill, but my loyal animal friend decided to hurl herself bodily to the bottom, resulting in obvious (and hilarious) death.
Those bugs hurt the experience, but not by much. Far Cry 5 is one of the few games where you can get into a flamethrower fight, hit a buffalo with a semi truck on the interstate, light a cow on fire and watch it rampage through an enemy base, or blow up a truck with a mortar and then run in and paddle the survivors to death.
It's dumb, goofy, wonderful fun, with a smooth balance between action, comedy, and horror. Far Cry 5 was one of our most anticipated shooters of 2018, and other than a few bugs, it lives up to my expectations and even exceeds them in some areas.
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Note: A review copy of Far Cry 5 was provided by the publisher.