In 2002, Australian band The Vines released their debut album, Highly Evolved. Its title was entirely tongue in cheek: their sound was firmly rooted in the past, a grungy, garage-rocking racket that briefly flirted with mainstream success before its makers, over the course of a series of less-impactful long-players, slipped into irrelevance.
In 2004, the year of The Vines’ second LP, Ubisoft published Far Cry, the first game in a franchise that, in 2018, finds itself at Far Cry 5 . A critical hit that also sold fantastically well, the ambitious first-person shooter let the player loose, in a non-linear fashion, across tropical terrains, battling both human and mutant enemies. It’s the foundation for everything that’s followed in its series since, spanning five core games and seven spin-off titles.
But when The Vines’ ‘Get Free’, the best-known single from Highly Evolved, comes on the in-car radio during one of Far Cry 5’s many drives on its sprawling, Montana-set map to another, you may find yourself transported back to the early noughties.
Whatever happened to those guys, you may think to yourself. And also: is this game closer to something from back then than it is a new experience, worthy of appreciation in 2018? Is it doing anything fresh within the first-person shooter genre?
Familiarity Breeds Content
No, it isn’t. If you’re coming to Far Cry 5 looking for originality, beyond a handful of peripheral mechanical additions (which we’ll get to later), you’re going to be disappointed. The best way to summarise Far Cry 5 is: it’s another Far Cry game. If you played Far Cry 3, back in 2012, or Far Cry 4 from 2014, you’ll feel right at home.
No alarms, and no surprises. But, by now, with the pre-release hubbub regarding Far Cry 5’s potential for timely political commentary alongside the usual explosive hijinks setting expectations cautiously optimistic for something more, shouldn’t this series be upping its game, rather than contently splashing around in the FPS shallows?
The red barrels still go bang. If ever there’s a visual and mechanical metaphor for how Far Cry 5 fails to significantly move its series forwards, it’s the scattered combustibles on any of its battlefields. Many of these seem to magnetically attract an adversary, who can then be sent flying courtesy of a puncturing shot into the gas tank, fuel canister, silo, actual barrel or whatever. Boom: man down.
Throughout, the gunplay in Far Cry 5 feels, at its best, like blowing off steam in a tried-and-tested manner; and at worst like a chore. Like with many Ubisoft games, it ends up feeling like just another box to check on a long list of to-do items, main missions and side-quests that build up in no time at all, until the game map eventually becomes peppered with so many waypoints that it looks like a dot-to-dot of directionless confusion.
Speaking of Ubisoft game design, there are towers, too. They don’t unlock new locations on the map – Ubisoft is past that, nowadays. But they’re there, to be grappled up, scaled so as to get a good look at the surrounding (fictional) Hope County, a rugged mix of fertile farmlands, geothermal pools, craggy outcrops, dense woodland and rambling rivers.
As a virtual world to speedboat, quad-bike and wing-suit your way around (there are planes and helicopters, pick-ups and juggernaut 18-wheelers, too), Hope County’s nice enough. It’s just a constant shame that in journeying from place to place, cast as a nameless deputy officer of the law, a dozen other sites of questionable interest are registered and marked on your map, for little reason other than to pad the game’s runtime.
A Family Affair
Into these once pleasant lands are dropped Far Cry 5’s antagonists, the Seed family and their heavily armed doomsday cult, Eden’s Gate. The game’s opening scenes address just how dangerous this lot are, especially the leading father-figure of the family and wider cult alike, the frequently topless and hipster top-knotted Joseph.
The four family members are the key orchestrators of what they’re calling the Collapse – the capital “C” varies depending on what in-game text you’re looking at – which essentially translates as an end-times scenario where Joseph forces the local populace to follow him into a kind of heavenly salvation.
The narrative beats around this central through-line are tonally inconsistent and rarely persuasive on their own terms, but all you really need to know is: stop the bad guys. And to do this, you’ve got to chip away at the control Joseph’s three immediate underlings, his heralds, have over three separate regions of Hope County.
Cause enough of a stink, and you earn yourself a showdown with Faith, John or Jacob. Take them out of the equation, and Joseph’s going to want rather more than a word in your ear.
Across the campaign, these primary villains don’t fade into the background as minor victories and urgency-mocking side-missions come to dominate proceedings. (Not to mention all the other, now-traditional extra stuff – who really has time to go fishing, or stunt-buggying, when the neighbourhood is going to hell in a handbasket?)
The Seed family crackle into your thoughts via radio messages and TV spots, and even send capture crews after you from time to time, which adds a little frisson to the like-clockwork routine gameplay of clearing out cult-occupied properties and razing their shrines to the ground. Joseph isn’t only there at the beginning and end – your character will be getting up close and personal with him on more than one occasion before the climax presents itself.
By reminding you, on regular occasions, that there are these big-bads that need taking care of, Far Cry 5 doesn’t totally lose the player to the buffet of sideshow attractions that have been bolted onto the single-player campaign. But the widespread Far Cry Arcade machines (and, um, posters), which warp you to the UGC-welcoming mode of the same name, do completely remove you from Hope County and the hostilities playing out within it.
Your achievements in these one-shot missions and multiplayer maps, created by other players, carry over to the campaign – which is totally immersion-breaking, but then, video games.
That said, a break from the avalanche of stuff in Far Cry 5’s campaign is welcomed. This game throws objectives at you until there’s just so many possibilities in terms of what to do next that option paralysis manifests and kills any momentum you thought you had.
Characters are introduced thick and fast, only ever painted in broad brushstrokes of personality, so as to engender no meaningful connection with the player – indeed, the most memorable are the most deliberately (and unamusingly) repugnant, like a fourth-wall-breaking film director and an “Obama-loving libtards”-hating right-wing politician (IRL Montana voted Trump, FYI).
You’ll find yourself setting out to help these people, while all the time wondering: how is this helping? At one point, you have to harvest bull balls for the annual Fall’s End ‘Testy Festy’, and wind up passed out drunk after hammering shots. Guys, guys, there’s a bloody militia rounding people up in this here valley, practically on our doorsteps, and we’re messing about with prairie oysters?
Far Cry 5’s annoyances aren’t exclusively of the why-are-we-doing-this-when-the-world-is-going-to-crap narrative kind. There’s some noticeable bugginess, with key characters not always recognising your presence immediately, wondering aloud where you’ve got to when you’re standing right in front of them, trying to trigger the next conversation.
There’s agonisingly bad repeating dialogue that occurs when you have two NPCs working with you, and mission-sensitive instructions will be relayed to you, over and over, if you wander too far from the particular objective’s action zone, and then return to it (as is easy, if you’re attacking in a plane, for instance).
Bear with it
There is a bear, though. And the bear, whose name is Cheeseburger, is great. The cuddly murder-machine is one of your guns (well, fangs and teeth, in his case) for hire – an unlockable AI buddy who can be let loose on enemy encampments. Using these specialists – there are humans, of course, snipers and pilots and that; but also, a cougar called Peaches and a Very Good Boy by the name of Boomer – makes carving through the Seeds’ lesser ranks substantially easier than going it alone.
So: unlock yourself a bear, a loyal dog and a very moody and toothy big cat ASAP, and watch those cultists flee (and/or die, horribly). And then pet them afterwards. There are few better sights in this game than Cheeseburger giving you a big, slobbery lick of friendliness.
Alongside these assistants, another new feature of Far Cry 5 is its character creation tool. You can select your own outfit (and gender, skin colour and hair type), unlock new threads and buy them at shops, but only very rarely see yourself in the third person – on wanted posters, and when you die – so it’s rare that you can fully appreciate your sartorial choices.
But this kind of personal tailoring isn’t exactly an unknown in video games; nor, too, is the recruitment of allies. So while they’re nice additions to this particular franchise, they’re hardly breathing truly fresh air into it.
Speaking of allies, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the entire game can be played in co-op. Like with Far Cry 4 before it, Ubisoft’s latest lets you bring along a buddy for some open world hijinx. Screwing around in this sunlit sandbox with a mate brought a smile to our faces on a handful of occasions, but like most of Far Cry 5 — it feels like we’ve simply done it all before.
Is ‘Far Cry 5’ Any Good?
The Vines’ Craig Nicholls used to flip burgers for a living, before he made it as a musician. That became one of the most popular talking points of early interviews. In Far Cry 5, it’s a totally different kind of Cheeseburger who’s the star of the show, more so than Joseph or your own law enforcer – but just as The Vines’ music was explicitly backwards of form, so this game, too, feels like a relic, for all its surface-level sparkle.
The red barrels still go bang, same as it ever was. If that’s enough for you, cool, but there’s something so very predictable, and already played-out, about Far Cry 5 that’ll leave a fair share of players wondering if this is the series’ final bow, as it seems to have run out of creative steam. More future primitive than highly evolved, there is some fun to be had here, but ultimately it’s a game that adds nothing of substance to either genre or franchise.