Far Cry 5 review: Praise be to dog (Boomer, your AI pooch pal)
Far Cry 5 doesn't go beyond 4 by a country mile, but its real purdy with plenty of kick-ass co-op.
As I hoist myself up into the driver's seat of Far Cry 5's best big rig, I can't help but marvel at the psychotic redneck engineering of it. “The Widowmaker” is 400 horses and 20 tons of Murican pride, smeared in purple paint, bald eagle graphics, and rocking twin .50 cal machine guns. The freedom-dispensing potential here is off the chart, but I have a doubt – should I really be using this OP Optimus Prime on my brain-washed countrymen?
The universe answers when I twist the ignition key. CCR's “Bad Moon Rising” spills out of the radio with its cheerful prediction of an impending apocalypse. Above the speaker, a rabbid bobblehead stares crazily into my soul and starts to nod. Through the windshield beyond, I notice the Eden's Gate cult has erected Hollywood-sized lettering on a mountain and crucified a local for good measure. Their sign says “YES”. Good enough for me.
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The chaos that follows is some of the best fun I've had in the Far Cry series, thanks in no small part to the ability to share the entire campaign with a second player. Now that the backdrop has shifted from the Himalayas to Hicksville, USA (aka Montana, aka “Hope County”) an increase in tarred roads turns this fifth outing into a white line nightmare, ala Mad Max. The Project at Eden's Gate cult is more or less a home-grown Christian ISIS – the only thing they love more than torture is their white 4x4s, used for convoy, kidnapping and roadblocking purposes. That's great news if you're letting Satan take the wheel in The Widowmaker while a mate rides shotgun (not literally – he used a scoped .44 Magnum).
Having access to roughly two dozen muscle cars, quads, pickups and trucks is pretty handy for a map this enormous, but Hope County also includes a vast wilderness that defies wheels. This is beautiful “big sky country” – especially in 4K – and these backwoods are full of procedural events that'll keep you in the sweet spot of the action. You might cop a cult ambush or a predator attack; the best moments being when those two elements mix with one another without your input. Far Cry 5 jettisons towers, but is still big on outpost captures, fetch-quests, and undertaking allegiance missions to earn the trust of 12 potential AI partners.
Better yet, Hope County has been sliced into thirds and these regions are quite diverse in terms of geography, enemy types and mini-boss themes. Batshit doomsayer and man-bun aficionado, Joseph Seed, has handed control of each region to his equally-nutso siblings. As an out-of-your-depth deputy with no means to call for the National Guard – just one of the many problems of being a mute protagonist – it's your job to pick off these lieutenants in any order you see fit by raising “Resistance Points”. General disobedience will earn you chump change RP, story missions pay out big time. When those three dominoes fall, you get to go after Captain Crazy himself. Pretty standard, but being given full access to the map from the get-go, unlike Far Cry 4, is much appreciated.
Though the Seed family initially appears to be a dysfunctional collective of unique personalities, disappointingly they offer few surprises. John Seed is the silver-tongued televangelist huckster who controls the low-lying Holland Valley townships. Faith Seed employs hallucinogens and holds dominion over the Henbane River, an area filled with drug crops and junkies hepped up to super-human levels of pain resistance. Lastly, Jacob Seed is a sadistic ex-soldier who's leveraging his knowledge of PTSD to create his own killbot factory in the Whitetail Mountains.
Sounds like a rich cast of villains, but they're stuck on the one template. Upon reaching two tiers of RP, Far Cry 5 will inexplicably grab you by the scruff of the neck, no matter what you're doing, and all of a sudden you're just captured by them. Getting out means undertaking a trippin'-balls level which is rooted in that Seed's particular brand of mind-screwery, and then you escape to do it again another day. By the time I hit the end credits I'd escaped from the Seed kids six times. They're basically a family of incompetent Bond villains.
Likewise, Joseph Seed is a slow-burn villain. Far Cry foes like Vaas Montenegro and Pagan Min were magnetic personalities straight out of the gate. Joseph is an enigmatic bible-basher that doesn't come into his own until the third act, by which point you'll wonder how cray-cray he really is. Personally, I was quite satisfied with where this 15-hour main campaign ended up (though the big reveal was clumsily telegraphed in the final hours). Be that as it may, this is mostly well-written stuff that's oddly prescient, given development lag and the state of the world today.
Delivering divine retribution to the Seeds is rarely dull time. Yes, ok, FC5's gun rack may feel overladen with re-skins and deja vu, but, on the plus side, gunplay is tighter and more realistic now that Ubisoft has switched to projectile-based ballistics. Ubi has also put more effort into making a bloody excellent fishing system, and I love how your backup buddies react to one another in wonderful ways when you pair them up. That, and the skies have been opened up like never before, thanks to hang-gliders and Far Cry 4's gyrocopter being switched out for attack choppers and home-made Spitfires.
There is however a problem with some of these new systems, and it centres around unreliable AI. Strafing enemy planes exhibit ridiculous physics at times, and I've seen their pilots ditch in hilarious ways. Less amusing moments include the times when my AI “pals” forgot their path-finding skills (three incidents of, each one requiring a check reload).
Speaking of baddies, once or twice I had cultists go catatonic on me, unable to exit their vehicles and all but oblivious to the bullets and beer cans I sent their way. In general, I noticed they have a tendency to fixate on an ally of yours and ignore you as they make a beeline to them. That'll happen even if your friend is through a wall and you're within spitting distance with an assault rifle. Is this intermittent phenomenon patchable? Most likely, but bear in mind FC5 was delayed and had plenty of time to exorcise these demons.
It's quite a shame the fundamentals aren't nailed down, because there are some great advancements elsewhere in this production. Like I said before, the co-op is phenomenal fun with the right person, the Clutch Nixon stunt events are a blast, plus there's an open progression system that lets you score any perk you want – you just need to fund your choice by doing some unrelated skill-based tasks. Far Cry Arcade is a generous initiative, too. It's an incredibly powerful and intuitive mission editor that ought to keep fans well supplied with user-generated solo / co-op / PvP content. Massive longevity increase aside, pure adversarial multi feels improved over Far Cry 4, but still lacks the mechanical fine-tuning and features-set of your average CoD or Battlefield.
When the end comes, Far Cry 5 winds up being an utterly gorgeous, worryingly-topical ride that lacks some of the fresh, exotic flavour of its predecessors. (Montana is postcard material, no doubt, but it's no Africa, Indonesia or the Himalayas.) However, the gunplay has improved, your toybox overfloweth, and, perhaps fittingly for a game set in the U S of A, freedom has been increased across the board – be it in terms of sandbox size, progression, or comrade opportunities. Like the Seed clan, a few screws are loose right now, technically speaking, but on the whole this is worthy of your dollars and devotion.
We reviewed Far Cry 5 on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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