There’s a moment early on in Far Cry 5 when, in the middle of climbing to the top of a particularly high structure, you’re explicitly told over radio by a key character not to worry – he won’t have us climbing towers all over the place.
It’s a reference to that overused AAA trope of climbing up to a high vantage point to unlock segments of the map of course – something Ubisoft arguably popularised with Assassin’s Creed – but here, in Ubisoft’s latest open world, it’s used as a chance to tell us: “This is not the Far Cry you’re used to”.
That ends up not being entirely true, unfortunately. Far Cry 5 is certainly the most refined and accessible the series has ever been, and there are some genuinely cool new ideas in there, but for the most part? This is the same Far Cry formula.
Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a bad thing – Ubisoft are nothing if not skilled at creating massive virtual playgrounds to dick around in, and Far Cry has always been the pinnacle of the Ubi experience, at least for my money.
What’s new this time round, though? Well, Far Cry 5 eschews the more exotic settings of previous games to take us on a journey to the fictional Hope County, Montana (America, but I’m sure you knew that). The sun dappled hills, dense forests, and lakes of Hope County are undeniably gorgeous, but it lacks that certain thrill that the stranger climes of Far Cry 3 and 4 provided.
Still, the American setting allows for a new kind of story and characters. Ubisoft has done a great job of making the most of this opportunity in regards to the game’s characters – be they good or bad, useful companions or simple quest givers, you’ll come across a hearty variety of whacky and often downright chilling personalities, from a badass priest who carries a gun in his Bible, to a religious fanatic with a fondness for torture.
The character you’ll be taking control of, meanwhile, is a fully customisable mute. Given the protagonist was never the strong point of Far Cry, I think this a great move on the part of Ubisoft. Not only does it help to further immerse you in the role regardless of age, gender, or race, it also allows the side characters more time to shine.
These are characters you’ll want to shine, by the way. You can take a number of companions along for the ride with you, each with their own quirks and backstories. Whether you’re going into battle with Boomer “the good boy” Dog, or calling on the expert marksmanship of Grace Armstrong, you’ll always have a friend.
Unfortunately, the actual plot could have done a little more – A small US County being overrun by religious fanatics could have tried to say a little bit more about the modern world than it ultimately does, but I doubt anyone picks up a Far Cry game for biting social commentary, to be fair.
The game’s main protagonist, Father Joseph Seed, is less charismatic and commanding a presence as the likes of Vaas or Pagan Min, but I’m not sure that’s what they were going for this time.
Seed is properly scary in a different kind of way – mere minutes into the superb cinematic intro (when it all inevitably goes wrong), Father Seed will shit you up. This is a villain that’s calm and collected, no matter what, for that scariest of reasons – he truly believes that what he is doing is right.
Such a character might have had more room for exploration in a more focused game, but this is Far Cry, so travelling an open world and shooting lots of people until you take back control is the order of the day, and this often comes at the expense of subtlety.
From here then, it’s the same Far Cry you know and love (or hate). It’s your job as Deputy of the fair County to restore order and drive Seed’s religious militia out. You can do this by liberating each of the game’s three regions, which are controlled by other charming members of the Seed family – each fascinating characters in their own rights.
You can draw out the big bad of each region by earning resistance points, which can be done by destroying their outposts, saving civilians, screwing with their plans by helping out NPCs with quests – basically pissing them off as much as you can.
This offers a less rigid approach to progression that actually makes the game feel much more free than previous entries. You can tackle any of the three regions at any time, with certain key story events being triggered with each member of the family after you’ve earned a certain number of resistance points in that region.
Even better, once you’ve fully liberated a region, you can still go back and mop up any sidequests you might have missed, and earn a “liberation bonus” in the form of extra cash for your troubles.
Helpfully, the sidequests offer a wide variety of entertaining missions with unique characters – these can range from harvesting bull testicles (to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing), and racing down a dirt road to get a pregnant friend to the hospital on time. I’ve yet to come across a side mission that repeats itself in any way, and there’s always something surprising waiting around corner.
The world itself is packed with things to do, find, and see, and everything is wonderfully dynamic. There are few games where I avoid fast travelling, but so far in Far Cry 5 I’ve been enjoying driving or flying between objectives to see what’ll happen – usually I get shot at a lot, but that’s all part of the fun.
Weapons are a familiar mix of bows, shotguns, snipers, and rifles – all fully customisable along with a perk tree so you can be your best self. Progression moves along at a steady rate, so you’ll always have a new weapon, skill, or vehicle to play around with.
If you’ve played Far Cry before and already have a certain playstyle down, there isn’t much on offer to encourage you to deviate from your old approach, but whether you sneak around outposts like a ninja or storm in with a shotgun and a heart full of murder, moment to moment gameplay is as rewarding and exciting as it’s ever been.
The UI of Far Cry 5, meanwhile, is the best it’s ever been in the series. The screen isn’t clogged up with needless information or minimaps, with Ubisoft instead opting for a minimalist approach that really helps you to lose yourself in the game’s gorgeous world.
Far Cry 5 is still inescapably a Far Cry game. If you’ve never been a fan of the series, this isn’t the one that’s suddenly gonna change your mind.
However, if you’ve always been a fan – or could just stand to switch your brain off for a little while and dive into some mindless violent fun with a diabetic bear at your side (no, really) – then Far Cry 5 is absolutely worth your time.
The finely tuned gameplay, exhilarating combat, and sheer volume of things to see and do will doubtless keep you busy for a fair few weekends to come.