Far Cry 5 is incredibly atmospheric, boasting rich world-building and environmental diversity, which together heighten the joys of exploration, central to the overall experience; the decision to situate the narrative in rural, decidedly American, Montana was a bold one, being a radical departure from the game worlds featured in earlier Far Cry titles; the potentialities inherent to this shift in location are eagerly and fully seized upon; bright, crisp foliage abounds, towering trees of green having a prominent presence, right alongside beautiful displays of orange and red, right alongside golden, rolling hills; all throughout is a striking vibrancy. The land’s many mountains loom majestically overhead, dwarfing even those selfsame trees, the end result being an overall sense of smallness within the player, pointing towards his insignificance within the larger picture. This smallness is further communicated owing to an expansive draw distance, which can render seemingly hundreds of such trees at any one moment, their beauty and density most observable whenever piloting an aerial vehicle, which permits a more unique, more exhilarating perspective, as the player cuts through billowy clouds, soars through skies of tranquil blue, pointing towards sustained peacefulness, even as the hostilities existing below absolutely reject peacefulness; the very landscape is divided, tonally and atmospherically. Amongst the greatest atmospheric successes is the rift between nature and civilization; Hope County is relatively remote, and while its citizens have clearly exerted much effort in hopes of taming the wilds, in claiming the lands as their own, untamed nature still has her presence. The spirited of Hope County may labor countless hours in the construction of some sprawling log cabin or lodge; but for every sprawling lodge there are a thousand trees; nature dominates.
In many of its gameplay systems, Far Cry 5 aspires for concision and streamlining, this streamlining most observable when considering this title in relation to its predecessors. One notable departure stems from hunting, player interaction with the worlds’ fauna. In Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4, hunting was central to the entire experience, though despite this centrality it was rather poorly developed and implemented; hunting grew fairly tedious with great haste, and thus became a mere hurdle which must be overcome before truer gameplay could begin in earnest – success and synergy are lacking if the player can wield only two weapons simultaneously, meaning expanded holsters must be crafted; without those, success is elusive, necessitating the instant crafting of that object – the player is forced into a specific direction. Far Cry 5 rejects this restrictive tediousness, minimizing the role and importance of hunting, which in turn makes that act more enjoyable – it is completely optional, though still a welcome inclusion, in that these gathered resources can be sold at vendors for an often-hefty sum. This break is a notable one, and all throughout the game is characterized by breaks, or at least improvements and refinements. The sharpest, most prominent breaks, center around the progression systems. In Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4, each individual action was rewarded with experience points, which could in turn be spent to obtain skills; here, though, experience systems are completely rejected, and this absence has resounding repercussions for gameplay, for its flow. Consider outpost assaults, which have become emblematic of the series. In these earlier titles, seizing these outposts without raising alarms or being detected results in greater experience gains, the end result being a sharp incentivization of this approach, an incentivization which destroys player flexibility – play stealthily and the player will be tangibly and richly rewarded; be loud and bombastic and the reward is lesser: that was the flawed, guiding principle of outpost assaults, flaws which are here removed, in that any given approach is as valid and as rewarded as any other. Freedom remains.
From a gameplay perspective, the title is at heart a conventional first-person-shooter, with a rather exhaustive arsenal of weaponry offered to the player. These weapons, diverse in function, fulfilling different roles, with different strengths and different weaknesses, are indeed enjoyable to shoot, and from a foundational level gunplay is remarkable, engaging. Somewhat frustratingly, a weapon customization system is implemented, and while its presence is certainly welcome, it is painfully underdeveloped: available customization options are largely lacking. Many guns can be affixed only with various weapon sights, while others can be equipped with a silencer, seemingly facilitating greater success in stealth. Magazine sizes can be expanded, while each individual weapon boats various camouflage options, but these alterations are numerically slight. Still, the shooting mechanics are nearly perfected: weapon modelling can be superb and richly detailed, while reload animations display a considerable degree of polish and refinement. Excellent sound design furthers the enjoyability of gunplay, with booming shotgun blasts reverberating through the air, in stark contrast to the quiet puniness of a silenced pistol. When firing automatic weapons, recoil can mount dramatically, forcing the player to consider and measure their shots, to exert restraint. While Far Cry 5 has no aspirations for realism, in its gunplay some realism is seemingly sought, and this blend of realism / the arcadey elevates the entire experience, while a perfect difficulty balance is struck. Exchange one gun for another, and the experience can change dramatically, only encouraging ample experimentation. Some weapons are indeed very situational – consider the flamethrower – but discovering each individual weapon’s strengths and failings is an enriching, enlightening affair. Given the ample opportunities for long-range combat, it follows that in almost all instances a sniper rifle will occupy one weapon slot, and this weapon class generally brings with it great enjoyment, the sniping systems straightforward yet rewarding. Assault rifles, meanwhile, are more universally useful, capable of excelling at medium ranges, fairly long ranges. All of this is of course expected: FPS titles of today are characterized by many lofty expectations, namely that the arsenal must be an exhaustive one and a diverse one. Far Cry 5 not only meets and fulfills these expectations, but it elevates convention somewhat, gameplay – gunplay – engrossing, polished and focused. Ample tools and weapons are provided the player, and it is the player’s responsibility and obligation to make sense of those tools, to combine them interesting ways, or reject them outright; once the mechanics are mastered, unparalleled enjoyment emerges.
In addition to conventional gunplay, a fairly robust stealth systems is at work here, and it is within these precise systems that Far Cry 5 shows marked improvements over its immediate predecessors, which were characterized by cheap, unfairly and unrealistically aware A.I., capable of detecting the player on the instant even where logic suggests they should remain undetected; miss an arrow, even by mere inches, and the intended target will reorient themselves automatically in the direction of the shooter, detection achieved in a matter of seconds, save if the player manages to break line of sight, though even this is at times unfeasible and unreliable: all throughout is frustration, and the adulation which arises upon success in stealthy encounters is a success centered around the conquering of flawed, cheap mechanics; stealth can indeed be fun in Far Cry 3 or Far Cry 4, but that fun is tempered by manifold frustrations; not so in Far Cry 5. A.I. patterns are believable and fair, mitigating potential frustrations – the game is rarely punishing. Disruptions to stealth are also observable within the progression systems; in earlier titles in the series, elaborate, highly useful takedown maneuvers were locked quite a ways into a given skill tree, barring their access and utilization for potentially hours, until the player reaches a narrative threshold where they can be purchased. Here, though, almost all of these takedowns are present from the first, resulting in a certain sense of energy and empowerment. Stealth is, for the first time, completely and lastingly viable, and it is remarkable to consider how consequential is one slight change – the reprogramming of enemy A.I. Were this problem detected and remedied earlier, earlier games would see considerable enhancement. Certain expectations are thrust upon the sequel, whether speaking of the video game industry or any other creative field. The sharpest expectation is that the new game innovate over its predecessors, or at least seize upon the mechanics of its predecessors and modernize them, resulting in continued relevance. In its stealth sequences – and far beyond – Far Cry 5 absolutely satisfies these expectations. Consider further certain quality of life upgrades present here, like an increase in evasiveness whenever situated in lush foliage, or the overall enhancing of mobility options, permitting greater and more seamless redirection, enabling also greater verticality, in turn enabling many more complex, tactical concerns to emerge and dominate, while this liberating locomotion extends towards exploration, too, with a wingsuit and parachute combination obtainable fairly early on in the narrative, resulting in consistently exhilarating moments.
Exploration generally is of paramount importance, and accordingly much time will be spent navigating beautiful, diverse Hope County. Rather than being a mundane act, exploration brings about great displays of enjoyment, much of that enjoyability stemming from the mentioned wingsuit, though a grappling hook is also present, which further facilitates verticality, as towering mountains and other such objects can be scaled with ease. Once this desired elevation has been met, the player can promptly employ the wingsuit, leaping from some precipice and cutting through the skies for an impossible duration. And the skies are not strictly the domain of the wingsuit, as manifold different aerial vehicles are pilotable, hastening locomotion speed, while permitting undisturbed views of the vast countryside, with all its beauties and grandeur. Expectantly, too, ground vehicles have their place, and zooming through lush fields or bouncing from golden hillock to golden hillock can be exhilarating. But these inherent joys of exploration are strongly enhanced by the very minimalistic HUD – gone is an intrusive mini-map, the game instead relying upon a compass system for navigation purposes; completely unintrusive, it fosters greatly player immersion; here is no obnoxious health meter, no obnoxious ammunition counts. Navigating forest, mountains, and rivers is, then, an immensely joyous affair, and the litany of smaller discoverable locations serve a sharp world-building purpose, with derelict, abandoned log cabins explorable, with animal-infested caves also explorable, alongside manifold different locations, each with their own distinct stories to communicate; environmental storytelling expertly abounds. Most compelling amongst these secondary locations are those which contain “prepper stashes,” which oftentimes require simple puzzle-solving or environmental manipulation to reach the desired stash. In one such scenario, electrical currents must be redirected, making accessible a watery path once made inaccessible by the mingling of water and electricity, a lethal obstacle. Another such stash sees careful employment of the grappling hook to reach an isolated location, requiring also some clever platforming. Such stashes are abundant, are like mini-challenges, and they are all very enjoyable to complete, the reward at the end – typically magazines which distribute skill points – being lesser than the reward of satisfaction arising whenever these puzzles or obstacles are solved.
The game’s central narrative is compelling and complex, grappling with impossibly bleak issues like humankinds’ exploitation, the damning powers of gifted coercers. At the heart of it all is Project at Eden’s Gate, a cult formed by Jospeh Seed, its enigmatic leader, master manipulator, who with his words and promises has amassed quite a following within Hope County. In the narrative’s opening, Rook – the player character – arrives in the region by helicopter, with allies situated alongside him in the helicopter’s seats. Their ultimate objective is the seizure of Joseph, a punishment for crimes committed and crimes to inevitably be committed in the future. Ultimately, this expedition ends in disaster, as Rook is separated from his comrades – certain of them dying – while Jospeh leaves to lick his wounds, to gather his forces and, he hopes, to vanquish the encroaching, meddling Rook, symbolic of the rightness and justness which Joseph himself lacks. Saved by a kind, caring individual, Rook briefly convalesces, upon which the narrative begins in earnest: depose Joseph, a deposing which can only occur if his lieutenants and support struggles are first toppled: in that moment, Rook is free to explorable any of the county’s three regions, each guarded and sustained by members of Joseph’s family, two lieutenants being linked to him by actual blood, a third lieutenant being recipient of familial affections though devoid of the biological link. It is a very conventional structure, commonplace within much modern open-world game design: weaken the antagonist’s support system and then destroy the antagonist. But here, and perhaps surprisingly, this conventionalism is not some monumental failing; the game clings to formula, but ultimately manages to transcend the formulaic. Much of this transcendence stems from the characters, themselves, each with distinct personalities and motivations, motivations which are gradually communicated to the player as they interact with each respective lieutenant. Some are inevitably characterized by shallowness and cliché, being villainous for the sake of being villainous, though Faith – the lone female lieutenant and the one not linked to Joseph by blood – exercises considerable depth and profundity. She is illustration of Joseph’s coercive powers, able to prey upon Faith’s insecurities and directionlessness for his own personal gains; she becomes his pawn, though tragically seems to adopt that role gladly, seeing within Joseph potential place and belonging; she is fallen, but is likable because of her fallen status. The collective perverseness of this quartet of villains is frequently communicated to the player, and thus a sharp sense of player urgency arises – Project at Eden’s Gate is stifling the landscapes, its peoples; if that cult is toppled, the landscape and peoples can begin to thrive anew. Secondary characters endear the player to this world, which absolutely must be saved.
While the writing is traditionally very solid, and while the four central antagonists show depth in their thoughts and their actions, considerable writing missteps and mistakes do exist, the most monumental failings attached to the divided tone. Whenever Joseph or his lieutenants are present, the game is an impossibly bleak one, as the oppressions they wrought are conveyed to the player, as their considerable villainy is also communicated; everything is dark, with an embracing of mature, gritty realism. This tone is immensely compelling, is a bold rejection of the perception that games should be inviting; instead, difficult concepts and concerns are interrogated – the narrative, the writing, absolutely soar. But this tonal bleakness is far from universal, universally dominant – humor has its own place, and the existence of this humor directly clashes with the humorlessness found elsewhere in the narrative. The greatest departures, the most observable displays of humor, can be detected within the secondary characters, actually rather abundant, though each of these characters is, essentially, one giant, poorly developed caricature. Consider Hurk, a mainstay of the series, being featured in some capacity for three or so games now. Here is a creature composed solely of obnoxiousness, and every attribute of his dialogue is outright painful to listen to, his voice acting further reflecting his obnoxiousness – he is a terrible character, and his simplicity is made more discernible when he is considered alongside Joseph Seed, alongside Faith. Not every game needs humor or levity, and if characters like Hurk – who is emblematic of silliness – were stifled or removed, the game would achieve a more unique, more compelling tone: if bleakness dominated throughout, as it almost does, then the narrative would only grow more resonant and lasting. Instead, there are individuals like Hurk; a rejection of the humor he embodies means an embracing of narrative and tonal cohesion. But rather committing solely to humor or solely to mature bleakness, the narrative aspires to assimilate principles of both approaches, and fails because of this narrative and tonal division.
As an experience, Far Cry 5 is remarkable, perpetually engaging, whether speaking of the more bombastic moments of open combat or the quieter, more contemplative moments of exploration. Opportunities for emergent gameplay are immense, Hope County generally being a place of life, lived-in and diverse, peopled by oppressed individuals the player by nature seeks to assist – a destruction of their suffering becomes a dominant narrative concern, and the narrative is largely one of excellence, with compelling – if painfully uneven and tonally conflicted – writing. The four antagonists, when considered collectively, display considerable depth, while their villainy is enhanced by excellent character design and voice acting; here are despicable individuals, though they must simultaneously be regarded with sympathy; in a stroke of narrative brilliance, Far Cry 5 communicates the fact that villains are not motivated solely by evilness or darkness, but that they still cling to aspects of their humanity – consider Faith, by far eclipsing Joseph in terms of complexity, the intensity of sorrowful emotions her condition raises: she is a lost sheep. Where should such sheep find succor? Is it wrong of them – of Faith – to flock to Joseph if they see within him salvation? Perhaps not; perhaps cults have some value, bringing comfort and community to their members. But the game makes explicitly clear that here is no simple, innocent cult; Joseph and those beneath him are criminals, who must be punished. It may be distressing to consider that vanquishing Joseph means meaning individuals will again become directionless, but still the deed must be done: that is what guides Rook, the friends and allies that he meets along the way, while exploring vast, beautiful Hope County. Even if the narrative were one characterized exclusively by failure or shallowness, still there is Hope County, a monumental achievement, engrossing and immersive, technically and artistically beautiful, boldly open-ended. Clever, abundant secondary content – that existing outside of the struggle to defeat Joseph – incentivizes exploration, which is rewarded on manifold different levels; the player may receive the tangible rewards of currency or skill points, while also deriving the more abstract rewards of satisfaction, which is ultimately plentiful. Gameplay, meanwhile, is expectantly characterized by repeated success, the game refining the mechanics present within earlier titles, polishing them almost to perfection, in that gameplay approaches which were unwieldy in Far Cry 3 or 4 are now completely viable; the game behaves as a sequel ought to. The narrative’s conclusion is also a divisive one, startling in its suddenness and finality, raising more questions than actually providing answers, though this open-endedness is not exactly a failing. Still, Far Cry 5 takes the mechanics of its predecessors and improves upon them in every conceivable fashion; unparalleled world-building only heightens these strengths.