You’d be forgiven for thinking “Far Cry 5” was the butch “Handmaid’s Tale,” judging by the deluge of thinkpieces on it. As Brandon Morse discusses over at RedState, there’s a palpable disappointment among game journalists that the game didn’t fulfill its potential as a scorching hot take on the Trump era. Unfortunately, the game’s meaning has taken away from what the latest “Far Cry” has done so well, mainly refreshing the open-world concept.
“Far Cry 5” shifts from the franchise’s foreign, fictional roots to a more local, fictional destination. The new iteration takes place in cult-addled Hope County, Montana. Players control a mute junior deputy tasked with taking down Eden’s Gate and its leader, Joseph Seed. Imagine a broadly drawn David Koresh taking over a mountainous Waco with his ever-vigilant Branch Davidians. Fighting against Seed, his family members, and his cult are a bunch of Cliven Bundy types replete with all manner of “assault-style weapons” and underground shelters.
“Far Cry” veterans will feel mostly at home with this iteration. It features the familiar: gorgeous views, wild animals, outpost liberations, explosions, hallucinations (“Far Cry” loves hallucinations), a manic dynamism that borders on exhausting, and a Big Bad who never seems as menacing as intended. It offers plenty to do and an interesting map in which to do it.
What “Far Cry 5” does best is make the open world feel less tedious. There are no towers to climb or missions to complete before the world truly becomes “open.” The side quests aren’t all exhilarating, but they rarely feel like content for the sake of it. Even the fetch quests are handled well, mostly because they’re limited.
The game has some herb-picking and crafting mechanics, but they are quickly rendered unnecessary. Thankfully, there’s no detective mode either. They’re all changes that I hope future open-world games, especially any “Horizon Zero Dawn” sequel, will implement.
The game is engaging enough that its many flaws don’t irritate nearly as much as they could. Ubisoft turned “Far Cry’s” never-ending busyness up to 11 here. You can hardly go anywhere without encountering either an animal or a cultist intent on killing you. It grates more when every cult member recognizes and attacks you, regardless of the circumstance. Enemies appear in the woods, no matter how remote (this is Montana, not Manhattan). Someone flying overhead will recognize you. They’ll recognize you no matter how fast you’re driving.
Changing outfits doesn’t make a difference, either. The problem diminishes as you liberate regions, but until then it’s basically like having five-stars in “Grand Theft Auto” constantly. This incessant action makes it harder to enjoy the fun, beautiful world Ubisoft built.
“Far Cry 5” also provides AI buddies to help in the fight against Eden’s Gate. They can snipe, pick out enemies, provide air support, and revive you. Too often, however, they’re just plain stupid.
In my playthrough, I’ve seen 1) a helicopter pilot bail without warning, leaving me too little time to jump out before the crash 2) a buddy revive me as a bad guy stood next to me, leading to a “live, die, repeat” loop straight out of an “Edge of Tomorrow” spoof 3) one guy spawning and immediately driving into a bee hive, causing his quick demise 4) one girl climbing to the top of a silo then getting stuck there and 5) another girl sprinting toward the dynamite. Thankfully, they offer animal buddies, who seem less prone to stupidity.
There are some immersion-breaking moments, like a doctor claiming he can’t swim only to do his best Michael Phelps impression when enemies approached. Or an area blocked by a shock hazard that doesn’t affect non-player characters. There’s no consistency to fall-distance lethality, either.
Most egregious, the game will advance the story by having cultists kidnap your character. It’s an unavoidable scenario forced upon you three to four times per region. As a gameplay mechanic, it’s annoying. From a narrative perspective, it makes little sense that the cult would keep you alive after, say, the tenth kidnapping.
Slight spoilers ahead.
As for the story itself, it tries hard to be serious and weighty without ever earning it. Our hero never speaks, something that really deflates some moments. The cult sings “Amazing Grace,” the most clichéd of the “misguided religious group” public domain hymns. Seed and his siblings, deemed “heralds,” basically come into play during the kidnapping bits and then only to deliver their “creepy cult” bona fides.
By the time the boss battles rolled around, I was as invested in them as I was in “Super Mario Brothers 3’s” Koopalings. The same goes for the game’s ending: a “shocking” twist with little groundwork laid ahead of time.
I don’t want to focus on the meaning of the game too much. It’s been written about endlessly elsewhere. It’s a political disappointment to many. It’s clear Ubisoft pulled back on the prepper/Trumpist theme they initially suggested. Perhaps they oversold it. Frankly, it would have been interesting to see the game add a bit more bite to its message.
But really, it doesn’t matter. Who plays “Far Cry” for the motifs? Overall, it’s a fun game that open world and “Far Cry” fans should enjoy. It succeeds in keeping an open world interesting and deep without resorting to redundant filler. It doesn’t say anything you haven’t heard a thousand times elsewhere. It doesn’t need to.