Reinvention doesn’t always have to be dramatic. Whether it’s a long-running movie series, the seventh season of a TV show or the fifth entry in a popular video game franchise, subtle changes can be made to feel radical. In Far Cry 5, Ubisoft managed to reinvent its massively popular open world first-person shooter without losing much, if any, of what made the franchise such a hit in the first place simply by tearing down the artifice and placing an emphasis on player freedom. Ubisoft trusts players to find the fun this time around, and it pays off in a big way.
On its most basic level, Far Cry 5 is about the takeover of the fictional Hope County, Montana by a doomsday cult that calls itself The Project at Eden’s Gate. Joseph Seed, the “Father” and founder of the cult, has put his three siblings in charge of each region of the county, and as a sheriff’s deputy, you are tasked with taking them all down.
As in Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4, the latest entry in the series has you running around a hostile world, slowly chipping away at the control a menacing force has established over the region. But unlike the previous two main entries, Far Cry 5 takes place in modern day America, which casts the story in a completely different light. There are direct and indirect references to the issues that dominate real-life headlines every day, and as much as the creators tried to avoid talking politics in interviews leading up to the game’s release, Far Cry 5 definitely has a lot to say.
Other than a few exciting set pieces and some exceptional voice acting, the story didn’t grip me in the way I hoped it might, although this has never been a strength of the series. What kept me glued to my seat for hours on end was the sheer breadth of content to discover. I must have spent three or four hours alone on finding my way into the countless prepper stashes that dot the map. There are no more towers to climb in Far Cry 5, but you will get all the platforming and puzzle-solving fun you desire from the stashes, each of which is filled with cash and perk points for upgrades.
What sets Far Cry 5 apart from its predecessors (as well as many of its peers) is how effortlessly it flows. Open world games have to walk a fine line between constantly delivering dynamic, emergent gameplay and pushing the player in the right direction, but by packing the world so densely with gripping content, Far Cry 5 sidesteps the issue altogether. Having invested more than 20 hours into the campaign, I rarely went more than 5 minutes without finding something to do, whether I was saving someone from the cult, fishing in a local pond or diving off a cliff with my wingsuit.
Ubisoft has also simplified many of the game’s systems, seemingly in an effort to keep players in the action and out of the menu screens as often as possible. Unlike in previous games, you will no longer hunt animals for skins in order to upgrade your equipment. Instead, you will receive perk points for beating missions, completing challenges and finding certain items throughout the world. You can apply these points to any number of upgrades, from giving your character more health to unlocking the grappling hook to taking less damage from wild animals.
Hunting, fishing and scavenging for items is no longer necessary to progress, but rather an efficient (and fun) way to make money, which you can spend on new weapons, new vehicles or upgrading weapons you’ve already unlocked. Some may be turned off by the new progression system because it’s different, but I prefer its simplicity.
Another major feature that Far Cry 5 introduces is the Guns for Hire system. Many of the Hope County residents are able to join your squad at a moment’s notice and fight the cult by your side. There are nine unique Guns (and Fangs) for Hire that you’ll meet over the course of the game, along with the dozens of standard Guns for Hire around Hope County. Unfortunately, I found them to be superfluous at best, and a genuine hindrance at worst.
Going in guns blazing is a viable option in Far Cry 5, but I often prefer the stealthy approach, especially when trying to capture an outpost. This requires careful planning, silent assassinations and the moving of bodies so that other cult members won’t find them and become suspicious. The AI of the Guns for Hire sadly just isn’t up to snuff, and on more than one occasion, my carefully laid plans were wrecked when my computer-controlled partner made a wrong move. In general, the game is relatively forgiving when your Gun for Hire runs out into the open, but the benefits of having an AI partner rarely outweighs the distraction, so I regularly went hours without recruiting one.
Co-op, on the other hand, is among the most fun ways to play Far Cry 5. I was bummed when co-op took a backseat in Far Cry 4, but in the latest entry, you can play through the entire campaign and all of the side content in between with a friend online. It’s incredibly easy to drop in and drop out of someone else’s game, bringing all of the skills and weapons you’ve purchased in your own game over with you. You can’t make progress in your own campaign while playing someone else’s, but you can bring back everything you gain while you’re helping them finish missions.
As I said at the top though, much of the foundation of Far Cry is still intact. You’re still shooting hundreds of bad guys with your massive arsenal of guns, bows, knives and explosives, you’re still sneaking into outposts and trying to take out everyone in sight without being seen, and you’re still being attacked by wild animals at every turn.
But by opening the entire game world up from the start (after a brief, playable introduction), Far Cry 5 feels bigger than any other Far Cry game. It trims the fat of previous entries while adding dozens of wrinkles to the formula that freshen up the experience on the whole. The only element of the game that hasn’t progressed as much as I’d hoped is the artificial intelligence of the enemies and the friendly NPCs. On multiple occasions, the NPC that was meant to lead me to a destination would suddenly forget their programming and stall out. There were also several graphical glitches, which are common in massive open world games, but these were especially noticeable. And the game world occasionally just loses its mind. Over the course of 30 minutes, I watched half a dozen planes crash in front of me every time I warped to a new fast travel point. It was hysterical, but it clearly wasn’t intentional.
I have to stress that in spite of the technical issues and the lackluster, contrived story, I had a blast playing this game. The Far Cry series had already raised the bar for open world games, but Far Cry 5 is the new standard. It’s hard to overstate how impressive it that Ubisoft was able to strike a balance between packing the world full of interesting content while still allowing players to find quiet, peaceful moments in the breathtaking Montana countryside.
Amid all the chaos, you’ll yearn for moments like that. I’ve played more incomprehensibly beautiful games in the past two years than I can count, but Ubisoft knocked it out of the park with Hope County. Every screenshot is a postcard. Months from now, I’ll dive back in just to see Hope County again, even if I don’t accomplish a single goal.
Although I haven’t had a chance to explore it thoroughly, there is also a totally separate feature in Far Cry 5 called Far Cry Arcade, which includes custom-built levels and competitive multiplayer maps. Once you’ve spent dozens of hours ticking every box in the story mode, Far Cry Arcade could in theory offer unlimited content to fans of the game for as long as Ubisoft keeps the servers online. When the game goes live, I’ll spend some more time with it.
As a huge fan of Far Cry, I was concerned that Ubisoft had bled the franchise dry. Far Cry 4 was a fantastic game, but a step down from Far Cry 3 in many ways. And while Far Cry Primal was an interesting experiment, it couldn’t fill the shoes of the two main entries that came before it. Far Cry 5 is the next step forward for the franchise, even with its relatively weak antagonist and blunt political commentary. The franchise is back on track.
Ubisoft provided BGR with a copy of Far Cry 5 on the PS4 for the purposes of this review.