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I've always had a lot to say about the Far Cry games. They are a goldmine for think pieces about the depiction of foreign cultures, and a source of perpetual controversy and problematic themes. Far Cry 5 continues this trend, which is just as well, because the actual game gets very tedious by itself.
As always, the player is dumped in an isolated semi-wilderness with buckets of guns, and hordes of enemies and wildlife to kill. There are the same old outposts to conquer, but Ubisoft finally got the message and spared us all that mucking about climbing watch towers. Thank god. The most fun I had was with a new mechanic which involves figuring out how to break into old prepper shelters to loot the contents. It involves a bit of environmental puzzle solving, making a nice change of pace from the constant gunfire. The guns or okay, but are arbitrarily locked behind a progression meter that keeps you from varying up your play style for hours of game.
The biggest problem with the game is that it doesn't stay fresh. The game is crammed with content, but it only makes it all the more repetitive. The story won't progress until you've done enough activities and earned enough "resistance points", which will be annoying for anyone who just wants to get on with it. Meanwhile, its annoying when you do earn enough points to progress the story, because the game will then kidnap you in the middle of whatever it was you're doing, greet you with a long boring monologue from a crazy-eyed villain, and teleport you into an obligatory story mission across the other side of the map. It's really bizarre and obstructive way of tacking the story and villains into the game.
As to the story; this time it is set in a county in rural Montana, which has been taken over by a doomsday cult. The cult is clearly Christian, but the game carefully avoids ever saying "Jesus" at any point, instead making the bad guys obsessed with the leader, Joseph Seed. I hate Joseph, and not for the right reasons. Firstly, he looks like a hipster barista, and I have a hard time believing an army of bikers and rednecks would ever give him the time of day. He and his three lieutenants all talk in the same prozaic, lifeless monologues, and I'm thankful the game allows me to skip their cut scenes because that's what I immediately started doing. Vaz and Pagan Min of past games both had substance and originality, whereas Joseph just feels exactly like the perfunctory videogame crazy-guy that he is. I remember Vaz talking about how insane it is to do the same thing over and over and expect something different, which is the experience of Far Cry 5 in a nutshell.
Far Cry 5 is a mixed bag. It makes some very smart decisions in regards to gameplay, finally dumping the tired radio tower mechanics that dragged the pacing of previous games and bringing in the "Guns for Hire" system that is a fairly effective merge of Far Cry 2 and Far Cry Primal's companion systems. The Arcade is a far more powerful and accessible editing tool than previous map editors, the new customization systems for characters and vehicles is a nice touch, and movement feels more refined and smooth. But on the other hand the AI is much less intelligent than before and the arsenal has been curiously trimmed from past installments and padded with variations that could easily been rolled into the new customization system, and I suspect that is because Ubisoft is reserving a number of weapons for live events or DLC. The changes to the skill system which now forces you to perform challenges for skill points is more annoying than interesting, there is no motivation for fishing or hunting beyond money, and the removal of some of the series trademark immersion elements like the segmented health/healing system is an odd step backward.
What truly leaves me with a bad taste is the story, which might be the weakest of all the post-Crytek games. The Ubisoft games have leaned on strong villains to support what is frankly a weak story and thin supporting cast, but 5 lacks this important touch. The cult that serves as the antagonists are cartoons with little grounding in reality, leaning way too hard on the Fantastic Drug "Bliss" instead of dealing with real reasons that people join cults or exploring aspects of cult life beyond typical Hollywood cliches of raving fanatics and scribbles on walls. Big Bad Joseph Seed is performed well enough, but compared to the weary Real Politik of The Jackal, the magnetic menace of Vaas, or the Affably Evil flamboyance of Pagan Min, Joseph Seed only manages to be a vaguely unsettling Sinister Minister at best. None of the Seed family has enough time or characterization to really make an impact, and the game having the player captured or incapacitated to enable plot events gets predictable and tiring very quickly.
Further compounding the story issues is how hollow the endings are, forcing the player to choose between an Anti-Climax that renders the player's efforts irrelevant or a bleak Diabolus ex Machina. It clearly goes for the same subversive narrative as Far Cry 2 or Far Cry 4, but the villains are too flat to care about and too evil to sympathize with and as a result the moralizing against the player's actions becomes a Broken Aesop at best and leaves Unfortunate Implications at worst. Far Cry 5 attempts to give the player more freedom than ever before, but strangles that freedom dead when it could impact the story.
The Far Cry series has themes and characters well known to it's players: Open world, charismatic villains, dodgy allies and gorgeous locales. Far Cry 5 does not disappoint those who realize such things: It's Montana setting is lush and beautiful, and you never have to go far to find something interesting.
The basic premise of the plot is threadbare and serves as little more than a vehicle: You're a cop delivering a warrant, you get trapped, your fellow cops are taken, and now you have to rescue them.
Fortunately, it's saved by the characters. Hope County is full of wild and outlandish allies, with perverted cougar Adelaide Drubman taking the hilarious cake, but every single one of them is heartwarming, hilarious, or just plain awesome. It makes meeting them and doing their quests a lot of fun.
The villains vary in their charisma. Shell-Shocked Veteran Jacob speaks and notably even sings in a whisper that sounds like a serial murderer about to knife a victim, while Mind Rape aficionado Faith will make the player doubt what is actually true or false. But main villain Joseph blends into the background.
All in all, it's an open world that blends the Far Cry staples with a more organic, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild feel of exploration, with all the joys and pitfalls of open world games. It's mindless fun, but well made and well-acted mindless fun.
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