I’m only in Australia because of a cult, so I guess I can thank them for that. Y’see, when I was a young’un, my folks joined a particularly controlling church. It wasn’t extreme in a Kool-Aid kind of way, but it was extreme in other ways. It was one of those evangelical “listen to us or your soul is doomed!”-type sects, where friends and activities outside of church (which we attended three times a week; twice on Sundays!) were discouraged. Unless, of course, you were open to bringing them into the cult.
Hell, the cult even manipulated a bunch of families (including mine) to move to Australia because of a “calling from God”. Ignore the fact that there were reportedly some serious tax problems the leaders of the sect were trying to get away from. In truth, I was too young to know too much of what was going on (at the time) and my parents did a great job of keeping me and my brothers sheltered from most of the political weirdness of the sect, but still, I spent my early years involved in a cult.
It’s likely part of the reason why I’ve been so drawn to Far Cry 5. Not because I feel the urge to join another cult, but the idea of measuring justice in terms of buckshot against cultists certainly has its cathartic appeal. I’ve experienced the opening of the game twice now, and while I still don’t want to give away too much, it cleverly subverts the most famous church hymn Amazing Grace to an extent that I don’t think I can ever hear it again without thinking of Far Cry 5’s chilling opening.
As is the trend with me and Far Cry games, I tend to play as much as I have to, so I can unlock co-op, then spend most of my time tackling side missions with a buddy. In terms of Far Cry 5, you can get through the obligatory solo opening in around 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how thorough you want to be. After that, the game world opens up completely and you’re free to play it in any order and entirely with a co-op buddy.
But like joining a cult, there’s one hell of a catch: the promise of cooperative salvation comes at the expense of freedom. As a joining player, you’ll get to keep pretty much everything you unlock in the host player’s world, except for the thing I’d argue matters most: mission progression (and reputation, which is what unlocks later weapons). To put that into context, I played a four-hour co-op session with a mate over the weekend and it meant the region we’d done some serious damage in playing in my game was untouched in his.
It’s problematic when Ubisoft is selling this as a game that supports, and I’m quoting the publisher here, “a two-player co-op experience that extends across the full campaign.” Yes, you can play almost the entire game in co-op, but you’re also potentially sacrificing an almost entire campaign’s worth of progress if you’re always the joining player… which is what I made my mate do. I’m evil like that.
Jokes aside, I did offer to round robin our co-op sessions, but it’s not like I’m excited about the idea of replaying missions or, more likely, not technically ‘finishing’ the game as far as my world is concerned because some (or, more honestly, most) of that time was spent in co-op. It’s a damn shame and I’m labouring the point because while Far Cry 5 is stacks of fun in solo play, it’s a tonne more fun in co-op.
In fact, with the Guns for Hire and Fangs for Hire system—both of which let you recruit up to two (with the right unlock) AI buddies to boss around—it feels like Ubisoft Montreal is pushing you to always play Far Cry 5 with someone, even if that someone is an AI character or animal. Fair warning: your co-op partner essentially becomes a Gun for Hire, which means they occupy the second companion slot, even if you have the relevant unlock. I found that out the expensive way; well, expensive in terms of in-game Perk Points. Thankfully, those are readily available in the game world via Perk Mags and also unlocked by completing challenges.
What you won’t get with an AI buddy—apart from a more reliable companion (the AI can be janky at times) who, admittedly, you can’t ‘pet’—is my favourite implicit part of any co-op game: co-petitive play. It inevitably happens with any co-op partner I game with who has at least one competitive bone in their body. It starts with a footrace to see who gets to drive a car. Then who gets to win in an impromptu race between points.
What follows is a mishmash of spontaneous activities based on the first one to complete task X. The most kills. The first to kill the main boss of a fight. The one who kills the last enemy in an area. Or, my favourite so far, a Cliffhanger-like ascent to the top of a mountain which involves climbing ropes, vaulting, wing-suiting, and trying to find map exploits to gain a lead.
This is the sort of play style that’s not actively promoted in Far Cry 5, but its mechanics allow for it, which is why co-op is so fun, both generally speaking and specific to Far Cry 5’s experience. It helps that Far Cry 5 looks particularly gorgeous maxed out on my PC at around 100fps in 1080p (I’m waiting to buy a 4K HDR screen when they’re released), even if things are a little jerky (more latency than frames) when I’m the passenger in a helicopter or plane. It’s easily Ubisoft’s best co-op sandbox (unless you’re counting the limited-time Predator DLC for Ghost Recon Wildlands) and the systems that have been added atop the usual Far Cry formula mean there’s more for you to do. For instance, fishing. That’s something I never thought I’d enjoy, yet I’m having fun with the fishing-specific quests in the game.
Back to the cult stuff, I’m particularly enjoying how the freedom of exploration is occasionally (and deliberately) interrupted by the odd story mission that forcibly drags you back onto the main path. It’s always a temporary diversion but one that’s presented in an organic way so it doesn’t cheapen the experience. I’m particularly enjoying the different flavours of insanity across the Seed siblings, even if none of them can top Michael Mando’s Vaas or even Troy Baker’s Pagan Min. They’re still great in their own right, but their legacy is more the way Ubisoft Montreal has weaved their insane impact on the game world, rather than the specifics of each character. But mostly it’s that awesome “anecdote factory” of emergent gameplay moments that make cultist killing so much damn fun.