I once very infamously and inappropriately committed the faux pas of saying that nobody plays Battlefield games for their campaigns… in front of a campaign producer from DICE. Whoops. The thing is, I have a similar relationship with the Far Cry series, which dates back right to the start. I finished the original Far Cry, but I had more fun playing in the sandbox and wiping out waves of enemies than I did with the story I can’t even recall. Suffice it to say, when the mutants appeared, Far Cry’s tenuous storytelling really fell apart.
I succumbed to the frustration of the malaria mechanic before I got to the end of Far Cry 2. In truth, I actually finished Far Cry 3, but that was mainly because of Vaas, and [spoilers] he doesn’t feature that heavily in the game because he’s killed off earlier than he should be [end spoilers]. When it came to Far Cry 4, I found myself more interested in side quests and co-op play than chasing down the main path. And for Far Cry Primal, I had more fun playing with the beast-taming mechanic than anything else.
So, yeah, I’ve never really played a Far Cry game for the story. The thing is, that’s very, very likely to change with Far Cry 5. There’s a confidence in the storytelling that’s evident right from the get-go. From night-time chopper incursion deep into cult territory, which includes a religious-like statue of big-bad Joseph Seed, an arrest of Far Cry 5’s antagonist that goes horribly wrong, to the spine-chilling infusion of the Amazing Grace hymn. It’s a layered opening that demands your attention.
Far Cry 5 doesn’t so much start with a bang as much as it fully immerses you in a dark world of religious extremism, cleverly tying your playable character into Seed’s prophecies about an impending apocalypse. It’s chilling and fantastic stuff. I say “your” playable character, too, because you get to customise them this time around. Choose from a male or female base, chuck on a mullet (that’s what I did), then go to town on the clothing options.
I chose to adorn my mulleted deputy with an American flag singlet, camo pants, and a whole lot of bling rings. Because this is a first-person game, you won’t really get to see much of yourself beyond whatever you do to your hands (hence the bling rings). But it is a way to blindside your co-op partner with your trailer-trash deputy amazingness. At least, that’s what I like to think happened. The only other way you’ll get a third-person glimpse of yourself, at least in what I played, is when you die.
And I died quite a bit in the preview, but that’s mostly because I was taking some stupid risks to see what I could get away with. For instance, there was a hilarious co-op moment when I tried to re-enter the helicopter I’d just jumped out of. I was in my wingsuit, and while I had the angle right, apparently, I was flying at a speed that’s equivalent to a Tomahawk missile. I ended up crashing into the chopper and blowing it to smithereens. Understandably, I didn’t survive that particular headbutt, but I didn’t mind the death because it was so damn entertaining.
In fact, it’s the kind of death that highlights both the fun of Far Cry 5 and the push towards the greatest sense of player empowerment the series has ever seen. I had just as much fun throwing empty cans at mission-giving NPCs than I did stalking enemies or fighting skunks. It’s testament to the kind of rich sandbox that Ubisoft Montreal has forged.
One of the better additions to the formula is an emphasis on more realistic ballistics. Bullet drop and projectile-based physics (bye, hitscan) are now part of the Far Cry formula, and it’s a fantastic addition. It helps to add a believable weight to the shooting, which coupled with the immersive sound design, means the gunplay is always satisfying. It also makes the act of cult killing all the more satisfying, particularly at longer ranges.
Early on, you can choose to add companions to your ranks. Starting out, I was able to have two, so I had an assault rifle-toting guy and a baseball bat-loving brawler. The former helps when the shit hits the fan, but the latter is brutally satisfying for ordering to clobber an unsuspecting guards in the back of the head. Later on, I liberated a bear called Cheeseburger; watching the diabetic bear tear up cultists never got old, and I suspect it won’t in the final game, too.
I wanted to avoid the main quest as much as possible, saving it for the full release, but there are moments where it forcibly reminds you it’s there. The most obvious is the opening of the game, which acts as a tutorial, albeit not the kind of one that feels like pulling teeth. That first hour of Far Cry 5 holds your hand with a moderate grip, but then it sets you free completely and you can approach the game however you like.
That said, I must’ve triggered a story mission at some point, because a so-called capture team was ordered to find me and seemingly caught up to me, too (even though I was about to take off in a plane). That’s where I got to meet one of the underbosses and the return of Far Cry’s patented psychedelic missions. It was a return to the darkness of an experience that had otherwise been quite light outside the main path.
Despite the seemingly disparate tones of tongue-in-cheek activities in the open world versus the militarised religious extremism of the core campaign, Ubisoft Montreal expertly drifts between laugh-out-loud moments and jaw-dropping revelations. Far Cry 5 has a kind of underlying and fully rounded confidence that hasn’t been seen in the series thus far, and I honestly cannot wait to sink dozens of hours into the campaign when it launches later this month. Outside of the odd bug and occasional frame drops in co-op (on PS4 Pro), this was a silky-smooth preview session and further proof that this Far Cry is well on track to fulfilling its prophesised role as the messiah of the series.
Ubisoft paid for my flights, accommodation, and meals for this Far Cry 5 event.