The original Far Cry wasn’t bonkers until it was. I have fond memories of the open-approach combat sections of the game, fighting an army of mercs, right up until the point where mutants came in and I checked out. For me, it was where the game fell off the rails, a lot like my feelings on the Xen sections of Half-Life. Far Cry 2 seemingly took this criticism to heart, but leant too far into the grounded aspect, going so far as to afflict your playable character with malaria, which needed to be managed alongside the open-world mayhem.
For the next three outings, seemingly in an attempt to find a balance between the goofy sandbox fun of the series and a serious tone, the franchise (arguably) went a little too hard at the insanity angle. Michael Mando’s Vaas was a great addition to Far Cry 3, but he was so good that the other larger-than-life characters paled in comparison, and their brand of madness felt off next to Mando’s. It didn’t help that the “dude bro” (Ubisoft Montreal’s post-mortem term) protagonist dragged things down, too.
Ubisoft Montreal doubled down on the insanity angle for Far Cry 4, with Troy Baker’s Pagan Min tapping into that great Vaas-like insanity. Still, Far Cry 4 was a little flat in terms of its gameplay, and more fun was found outside of the main missions. Far Cry Primal went back to the Stone Age in a move that, while bold, showed that explosives and machine guns are pretty much part and parcel of the Far Cry formula.
For Far Cry 5, Ubisoft Montreal is taking the series back to a contemporary setting but, like the pitch for the regrettably cancelled Rainbow Six Patriots, its framing it in a topical way. Instead of fighting insane caricatures and their respective militias, you’ll be taking on religious extremists. While the term “religious extremists” tends to be used in today’s climate in reference to ISIS types, in the context of Far Cry 5, it’s referring to American born-and-bred Christian extremists.
They’ve taken over the fictional American locale of Hope County, set in (and inspired by) real-world Montana. Project at Eden’s Gate is the name of the doomsday cult, and their idea of spreading the good word is more Machine Gun Preacher than Martin Luther King Jr. During my first encounter with the extremists, they had some non-converted folk on their knees, as a baseball bat-wielding maniac stalked over them. If that’s a little too Walking Dead for your tastes, choosing not to intervene results in those people having their heads bashed in.
As far as my demo was concerned, it was a powerful motivator for not-so-divine intervention on my part. Prior to this section, I’d had a choice of one of three companions. Each one of these companions encouraged a particular play style. Boomer, the dog, incentivised stealthy play. Grace was better suited to long-range play, or the kind of style where she has your back if you stuff up on a ninja play. Rye, on the other hand, was all about the big bada boom, made even more hilariously prominent by the reality that he flies overhead in his militarised plane, waiting for your orders on where to drop explosive ordnance.
It’s this kind of player empowerment that permeates as a clear design pillar of Far Cry 5. The series has always been at its best when players get to approach situations in their own way, using the developer-given gameplay mechanics for playing with the world in their own way. Far Cry 5 takes this to the next logical level by giving players even more choice.
At one stage, my friendly Ubisoft PR representative advised on the best fishing spot in the preview code. That’s right, Far Cry 5 has fishing, and it doesn’t feel like a tacked-on and out-of-place mini-game, either. I might not have caught a fish—it was actually quite tricky—but I gave it a good crack, to the point where I executed a fellow fisherman at my watering hole to increase the odds of catching something big.
On the way to the fishing spot, I’d found myself in all kinds of mischief, when some tractor-riding cultist decided to try a farm-speed drive-by on my liberated cultmobile. Suffice it to say, that didn’t end too well for him. I stole his tractor and headed across the field, only to be distracted by cows. Cow tipping isn’t a thing in Far Cry 5 (at least, it wasn’t in the version I played), but being chased by enraged bulls totally is. So is using farming equipment to mince cultists, or whatever other squishy things happen to get in your way.
There’s also that glorious feeling that comes out of leading a pissed-off bear back into a group of angry cultists. I was told this was only a small snippet of the game, and yet this space already had so many things to distract me away from the main few missions I was supposed to be playing. My mind is still reeling with the awesome possibilities of the kind of mayhem I can get up to when I play through the game cooperatively with someone else.
From what I played, Far Cry 5 feels like the culmination of every other game in the franchise, to date. Instead of relying too heavily on a limited sandbox, insanity, an overly grounded tone, or the lack of munitions and animal loving of a primal setting, this feels like Ubisoft Montreal has found the right elements to hone in on. Player empowerment. A wealth of choice. A sandbox that’s constantly tugging at you in terms of distractions. I had a hell of a lot of fun with my short play session, and I cannot wait to see what else Ubisoft Montreal has in store for me when the game launches in February next year.