It feels like the Far Cry series has always flirted with greatness, instead of actually finding it. There was the original Far Cry which, in parts, felt more tech demo than full-fledged game (and the less said about the mutants at the end, the better). Far Cry 2 introduced some fantastic mechanics (dat fire propagation), but had that terrible malaria mechanic. Far Cry 3 nailed the gameplay loop, RPG mechanics, and larger-than-life baddies, but had a douchebag protagonist and lacklustre story.
Far Cry 4 refined what Far Cry 3 set out to do, but didn’t really push the series forward. And Far Cry Primal took some big risks, but it felt like there were some core pillars missing from the gameplay formula care of the prehistoric setting, kind of like how Battlefield Hardline didn’t feel like a Battlefield game. Far Cry 5, though, is poised to be the culmination of all of the best of the series, to date.
This is the second time I’ve had the chance to go hands-on with Far Cry 5. While both previews have been played on PlayStation 4 Pro (not my preferred way to play shooters), the potential is clear. First and foremost, the game looks gorgeous (which means it’ll look even better on my high-end PC), and the world feels both alive and lived-in.
The cultist threat is offset by smaller havens that aren’t overrun by religious nutbags, and it makes for some nice breath-catching troughs to complement the many, many player-driven peaks. Ubisoft Montreal has gone to town on player freedom this time around. You can play the entire game alone, or all the way through with a co-op partner.
Then there are AI companions to unlock and use that are designed to match different play styles. I didn’t actually get to unlock any, but I did spy an unlockable bear companion. So, yeah, the darkness of the religious fundamentalist main threat and storyline is more than offset by some tongue-in-cheek humour. To emphasise this point, one of the first side missions I found was in support of the Testy Festy. The cultists, apparently, aren’t in favour of this festival that revolves around eating animal testicles, but that’s not going to stop a ballsy cook from sending you off to find his missing ingredients to get the festival back on track.
The thing is, in Far Cry 5 it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted from what you intended on doing one moment, and what you find yourself doing the next. It took me about an hour to get that side mission done: not because it’s particularly long or difficult, but because Far Cry 5 is constantly enticing you to delve into other activities. There are shiny markers that pop up to tempt you off your main path at every turn.
Then there’s the constant roaming threat of the cultists. They are dispatched pretty easily, for the most part, but there are tougher variants. Cause too much of a ruckus, and they might send a heavily armoured goon at you, wielding an M60 LMG. Strangely, some of the cultists have a green cloud above their heads that means two things: they’re more aggressive, and they take a lot more damage to put down. It’s a nice mix-up from the usual mortality of the regular cultist grunts.
Sometimes they’ll send a chopper to take you down. These can shred you in seconds, but they’re also fun to take down in a variety of different ways. Rocket launchers and grenade launchers work particularly well, with only one shot required to send them spinning off into the dirt. Or you could play Rambo and try to snipe the pilot with a bow, except the pilots don’t usually sit still long enough for you to line up an easy shot. My favourite method was to use a liberated M60 (after all, it’s a tough fight to score one) to shred the chopper.
Fearing for their digital lives, they’ll try to escape, but pour enough rounds into the chopper and you’re bound to score some meaty hits on the squishy pilot. That’s enough to send it careening into the ground. You’ll revel in other creative ways to take out enemies. There’s the healthy arsenal, of course, which includes throwing knives, Molotov cocktails, and boat paddles.
You can liberate a roadblock and camp on a 50-calibre machine gun, waiting for cultists to drive by. It’s the most satisfying reverse drive-by I’ve ever experienced. The weapons feel like they have a greater weight, and the ballistics has more of a realistic touch, which means you have to lead targets and allow for bullet drop. Of course, this also means you can use that aforementioned 50-calibre machine gun to shred vehicles over a hill.
That’s all well and good until you do it one too many times and get a warning about killing civvies. Whoops. One of my other favourite ways of killing cultists was by creating explosive traps, laying remotely detonated charges all over the road and waiting for them to drive over them. The rocket launcher is particularly deadly, but it also highlighted the potential for awesome moments, care of the realistic ballistics.
I fired a rocket at a parked car, and while my aim was true, I watched in amazement as the rocket flew through the empty cabin of the car because the driver and passenger windows were wound down. Fantastic! During another explosive rocket anecdote, my co-op partner and I marvelled at what we thought was a rocket ricochet off the back of a car we were chasing.
Seconds later, that supposedly ricocheting rocket came crashing back down with clustered explosives. Apparently, I hadn’t been paying attention and my rocket launcher had switched to cluster rounds, which come in both explosive and incendiary variants. A word of warning for the wise: you really don’t want to launch incendiary cluster rockets in a forest, because that Far Cry 2 fire propagation makes a mostly welcome return.
I say “mostly welcome” because it’s deadly when used against enemies, but painful when you get caught up in it. Still, it’s part of the fun of having to roll with the fiery punches when it comes to Far Cry 5. Sometimes that means running from (or killing) a skunk you accidentally aggravated, or wasting a lot of bullets trying to stop a wolverine from latching on to your junk. At one point, I inadvertently led a rampaging bull back to a showdown between a bear and another bull. The bear won that round, but then lost round two against the bull I’d brought over. Better still, a truck packed with cultists turned up, and my bull buddy made short work of them, too.
During this preview, I didn’t play much of the story because I was having so much fun playing in Far Cry 5’s sandbox. Come March 27, when Far Cry 5 releases, I’ll be happy if the game has a compelling narrative, as this is an area where the series has suffered in the past. If it doesn’t, though, there’s so much fun to be had outside of the main path that I don’t think I’ll be overly bothered. From what I’ve played, Far Cry 5 is more fun than that church scene in Kingsman, and it’s double the fun when you throw a co-op partner into the mix.
Colour me converted. I’m counting down the days to slurp down Ubisoft Montreal’s delicious Kool-Aid.