The “Far Cry” series is known for dropping players into huge, open-world settings and letting them sow chaos and destruction as they take on each title’s menacing villain. But those settings and enemies have always been based in largely poor, tropical areas of the world, leading to criticisms of the franchise serving as a tourism simulator gone wrong.
For its latest entry, “Far Cry 5,” however, developer Ubisoft Montreal took the tried and true staples of the series — massive, explorable worlds and sandbox-style gameplay — and dropped them in the heart of Big Sky Country: Hope County, Montana.
That change in scenery pays off in a big way for “Far Cry 5,” which is one of the most stunning titles in the franchise to date. It also allowed for the game’s creative team to build a story about a doomsday cult building its own outpost in the middle of the U.S. at a time when the country is dealing with a resurgence in white nationalist hate groups.
But while the narrative initially captures your attention with the charismatic cult leader Joseph Seed, it never truly reaches its potential.
America, the beautiful
It’s impossible to talk about “Far Cry 5” without mentioning just how spectacular its world looks. The team at Ubisoft Montreal built a version of Montana that allows the player to genuinely feel like they’re experiencing the grandeur of the American West. Traversing forests, running through open fields, fishing in streams and exploring small towns are a joy.
Driving an ATV across a mountain trail reminded me of the summers I spent biking through the woods with my brother, while riding around in a pickup truck on dirt roads and crossing rickety bridges took me back to road trips in the mountains around western Pennsylvania with my family.
The fact that “Far Cry 5” was able to coax such specific emotions from my memories is a testament to how impressive this game looks and plays.
That said, there are occasional pop-in issues, and load times are long even on the PlayStation 4 Pro. I also wish Ubisoft added more variability to the cultists’ character models. At this point I’ve taken out so many shaggy-haired men wearing white sweaters that I’m starting to think the game is about a cloning experiment gone horribly wrong.
Peggies and preppers
Of course, that’s not the case. “Far Cry 5” revolves around a cult, the ominous-sounding Project at Eden’s Gate, run by David Koresh stand-in Joseph Seed and his siblings John, Jacob and Faith.
At the game’s outset, you, a deputy with the Hope County Sheriff’s Department, another deputy, the county sheriff and a U.S. Marshal try to take Joseph into custody on a warrant. But after slapping the cuffs on him and get him into a waiting chopper, Joseph’s followers manage to take the craft down and rescue their dear leader back.
After escaping the wreck and evading capture by the cult, you meet up with a prepper named Dutch who helps get you started on your mission to crush the Project at Eden’s Gate cultists, or Peggies, as the townsfolk call them, who have taken over the county.
How does a cult take over a county in modern day America without drawing the attention of, say, the National Guard? By buying off the police, blocking the roads and cutting off all communication to the outside world, that’s how.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but at least the game tries to explain how and why the cult wants to take over. What it doesn’t do, though, is make you feel any kind of emotion for the endless number of cultists you kill.
It’s a shame, because “Far Cry 5’s” atmosphere and environments seem purpose built to tackle the issues of drug addiction, manipulative leaders and the existential fear Americans seem to feed on. The game’s big bads are interesting, and the side characters are fun to chat with, but the narrative never really takes you anywhere particularly new or insightful. It’s not a bad story, but it hits many of the same notes we’ve seen before.
Leaning on its strengths
Where “Far Cry 5” excels is in the open-world combat that is a hallmark of the series and allows you to tackle virtually any task as you see fit. Need to take down an outpost? Why not sneak up on it and eliminate the enemies with your compound bow? Or, you could lure each enemy away one-by-one and take them out with your bare hands.
Not destructive enough? You could always go in with guns blazing, or run over every enemy you see with a big rig. Heck, “Far Cry 5” even gives you the chance to pilot WWII planes armed with rockets and bombs, letting you rain destruction down on the Peggies. Sure, the planes’ controls are incredibly simplistic, but nothing is more satisfying than jumping into your plane to down the annoying helicopters and enemy pilots that have been harassing you on the ground for the last two hours.
Further upping the firepower level, is “Far Cry 5’s” new Gun for Hire mechanic that allows you to hire non-player characters to serve as your backup. You can hire everyone from a sniper to a pilot to a very good dog named Boomer to help you pulverize the Peggies. Co-op availability also lets you fight through the game with a friend or friends.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a “Far Cry” game if you didn’t have to capture a seemingly endless number of enemy outposts. But unlike previous series entries you never feel like you’re capturing the same plot of land over and over again. That’s because each outpost has its own unique characteristics whether it be a junkyard or pumpkin farm.
If you don’t want to spend your time blowing up a small chunk of U.S. soil, though, you can always turn to recreational activities like hunting, fishing or simply taking in the beauty of rural Montana.
Should you get it?
“Far Cry 5” is a fun, downright gorgeous game to play alone or with a friend. The combat is fast-paced and the ability to pilot a plane or helicopter adds new levels of verticality to this insane game world. But while there are plenty of interesting characters ranging from alien-obsessed preppers to townspeople excited for the local Testy Festy, the game’s plot doesn’t quite reach the heights it sets out to.
Fans of the “Far Cry” series should absolutely dive into this entry, while more casual players will have a blast exploring the game’s open world and then blowing it to smithereens. Just don’t expect a particularly moving story.
Reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro
What’s hot: Gorgeous environments; chaotic sandbox-style gameplay; fast-paced combat
What’s not: Narrative falls short despite promising setup; enemy characters lack variety
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Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.