Kinder eggs. Orange plums. Haggis.
All three are banned in the United States, yet if you want to purchase an AK-47 in Montana? No problem! You might even get a handgun thrown in for free. But whether you support or oppose America's gun control laws, there’s one thing we can all agree on: it's the perfect location for a shoot-em-up video game.
Step in Far Cry. The Ubisoft series – renowned for setting its games in some of the most dangerous corners of the globe – has settled on Montana, US for its latest entry.
OK, so the Land of Dreams may not compare to the harsh climates of Africa or the Himalayas, but when you throw in political unrest, armoured muscle cars and weapon-mounted planes, you’ve got the perfect mixing pot for a proper blockbuster. Whether Ubisoft has delivered on that potential… well, that’s another question entirely.
There’s no psychopathic pirate or flamboyantly dressed drug lord in Far Cry 5. Instead, we’re treated to a sinister threat that’s all too familiar: religious extremists. Joseph Seed and his flock of siblings lead the doomsday cult 'The Project at Eden’s Gate', using threats of apocalypse (and a stupendous supply of guns) to rule over the fictional Hope County.
It’s hard to ignore the family’s influence too. Eerie choir hymns blast from car radios, the word ‘sinner’ is scribbled over every sign, wall and poster and gun-toting rednecks wear crosses around their necks like dog tags.
Joseph’s three siblings – John, Faith and Jacob – govern the three major territories of Hope County, but besides a rather violent baptism, I rarely came face to face with any of the Seeds during my two hour hands-on. In fact, the story seems sparse in general. There’s no set path of destruction to follow – you’re free to wreak havoc in any order or fashion you wish, as long as you eventually coerce the Seed family out of hiding.
This means less time is spent on cutscenes and more time on blowing up trucks and ploughing enemy strongholds with shells and shrapnel. Those craving a political commentary on America’s tumultuous state of affairs will likely be disappointed here: Far Cry 5 feels little more than a bullet-fest playground.
Friends with benefits
The main objectives in Far Cry 5 seem all too familiar. Conquer an enemy stronghold. Give chase in a jeep. Kill the villainous dictators. Honestly, besides the lick of ‘stars and stripes’ paint, very little has changed from the Himalayan adventure three years ago.
There is at least one major difference this time around: you can have NPC companions aid you in combat, each with their own skillset and perks. To name just a few, there’s the air-bound bomber Nick Rye, the sniper pro Grace and a very good doggo called Boom, who’ll track enemies and fetch items.
Being fans of stealth and subtlety, we plumped for Nick Rye and told him to blow up a conveniently-placed petrol tanker. Having whipped up a suitable amount of chaos, we then picked off a slew of bad dudes in trucker hats from the top of a nearby water tower. As much this sounds like dumb action fare, it was also a lot of fun.
Companions are rife with flaws though, consistently getting lost or starting fights with anyone that looks their way. Even good ol’ Nick Rye caused me some grief after bringing a helicopter to a spontaneous stealth mission. Fortunately you can replace your AI companions with a real-life friend, as Far Cry 5 is the first in the series to allow co-op throughout the entire campaign. At least then you have an actual person to scream and shout at when things go wrong.
In God's country
Hope County is home to the kind of lush, rolling farmland that you only ever see in movies where the moral of the story is ‘America’. Seeing this idyllic scenery corrupted by armed roadblocks, violent graffiti and burnt-out debris strikes a powerful image. And that's before you lay eyes on carnal pleasures of the bovine kind.
Venture off road, though, and there’s surprisingly little on offer. Given the nature of Montana, there’s no secret temple or bandit den like in previous entries – just petrol stations and churches that have larger stockpiles of ammunition than Scrooge McDuck has gold. As blockbuster as America is, it also lacks the exotic mystery that made the likes of Kyrat and the Rook Islands a joy to explore.
Even the wildlife feels underwhelming – wolves and buffalo just don’t stack up to elephants and crocs. Walking through wooded areas no longer feels like a gamble, but rather a safe haven from the ever-present spray of bullets. Ubisoft has clearly weighted this entry in favour of action opposed to its survival roots.
There is one major improvement in terms of exploration though: radio towers are gone. You no longer have to make tedious vertical climbs to get a bearing of your surroundings. Instead, you simply explore. Paranoid types who like to look before they leap can also discover hidden maps or gather intel from NFC characters, but where’s the fun in that?
Far Cry 5 initial verdict
While the changes Ubisoft has introduced to FC5 all seem to be for the better, there aren’t a huge number of them. Liberating an outpost, getting a mission and liberating another slightly different outpost is very much a formula Far Cry has adhered to for the past decade or so, and outside of the American setting there's not an awful lot that's new here.
The story seems thin on the ground at present too, but I am mindful that I only spent two hours with the game – things could easily pick up later on, despite the open-ended structure of the game suggesting otherwise.
Still, trigger-happy gamers who are content with the Far Cry formula will find plenty to love here. It looks gorgeous, plays like a dream and features more explosive carnage than your average Kinder Egg.