It is very difficult to dissuade someone in a cult or religion that their way of doing things is wrong. It’s more precarious when there is a clearly violent streak to that cult’s message. A young Montana deputy, of customizable gender and race, sees firsthand the madness and slavish devotion a cult can have while trying to arrest its leader, the eerily calm Joseph Seed. All of the Project Eden’s Gate’s leaders have an uncomfortably chill demeanor which makes their actions even more brutal. The failed arrest forces the playable hero into the wilds of Hope County, Montana, and from there you use your social skills, despite never speaking, to bring together a collection of homegrown resistance movements. To fight insanity, you’ll bring to bear a more sympathetic and less ideological insanity to counterpoint the doomsday movement.
Tonal dissonance aside, the “Far Cry” series, since its open world restructuring in 2012’s “Far Cry 3,” has leaned towards “play your way” sandbox exploration, combat, stealth and occasionally subtle storytelling. That structure is still in place but it has been reconsidered and tweaked well enough this go around that it almost feels like a fresh new take. If anything, it’s shaping up to be a grand last hurrah for the series’ current format until Ubisoft Montreal hopefully takes a new direction once again to keep the series floating or better, soaring. It’s the best of what the past two games had to offer but with the fat stripped off.
The big meaningful difference is removing the radio towers from the equation. In prior games since 3, radio towers were used as a way to open up a portion of the map to see your surroundings, including locations to visit, activities to peruse and missions to undertake. It was great but quickly wore its welcome in creating a “laundry list” feel, ticking off boxes rather than really feeling like a natural progression through a game world. Now, through finding small paper maps strewn around the world, using your binoculars, reading signs or just talking to people, that’s where your map begins to fill up. The game gives you the mechanical freedom to run into opportunity to find stuff to do rather than having a big glowing tower forcing you into that direction to become acquainted. Sure, main story objectives are given off the bat to allow you a good idea of what to do. It does, however feel like you are making your adventure more of your own than before.
It doesn’t hurt that the actual things to do in missions or otherwise are just as fun and even more creative than ever. My favorite activity is “prepper stashes." Stashes contain valuable items like weapons, money, materials for crafting and “perk” magazines to upgrade yourself, with a small yet meaningful story to tell from the people’s lives suggested in these hiding places. Finding the stashes involve clever even surprising environmental puzzles to solve and obstacles to overcome and rarely thus far, feel at all the same as the next. Just finding new locations and seeing how most of them look different rather than copy and pasted create a sense you are in a real place that has been around long before you embarked on your ill-considered mission for the law.
The specialists are characters, nine in total, that you can find and help out to unlock them as companions in your journey towards liberation. The three that I’ve so far unlocked are first of all, the very good dog Boomer, who smells out trouble, attacks foes and picks up weapons for you. Second is Grace, an Iraq War veteran with a nihilistic streak, who like the other human specialists, comments on the locations you visit. She is a sniper who cheerlessly reminds you of also being a “shooting contest” winner with daddy issues to boot. Finally, Nick Rye, family man and seaplane pilot extraordinaire, assists entirely from the air and can be called for strafing and bombing runs. You can also help him out in aerial combat missions which gives a whole new great branch to “Far Cry”’s gameplay.
The non-linearity of your liberation is refined, with the game only forcing the story back in once you have done enough damage to the cult’s regional control and you are knocked out and submitted to one-on one missions involving the local Lieutenant in command of the territory. It can be jarring, as likely intended. The biggest weakness of “Far Cry 5” as it stands now is that the characters are mostly okay and not as charismatic or memorable as in the third and fourth entries. Some stand out more than others, such as the Rye family, but the antagonists seem strangely undercooked. The glassy eyed demeanor may suggest the cult-like intent of their behavior but on few small occasions did I find them frightening. The whole is spookier than the individual parts, but I doubt that people will look back on the Seed family the same way like “Far Cry 3”’s Vaas and Hoyt Walker and “Far Cry 4”’s Pagan Min.
Then again, this is merely an impressions article and I haven’t seen all the characters or even confronted one entire member of the crazy flock. So maybe I’m not a full believer. I have more faith than doubt in “Far Cry 5” being the best of the series however, and the light in Hope County is shining bright, horrors notwithstanding.