Far Cry 5 is fun, but its tone is all over the place

The first major incident is a turkey mauling my companion to death. Just 500 or so metres out of the tiny Montana township we start in, along a quiet dirt track beside a verdant plain, the turkey is utterly brutalizing this poor woman’s face: she keeps falling, getting back up, bum-rushing the turkey, but the latter has the upper hand. Finally the poor resistance fighter dies, I get back in my truck, and drive away. It was like a horror take on Looney Tunes, but overall, Far Cry 5 feels like a kind of Looney Tunes take on rural America.

The turkey incident was about the funniest thing I saw in Far Cry 5, which is overall (and perhaps not in the way it intends to be) a very funny game. As an Australian, I’m used to being told our wildlife is an ever-present threat in my life, but Montana has it tougher if this game is any indication. Bears, wolves, dogs, weird tiger-looking things, turkeys… they’re more ubiquitous than the whacked-out cultists, who themselves outnumber anyone resembling a “citizen”. 

No, if you thought Far Cry 5 was attempting a realistic depiction of an American county then… you’ll either be disappointed, or America is a far more brutal place than I could ever have imagined. It looks the part, though, according to James (who is from Montana and also played this build).

You can’t drive 300 metres without being shot at, whether by a passing cultist vehicle or a lone cultist bystander

The first notable diversion from reality is that citizens are few and far between. And by citizens, I mean anyone or anything that doesn’t want to kill me. Hope County is a bloodbath. You can’t drive 300 metres without being shot at, whether by a passing cultist vehicle or a lone cultist bystander. They aren’t smart: they’ll rush you with paddles and they’ll even sometimes leap in the air like a starfish. As far as I could see, there’s not much in the way of a society in Hope County – maybe they’ve all been recruited by the cult? But they haven’t, because you’ll sometimes find characters making do in their decrepit, poorly homes, such as one woman with purple hair who wants you to go collect comic books (12 of them) because they remind her of her grandfather. 

There are some interesting touches. I spent a while poking around a recently abandoned homestead (barely furnished, ridden with empty beer bottles) before finding a survivalist shelter in the backyard. I found this genuinely exciting and evocative, until I found another not too long after. Like most Ubisoft games, the shelters are art assets liberally repeated to maximise content, rather than one-offs designed to provide an effective, discreet storytelling moment.

What kind of tone is next Far Cry going for? More than ever, it appears to be aiming for that bumbling variety of overt mockery that passes as satire in video games (see the GTA series). It’s irreverent but in an overly-familiar way, in a way that winks and nudges and constantly reminds you that it’s a game and so, all things considered, it doesn’t matter if you’ve just mown down a horde of chickens with a thresher. People will speculate about its political comment and Ubisoft will say it has none. But if it has no politics, why were all the homes I encountered so destitute (albeit large and with beautiful views)? Why are these people, in Montana, especially susceptible to a deadly cult? Why does the box art have a big ol’ American flag prominently pictured? 

This game feels otherwise completely familiar to anyone who played the previous two mainline Far Cry games. Just a bunch of hills and trees and fields which could be anywhere, interspersed with some fairly rote-looking Americana and a surplus of generic industrial settings and warehouses. I’m first required to go and take out a cult outpost, presumably the game’s way of easing new players into the habit of doing this many times more. I find an aforementioned generic industrial space (silos, big industrial tanks, ladders leading upwards) where I dutifully mark enemies from afar, take them out, and then watch a short cutscene showing folk from my side taking over the base. 

While there are changes, the overall feeling of Far Cry 5 is more of the same, and a dramatically different setting doesn’t really change the moment-to-moment feel of a Far Cry game. All the now-expected Far Cry tricks are here: a grappling hook, the ability to sabotage vehicles to use as rolling fiery death machines, and the trusty bow-and-arrow. You’ll be marking enemies from afar, destroying their alarms lest they alert hordes of their kin, and taking down their outposts. There are story missions, side missions, missions about collecting 12 comic books… it’s an open world shooter.

It’s fun to shoot cultists, it’s fun to drive around in beaten up cars (though any chase scenario is painful given the game’s narrow FOV), and it’s still very fun to approach outposts in whichever way you see fit. But the storytelling adornments and the decorative Montana setting is totally unconvincing. I don’t feel like I’m somewhere in America, I feel like I’m somewhere in a Far Cry video game, with the usual snarky Far Cry attitude and so-droll-it’s-barely-there social commentary. Am I in the Himalayas or Montana? Doesn’t matter because the bears chase the same bait. This studio is great at guns and mountains and off-the-chain wildlife but I don’t know whether it can cope with storytelling.