What Is It? An open world FPS where you liberate a rural region of Montana from a murderous cult
Expect to pay: $60/£50
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Reviewed On: Intel Core i5-6600K @ 3.50 GHz, 8 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980
Multiplayer: Drop-in co-op with a friend, multiplayer maps for up to 12 players in Arcade mode
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
In Hope County, Montana, you might find yourself using a guided missile to kill a charging bear. Not because a missile is the best weapon to kill a bear with—a crossbow would be more sporting—but simply because you already have the weapon resting on your shoulder. A moment ago you used it to blow an enemy plane out of the sky and a boat out of the water, so dispatching a bear with it is just quick and convenient, and the sooner the bear is dead, the sooner you can get back to the important task at hand: breaking the county record for catching the heaviest golden trout.
Welcome to Far Cry 5, where a quiet spot of fishing can and often will result in piles of burnt wreckage and scattered corpses. It's a chaotic and wonderfully ridiculous open world sandbox of destruction and violence where a short drive down a dirt road can quickly become a pitched battle, as enemy vehicles appear and engage you, friendly fighters arrive and open fire at them, and ravenous animals leap from the woods and attack both. When the smoke finally clears, you may realize you've forgotten where you were going in the first place. Then an eagle swoops down and attacks your face.
If you're a Far Cry veteran, this probably all sounds familiar, and Far Cry 5 follows the same blueprint as Far Cry 3 and 4 with a few new tweaks but no massive changes. I'm good with that: Ubisoft refining its wild and turbulent sandbox formula rather than reinventing it suits me just fine. This time you play as a nameless deputy sheriff sent to Hope County to arrest Joseph Seed, a cult leader backed by a heavily-armed force of devoted followers who have taken control of the region using kidnapping, mass murder, and brainwashing as recruitment tools. Your arrest of Seed in the first five minutes quickly goes awry, and your law enforcement cohorts are captured by the cult. Stranded in the mountainous backcountry with no backup, the only way out is to liberate the whole dang area, farm by farm.
Hope County is divided into three regions, each controlled by a member of the Seed family. Defeating them requires first collecting resistance points in their regions, which come from completing missions, liberating captured locals, destroying the cult's resources, and conquering their outposts. Between these objectives you'll have countless random skirmishes, as traffic, enemies, rebels, citizens, and wildlife constantly converge and clash. It's a busy wilderness. You're constantly swiveling your head around to see where the gunfire is coming from or what people are yelling about, and amusingly, the NPCs react with the same panicked urgency when noticing an enemy plane circling as they do when spotting an approaching skunk.
This chaos of overlapping AI factions is almost always a good thing—the best parts of Far Cry are when crazy shit happens. It's just that crazy shit happens nearly constantly, which can occasionally be frustrating if you're hoping for a few minutes of silence to contemplate an environmental puzzle, admire the scenery, or catch a fish in peace.
At one point I came across a quiet airfield with two planes parked on it, and thought I'd help myself to one. While preparing to attack the two cultists guarding it, I noticed some movement nearby: it was a bull fighting a mountain lion. As I engaged, one conflict spilled over into the other, and by the end of the fight more cultists had arrived (some in a helicopter), a wolverine had appeared and attacked a fleeing cow, a citizen had driven up in a tractor, two planes (in the air) got into a dogfight, another cultist drove up (in a different tractor), and the planes on the ground had exploded in the ensuing carnage. I had to settle for stealing one of the tractors, which I used to run over an angry bear that showed up late. Slacker.
I got a great performance using ultra settings (only motion blur was turned off) on my GeForce GTX 980 at 1920x1080: I was typically between 60-65 fps with occasional dips into the mid-50's. James played on his 1070 and found it ran buttery smooth as well.
Essentially, it's comparable to Far Cry 4, so if your PC ran that well you should see a similar performance from Far Cry 5. Read more in our comprehensive performance analysis.
To join this chaos you've got a constantly growing arsenal of weapons, including throwable shovels you can awesomely impale enemies with, craftable dynamite and proximity mines, and a generous cache of machine guns, rifles, pistols, and my favorite, the RAT4 rocket launcher, which locks onto vehicles and lets you steer your missile after firing (say, into a bear). There are lots of ways to get around: cars, boats, plus choppers and planes that are just as easy to operate as cars and boats. Cheap perks unlock a grappling hook for climbing, a wingsuit for when you can't be bothered to climb back down, and infinite parachutes, perfect for hastily activating when you realize the roof you just jumped off was a bit higher than you thought.
Enemy outposts, as they were in earlier Far Cry games, are the best thing about Far Cry 5. Survey them from a distance, tag enemies with your scope or binoculars, and note other features like alarm towers (which can be used by the enemy to summon reinforcements), caged animals (which can be set free to cause a wonderful ruckus), and explosive barrels (self-explanatory), then either slither around dispensing cultists one by one with melee attacks and silenced weapons, or go in loud with grenades and guns. There's always satisfaction in being stealthy enough to take an outpost without a single shot being fired, but I prefer a big noisy fight filled with explosions and ragdolling enemies which runs the gamut from exhilarating to hilarious.
You can also rip up the joint with missiles and miniguns while hovering overhead in a helicopter, which is a bit mindless but makes for a nice change of pace from all the careful scouting and enemy tagging. You can fling raw meat over the wall and let hungry wolves and cougars tear your enemies' throats out, or rig proximity mines all over the place, sneak away, and wait for patrolling guards to start stepping on them. The freedom you have to approach outposts in different ways extends to a lot of side missions as well.
The Far Cry series has often featured scalable towers that revealed new areas on your map, each with a slightly different configuration but still similar enough to result in what amounted to a repetitive chore of first-person climbing and jumping. While there are a few towers in Far Cry 5, they're only tied to side missions, you can just use a grappling hook to scale them, and they don't reveal map locations. Now you populate your map through exploration and getting tips from citizens, which is a great improvement. Filling in for those tower-climbing puzzles are 'prepper' stashes, caches of weapons, ammo, cash, and crafting resources, often in underground bunkers, sometimes booby trapped, flooded, locked, or with clues scattered around containing information on how to access them. Infiltrating these prepper stashes can be easy or hard, surprising or boring, annoying, spooky, deadly, or even require a bit of climbing—you never really know what's in a bunker, hideout, or cave, and that's a lot better than climbing a set of slightly different towers.
Far Cry 5 needed a better villain. The Seeds are boring bad guys, way too talkative without ever saying much, and each will kidnap you multiple times—one can even drag you at will into extended hallucinations—thus interrupting your open world fun to make you suffer through their monologues before either giving you a chance to escape or simply returning you to a friendly bunker. Killing them—which sometimes involves a boss fight where the Seeds gain superhuman powers and take a ridiculous amount of damage before falling—feels less like justice for the county and more like simple relief at not having to listen to their drawn-out speeches any longer.
"Look at the headlines. Look who's in charge," one of the Seeds says, hoping to convince me that bringing about the end of the world is perfectly reasonable because the world is going to end soon anyway. Granted, this is a man who murders, kidnaps, and carves people's sins into their flesh with a knife, then cuts the flesh off and staples it to the wall. It's unclear why this disturbing practice has gained him hundreds of loyal followers, but he's got a point. The headlines sure are scary these days.
Apart from a few scattered lines of dialogue, there's no cohesive message or statement about politics or fascism or militias or anything, really, in Far Cry 5. The cult leaders themselves don't even mention God or religion as often you'd expect, and the cult's motivations are pretty vague beyond killing or drugging everyone who doesn't want to join. Far Cry 5 wants to be whimsical like GTA 5 ("weaponized super-bears" is spoken matter-of-factly), but its irreverence comes at the expense of developing interesting villains with clear motivations.
I'm not surprised. Ubisoft didn't have a coherent or serious message about spying, surveillance, and privacy issues in Watch Dogs, either. I don't think any developer is obligated to include social commentary in their game, but to evoke so much of the visual language of religious fundamentalism and secessionism, and then not explore that stuff in any meaningful way, makes Far Cry 5 feel hollow. Seemingly scared of not pleasing everyone, Ubisoft avoided tackling deeper subjects altogether and decided that the villains were just weirdos.
The buddy system
You're not alone in Far Cry 5 unless you want to be. There are generic NPC guns for hire you can bring along for support, and nine distinct AI companions you can recruit from side-missions scattered throughout the county. Three of the companions—the best ones—are animals (a dog, a bear, and a mountain lion), the rest are humans with backstories they won't stop blathering about even once you've heard every last anecdote and observation. You can bring one with you at a time (a perk can add room for another), and each has some useful skills depending on what sort of help you're looking for: the sniper can cover you while you fight at close range, the dog can detect and tag enemies you can't see, the pilot can drop bombs and strafe targets from above, the bear is a bear.
I didn't use companions that often—the two-legged ones are just too blandly chatty for my tastes—but I love romping around with a devoted bear at my side, and the biggest benefit of traveling with a buddy is that they can revive you if you've taken too much damage, saving you from death. Speaking of health, sadly absent in this Far Cry is the gruesome self-healing animation of past games, which I miss: watching yourself dig a bullet out of your flesh with a knife or resetting a broken bone with a crunch is more fun than simply winding some gauze around your arm. Alas.
Far better than an AI buddy is a real one: you can play the entire game with a co-op partner, story missions and all. It's great fun to have a friend along for the ride in the chaotic sandbox of Far Cry 5, and taking down outposts with a coordinated co-op assault (or an uncoordinated one, for that matter) is even more enjoyable than doing it alone. It's easy to drop in and drop out no matter where you are in the game.
A big, beautiful, chaotic canvas of freeform destruction, Far Cry 5 continues the series' best traditions. It's strongest when you get to decide how to tackle a challenge, and at its weakest when it strips you of your freedom and makes you listen to a super-powered boss slowly yammer about culling the weak or how pain will set you free. If you can stomach the occasional slow monologue from a dull zealot, you'll be back to blowing up bears in no time.