Far Cry 5 is a decent iteration of the Far Cry formula tied to a story that goes to ridiculous lengths to avoid upsetting anyone. The game’s timidity and lack of investment in its own setup sinks what could have been an otherwise enjoyable entry in the series.
The game has no idea what it wants to be, which allows it to collapse into a meandering, defiantly inoffensive mess. The end result is that it will likely annoy everyone in at least some manner. And I’m not the only person to think so.
“There are numerous oblique references to Trump — one side-mission has you retrieving a certain infamous, compromising tape for a federal agent who keeps talking about golden showers — but it’s played for laughs rather than political commentary,” the Guardian states. “The Eden’s Gate cultists might be extremists, but they’re emphatically not white supremacists. It comes close to trying to say something, but never actually does — and it’s far more comfortable when it’s being silly than serious, making you wish that it had committed wholeheartedly to playful satire rather than spreading its bets.”
This sort of dissonance felt inevitable when the creative team at Ubisoft Montreal revealed the setting for Far Cry 5, the fictional Hope County in rural Montana. There’s the obvious problem: How does a series built on the freedom to roam an open world, murdering hundreds of enemies on a whim, merge with a story that demands a certain seriousness and focus? Even if the team solved that problem, there’s the secondary issue of appealing to the largest possible audience.
You can treat the story with the sort of respect that the early trailers and marketing materials seemed to call for, but it’s hard to do that without offending someone on the political spectrum. And games the size of Far Cry are too expensive to risk turning off any potential group of customers.
“For a group of violent, gun-festishizing secessionists, they’re a remarkably apolitical lot,” the AV Club explained. “These brainwashed, mantra-spewing monsters feel less like an original creation and more like the result of a focus group on easily digestible evil, a concerted effort on someone’s part to committee-up some baddies that folks on either side of the political spectrum could happily murder by the hundreds.”
There was early talk about the research that Ubisoft Montreal did about the methods of recruitment and indoctrination that real-life cults use, but Far Cry 5 largely trades uncomfortable truths about vulnerable, lonely or scared people for something simpler: The baddies have been hypnotized, drugged or both.
“Where the game does try to take you through the mechanics by which people become fanatics, it does so at the level of cheap sensation, via devices such as mass hypnosis or mind-altering drugs that can be easily translated into the brutal lingo of an action game,” Eurogamer states. “There’s little sustained investigation of wider social factors, like the overlap between militant Christian extremism and white supremacy or sexism — indeed, the game generally ducks such questions. The cult’s ranks are stocked with a mixture of races and genders, in what feels like a careful sanitizing of the subject matter.”
The problem isn’t that Americans are upset that the game is set in here. The problem is that Far Cry 5 treats the country like a cartoon background, rather than a very real and very complex place. The series has done that for other locations, of course, but Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 still felt like violence set amid beautiful “exotic” backdrops, with the mildest hint of a timely connection.
And Ubisoft took great pains to play up the “serious” nature of Far Cry 5’s story during press briefings.
“Press briefings like the one I attended in Los Angeles last week are usually pretty quiet affairs,” our own Charlie Hall wrote about an early preview. “There’s a slideshow, some samples of gameplay and, if you’re lucky, a little hands-on time with a demo. But I have never witnessed such a sober, somber, serious presentation about a video game as the one that Ubisoft gave in that room.”
That sense of gravity is completely unearned in the final game, and is constantly undercut by, for example, the act of fighting alongside a bear with diabetes.
“This speaks to a deeper problem, albeit one that emerges from the same central flaw of being stretched too thin,” Waypoint said. “Thematically, Far Cry 5 is such an inconsistent mess of ideas that there is hardly a recognizable through line at all. Instead, the game gestures towards ambiguity as if looking for a shield to save itself with.”
Pick a direction and commit to it
Far Cry 5 would have been a much more enjoyable experience had Ubisoft had a strong idea about what it wanted the game to be, and were then able to follow through with that vision.
Was this going to be a game with menacing characters and a good story? Then do that, and go where the story takes you, even if you’re worried about upsetting someone. Prove that you have the strength of your convictions.
The team could also have decided to make a purely fun adventure with a lot of humor, jokes and random challenges that stressed enjoyment and discovery rather than darkness and violence. That’s what many, if not most, Far Cry fans seem to want anyway, so why force them to sit through a horrendous and disturbing story that conflicts with the tone of the rest of the game?
Following the publication of our Far Cry 5 review, many fans have let Polygon know they are comfortable ignoring the story, simply enjoying the setting and the many fun things to do in the game. I’m guessing they’re going to have a really good time with Far Cry 5. After all, the game doesn’t need this kind of loaded setup to get attention. Ubisoft Montreal put an exceptional amount of craft into the world of Hope County.
However, many players will wish for a version of Far Cry 5 that’s more in tune with itself. The developers tried to make a psychological thriller that’s both dark and disturbing while also being safe and inoffensive, as well as a fun open-world game with plenty of knee-slappers and surprise weirdness. Those things just don’t fit together. Far Cry 5 wants to appeal to everyone, but ultimately says nothing.
Moving forward, Far Cry needs to learn how to be Far Cry, instead of insisting it has a formula that can be all things to all people.