March 26, 2018
A mission to save the US from destruction by a charismatic leader flits between flamethrowing fun and graphic torture in a tonally unpredictable vision
Far Cry 5 review – cults, chaos and all-American silliness
In rural Hope County, Montana, an extreme Christian cult has been slowly eroding the power of the state. Its charismatic leader, his body inked with religious iconography and his hair pulled back in a man-bun, has amassed an armed following that feels he can do no wrong. Sent in as part of a team of US marshals to arrest Father Seed, you can feel the tension as you walk through crowds of his jeering followers and into his church; it’s as though everything is about to tip over the edge, and soon enough, it does. Before you can even get into the air with the handcuffed Seed, his followers have shot your helicopter down in flames and dragged your screaming teammates away. After a doomed car chase through the night as you try to escape the county, you’re rescued by a crotchety old survivalist, handed a gun, and told that you are now part of the resistance.
The opening is a high point for Far Cry 5. It introduces a great villain, the rather timely premise of saving forgotten America from the brink of disaster, and the kind of seat-of-your-pants action that video Games are made for. Afterwards, the sense of purpose quickly dissipates in a meandering journey to liberate the county’s three regions from gun-toting cultists, and the game soon reveals that it is very tonally confused. The story missions, centring around Seed and his siblings, are disquieting and extremely violent, with pretty graphic scenes of torture, indoctrination and religious frenzy; after a while, it gets wearing. Meanwhile, when you’re roaming free in Hope County, you’re clinking beers with hillbillies, tearing down a mountain on a quad bike accompanied by blaring hair-metal and fireworks, hunting down crazed moose or collecting ingredients for a food festival called the Testy Festy (no prizes for guessing the featured dish).

Far Cry 5 is most enjoyable when it embraces the chaos that ensues when a player is left on an island full of hostile cultists with enough guns to embarrass John McClane. Blowing up cultist shrines, liberating farms and factories from their grasp and generally making yourself a flamethrower-toting nuisance is great fun. The characters you can recruit are entertaining caricatures of small-town USA. Planes, boats and road vehicles are all easy and enjoyable to drive and blow up. It’s jarring to be wrenched away from the open world and into a confrontation with one of the Seed siblings, which sometimes happens with no warning – like being briefly kidnapped into a different game entirely.
Although beautiful – even breathtaking, especially at sunrise and from the air – rural Montana isn’t as fun to fool around in as Far Cry 3’s tropical island, or 4’s Himalayan mountains. You won’t be busting out a wingsuit and jumping off a mountain very often. This is a more militaristic interpretation of the series’ survival theme: instead of hunting bears and trying to tame the wilds, you’re constantly fighting off fanatics trying to kill or capture you. It’s also harder to sneak around with a bow, throwing knives than to run in all guns blazing, because the cult lieutenants send more and more lackeys after you until you can barely drive half a mile without being pursued by two carfuls of cultists and a fighter plane.

Co-operative multiplayer adds another unpredictable element – with two players running around, things are even more likely to go awry and devolve into continually escalating shootouts. Sometimes this chaos is enjoyable; sometimes it’s confusing and frustrating. Occasionally the game forgets where you were and what you were doing before you died and plonks you somewhere random on the map. Other glitches and confusing moments happen when the game’s systems collide; upon approaching a man weeping over the body of what looked like his dead friend, he immediately straightened up, delivered a line of dialogue about some nearby side-mission, and walked off. Radio chatter from other characters sometimes has nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re doing. Story-based missions can completely lose the plot when something unexpected happens, leaving you standing in a field miles away while the action happens elsewhere.
Far Cry 5 taps into the prevailing geopolitical sense of being right on the brink of disaster, but it stays well away from the real-world issues that clearly inspired its themes. 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 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.
There are great individual moments in Far Cry 5. The gunplay is excellent, its unpredictable world generates daring stories of accidental heroism, and when it leans into the whole red-blooded American patriotism schtick, it’s genuinely funny. It doesn’t always fit together as well as it should, sometimes forcing the player to work around the game rather than with it – but the wildly vacillating tone is the bigger issue. It’s at once disorienting and noncommittal. Paradoxically, this is an extreme satire of modern America that says pretty much nothing about it.
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