Score: 7/10 Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Windows PC Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Toronto Publisher: Ubisoft Release Date: March 27, 2018 ESRB: M
If games are ever going to be taken seriously by the world at large as an art form capable of intelligent social commentary, major studios need to show some resolve when constructing their stories and characters.
When Black Panther was unleashed on movie-going audiences in February it helped elevate the superhero film to something more than jaw dropping action sequences and clever wisecracks. It made a strong statement about racism, showing us how America’s systemic social flaws perpetuate hate and anger while suggesting those who can do something about it need to step off the sidelines and take action. And guess what? It’s now the highest grossing superhero movie of all time.
It was with hope of something similar that I entered into Ubisoft Montreal’s
Far Cry 5, the latest entry in the French game publisher’s blockbuster open world action series that drops players into unpredictable playgrounds of chaos and mayhem created and shaped by charismatic and often ideological villains. This time out players are going up against something that ought to hit close to home for the series’ North American fans: An armed religious cult based in the wilds of Montana led by a preacher known as the Father.
It’s hard to imagine a more topical subject. Proliferation of guns in America? Religion-motivated violence? The rise of right wing extremism? Check, check, and check. There’s all kinds of potential here for some legitimate analysis of and commentary on real world problems. But while Ubisoft’s writers boldly march up to the door, they’re too shy to start pounding on it, settling instead to whisper a few safe jokes before moving on.
The game is loaded with bits of satire that broach all sorts of rural American topics. Flags and eagles are almost everywhere, cranky old timers rant about aggressive liberals ruining their way of life (with a couple of witty nods to Canadian socialism), and isolated doomsday preppers keep well stocked concrete bunkers. There are plenty of places where you can see how the writers drew inspiration from real life cults and local reactions to them, particularly the Oregonian Rajneesh movement back in the 1980s, which took over an entire town and even created its own armed police force.
Far Cry 5: Chaos, extremism, and lawless mayhem in…Montana?Sea of Thieves review: Piratical pleasure for packs of palsOntario Teachers takes $400-million stake in Assassin’s Creed producer Ubisoft
Yet whenever Far Cry 5 seems to come close to taking a stand or trying to say something, it backs down.
Take, for example, a side mission involving a local politician who’s worried that the expanding number of cultists will vote as a block and make it impossible for him to win an upcoming election. He briefly brings up the topic of gerrymandering – which gave me hope that I was about to embark on a sly mission to somehow alter the world map – but then quickly dismisses it and suggests that it would be easier to decrease the cultist population simply by killing off as many of them as we can.
It’s this falling back on video game convention (don’t let the story get in the way of the player killing things!) that keeps Far Cry 5 from living up to its full potential.
That said, it’s not hard to understand why Ubisoft chose to keep the series’ status quo. The franchise has some very compelling and oft-copied institutions of play that remain compelling from one game to the next, and they provide all the reason most returning players will need to invest in Far Cry 5.
The series’ signature outpost raids, for example, are still a major part of the game. You’ll scope them from afar, tag all the guards, then try to work out a way to take them down quietly – melee, sniping, or perhaps releasing a caged wolf – without raising any alarms so as to avoid reinforcements. And, thanks to a new ally “roster” system that lets us have up to two computer controlled buddies with specific combat proficiencies at our side, our options are now more varied than ever. In fact, once I unlocked a pair of pilot specialists – one flying a plane, another a helicopter – it almost made outposts too easy.
And you’ll still need to be wary of wild animals, including bison, grizzlies, and cougars. We no longer need to collect their skins to make ammunition pouches, as we have in the past, but their hides are worth something to shop owners and their meat can be used as bait to lure predators to attack enemies. Some of the most challenging missions involve hunting down rogue game driven into raging frenzies by a cultist wonder drug called Bliss.
It’s not all the same, though. The designers have pulled a couple of things from the formula, and mostly for the better.
Frustrating first-person tower climbing – one of my biggest peeves in other Far Cry instalments – is, happily, more or less absent from this iteration. Of course, you still need to reveal important spots on the map, but this is now handled by talking to random folks who sum up key locations and create missions in just a couple of quick sentences. It’s an organic means of learning more about the world.
On the subject of the game’s world, Ubisoft’s depiction of rural Montana will, for some, be reason enough to give Far Cry 5 a spin. The region in which the game takes place – Hope County – is fictional, yet still captures the natural majesty of the state’s sprawling farms, pine-covered low mountains, and beautiful crystal clear lakes. If the roads and forests weren’t absolutely crawling with homicidal cultists who attack the player on sight, I could have spent hours just wandering around enjoying the scenery.
Still, picturesque setting and unsurprisingly polished game mechanics aside, I came away wishing for something a bit more nourishing.
I was fairly entertained on the sort of uncomplicated, straightforward level that involves cracking a crooked smile at the notion of pawing through piles of doggy doo-doo to find an inadvertently swallowed house key and basking in the satisfaction of watching a friendly grizzly bear tear through a clutch of enemies, saving me the trouble.
But if you’re looking for an insight or two into the sociopolitical troubles currently haunting the country in which Far Cry 5 is set, best not to get your hopes up.