Innovation is a popular buzzword when it comes to talking about video games. We all want games to do something new and amazing, right? It’s great to advance the industry. Of course, if we’ve learned one thing over the past few years, it’s that the opinions of reviewers and the hardcore gaming set don’t necessarily match up to the opinions of the people who are buying and playing games. We see the Call of Duty games lambasted for a lack of innovation time and time again even as they sell millions of copies. Innovation might not necessarily be everything – Call of Duty might not innovate every time, but it does nail its fundamentals almost without fail.
Sometimes it’s hard to even nail down the definition of “innovative.” Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the best game of 2017, was unquestionably innovative…by Assassin’s Creed standards. In reality it owed much of its structure to games like The Witcher 3 and Far Cry. It wasn’t necessarily doing anything new but revamping a series that had started to get a bit creaky and doing so with aplomb. Speaking of Far Cry, we’re talking about the latest of those games today with Far Cry 5. It doesn’t swerve quite as much as Origins did. It is, in fact, a lot like the previous games. Like the Call of Duty games, though, it’s got great fundamentals and top-notch presentation, making for a must-play experience.
Hope County, Montana would be a great place for a vacation! It’s got everything: scenic views, great fishing and quirky locals. Heavy emphasis on the locals, in fact. They might be getting a little too quirky. A doomsday cult called the Project at Eden’s Gate has basically taken the place over. You’re a rookie deputy with the local police and your job is to apprehend the usual charismatic Far Cry psychopath, in this case the cult leader Joseph Seed, known as The Father. Long story short: it doesn’t go well and now you’re stranded in Hope County, on the run from the cult with no way out. If you want to survive, you’ll need to help the local resistance and mount an effective revolt against the Project at Eden’s Gate.
If you’ve ever played a Far Cry game you’ve got a pretty solid idea of how this is going to work. There’s a big ol’ map, there’s a lot of things to do and most of it is going to involve ventilating cultists, or “Peggies.” Much has been made of the removal of radio towers as a means of finding new activities to take part in, but in practice it doesn’t really change much – you’re getting your intel from NPCs instead of towers now, but the gameplay loop of find quest-do quest-repeat remains intact. There is a slight nudge toward more emergent gameplay as you’re encouraged to explore a bit more rather than just rushing for radio towers, which is nice, but this is still Far Cry through and through.
The map is split into three different sections, each controlled by a member of Seed’s inner circle, and you can pick and choose whose authority you’d like to wear away at. That makes for one of the nicer aspects of the game, really, since each section has its own unique feel and gameplay. Faith’s section in the lower-right is focused on fighting the cult’s drug trade, for instance, and it’s got a lot of trippy hallucination-induced moments as well as zombie-like Angels to battle. To the north, meanwhile, you’re fighting Jacob the enforcer, who has a pack of specially trained wolves. The different look and feel of each chunk of the map makes for a great sense of variety as you progress; this was somewhat lacking in previous Far Cry games, notwithstanding the bizarre shift toward sci-fi in the first game.
As always, you’re able to approach problems and deal with them in whichever way you choose. You’ve got guns, grenades, vehicles and drugs and usually have leeway to combine them in whatever manner you please to solve problems. In fact, you’re even encouraged to shake things up, since varied tactics make for a quicker path to improved skills by granting bonus Perk Points. There’s a definite bent toward stealth and tactics; you’re often rewarded for solving problems discreetly, if only by not having to deal with a giant, well-armed army of cultists who are upset with your meddling. Even “going loud” is acceptable in most cases, though, and all playstyles can benefit from the Guns and Fangs for Hire, a set of AI companions that can back you up when you need it most.
The latter, in particular, are winners – there’s something to be said about teaming up with Cheeseburger the grizzly bear when you’re done trying to be sneaky. We’ve seen an evolution of these concepts over time with Far Cry 4 and Primal and it shows, since the AI companions are surprisingly competent and often truly helpful. I was particularly pleased at how well human characters avoided breaking my cover when I was stealthing about.
The campaign is extensive and solid, but that’s not all you’re getting here. For one, there’s a fairly extensive suite of multiplayer options. You can attack the entire campaign with a friend, though the way it handles save files is backwards at best – only the “host” makes story progress, so if you plan on playing the whole thing together, plan on doing it twice. You can also take two or more friends along in the new Far Cry Arcade. That’s a giant set of user-created maps for both cooperative and competitive play. As you’d expect with user-generated content, the majority of what’s on offer is crap, but the fact that it’s there at all in 2018 is impressive. Crappy maps don’t necessarily mean crappy gameplay, either, as the responsive gunplay of the game makes even N64-era map design work in many cases.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the latest entry in a AAA franchise from a top-class studio is friggin’ gorgeous. Far Cry 5 nails the wonder of rural America in a way few other games have. Sure, big chunks of it have been reduced to war-torn cultist-infested ruins, but it still looks awful nice! Likewise, it sounds great; something must be said for the amazing soundtrack present throughout which really has to be heard to be believed, while the voice acting is a surprisingly decent take on the accents and dialects you’d expect from this area. One thing’s worth noting – I didn’t run into any technical issues, but there are whispers of save-game erasures and various glitches on the PC version.
It doesn’t redefine the series in quite the same way Assassin’s Creed: Origins shook things up, but Far Cry 5 is a great example of not fixing things that aren’t necessary broken. It’s a beautiful, memorable and all-in-all fun take on open-world shooting. Still, you might want more than all that, especially after three excellent games serving up a similar experience. Some games might even offer to scratch that itch for you. Few of them will do it with the skill we’ve come to expect from these games, however. Far Cry 5 is probably worth your time.