After some adventures in far-flung locales such as the Himalayas, Africa and the Pacific ocean, Ubisoft has decided to bring the first-person shooter franchise of Far Cry to the good ol’ US of A. The rolling hills and wild terrain of Montana play host to the fifth entry in the popular series and it is here that we find ourselves locked in a battle with the populous, and exceptionally well-armed, Project at Eden’s Gate cult.

Joseph Seed is the leader of the Eden’s Gate cult and, with the help of his family members, he has turned the fictional Hope County into an area of fear, violence and drug-crazed fanatics thanks to their homemade hallucinogen Bliss, all stemming from his belief that he has been sent by God to protect his followers from the eventual collapse of society. In response to charges that Seed has kidnapped people with intent to harm, the United States Marshals send in a team of people to arrest Joseph; this is where we join the story.

Our character is a nameless, voiceless and mostly faceless Junior Deputy with the sheriff’s department who has been sent along on the mission to bring in Joseph. After an eye-opening intro sequence and a short but tense chain of events surrounding Joseph’s arrest, we are dropped, quite literally, into the rocky wilderness of Hope County where we find ourselves both alone and hunted. The first friendly face we meet is Dutch, a survivalist living in a well-stocked bunker, like all good survivalists do, and he clues us in to the state of affairs regarding the Seeds and their plans. After a brief orientation session on Dutch’s island, we are unleashed on the surrounding territory and this introduces us to one of Far Cry 5’s best innovations.

The official Far Cry 5 trailer as found on the PlayStation YouTube Channel.

Once we are off Dutch’s island, the entirety of Hope County is ours to explore. There are no blocked off areas, unusable bridges or areas that require a specific experience level, you are free to go where your heart guides you. One look at the world map will show you that you have a choice of three areas, controlled by John, Jacob and Faith, siblings of Joseph Seed and all fiercely committed to his cause. There are a few places and characters noted on the map, but apart from that, it’s up to you to explore the regions and advance the story. The main crux of the game is to stop Joseph Seed from carrying on his nefarious activities; this is done by invading each of the three regions on the map, building up resistance points and defeating the Seed sibling in charge of the region, thereby giving you access to a final, cinematic showdown with the man they call The Father.

You gain resistance points in a variety of ways: completing main and side story missions; rescuing civilians that you encounter randomly along the way; destroying cult property and vehicles; and liberating compounds that the cultists have occupied. Due to the limited info given to you when you first set out and the fact that there is no on-screen mini map to distract you, exploration is key and this time, luckily, you will not be spending the majority of your day scaling radio and bell towers. The world map may be huge, but you are never far from a helpful stranger who can point you in the direction of the next gunfight or someone in need of assistance who triggers another multi-stage mission. You never feel like you are searching for something to do or that you are being forced to carry out missions in a certain order, your progression through the world, and the story, feels totally organic.

There is also a plethora of vehicles and devices to get you about, including cars, quad bikes, boats, helicopters, planes, parachutes, grappling hooks and wingsuits and also a comprehensive fast travel option. However, with so much to see and do in every corner of the map, it pays to just trundle into the forest and see what trouble you can get into.

John’s awesome gallery of Far Cry 5 screen shots.

The variety of missions on offer is another strength of Far Cry 5. At one point you may be liberating a fertilizer plant that is being occupied by Eden’s Gate, next you could be driving a heavily armoured truck across the county blasting apart road blocks while listening to Heart on the radio, or you could be watching a bull mate with a cow to the sultry strains of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”, only to blow his head off and steal his testicles for the local Testy Festy. The scope of the missions, the ability to approach them in numerous ways, and either choosing to use stealth tactics or go charging in in full Rambo mode means that two people playing the game separately could end up with two vastly differing experiences. Things also have a tendency to get out of hand very quickly, owing to the fact that the inhabitants, cult members and animals of Hope County are always active no matter what you are doing, and are highly unpredictable. At one point I was trying to figure a way up to a weapons cache at the top of a silo and within 20 seconds I was being chased by a rattlesnake, an eagle, a bear, a cougar and two cultists; one with a flamethrower and another driving a tractor with mulching blades attached. In the words of the scouts, always be prepared!

The mechanics in use are top notch. Movement throughout the world and in combat situations is very smooth and fluid; everything is arranged on the controller where you would expect it to be, and all the actions are very responsive. One personal change I would have made; I would like to have the binoculars accessed via one of the shoulder buttons, like in Metal Gear Solid V, so I could click in and out of them quickly while on the move instead of on the D-Pad up button which requires some finger gymnastics to get to in a hurry – but that is just a minor gripe and one that you may not even notice while playing. The mechanics used in vehicles is simple but effective. The operations for air and sea vehicles are generally boiled down to accelerate, decelerate, turning and operating weapons. This means you spend less time thinking about directing the craft and more time paying attention to what’s going on around you. On land-based vehicles you can also activate auto-drive, which will automatically take you to your set destination and allow you to either sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery or, more likely, deal with the cavalcade of cultists trying to ruin your day.

Another big innovation for the franchise is the introduction of a buddy system. You can hire locals to join you on missions and you can control where they position themselves and whom they attack. You can also enlist specialists along the way; characters with special skills and equipment that can drastically improve your chances at completing a mission successfully. The specialists cover a wide array of skillsets including Nick Rye the bomb-dropping pilot, Boomer the enemy-tagging dog, Hurk Drubman the RPG-wielding country boy, and Cheeseburger the unstoppable diabetic bear. Even though these specialists can sometimes get into the wrong position and end up being more hindrance than helpful, overall they can really liven up a mission and deliver some excellent quips over the radio (obviously this only applies to the human specialists).

The official Far Cry 5 gameplay trailer as found on the PlayStation YouTube Channel.

The world of Far Cry 5 is beautifully-rendered by Ubisoft’s Dunia Engine, with lush surroundings and excellent character animations that, in combination with excellent sound design, really help to draw you into the game. That is not to say that Hope County is without its flaws as there are quite a few glitches to be found; vehicles appearing and disappearing randomly; rocks and structures floating in mid-air; legs, arms and torsos of NPCs protruding from the ground and through the sides of buildings; to the now ubiquitous scenery pop-ins while on the move, but this phenomenon isn’t as bad as other FPS games on the market. I also encountered a few mission-critical character glitches including when I first met Willis Huntley and the mission involving The Revelator, both of which required me to either restart the mission or reboot the game entirely. There was also a pretty serious issue when the sound dropped out completely for the entirety of the Jacob Seed boss encounter and then magically came back once that section was completed. While these glitches were sometimes infuriating, they were not so regular as to seriously impact overall enjoyment and mostly ended up being more unintentionally hilarious.

Regarding characters, you do get some customization options at the beginning but they are mainly limited to either having a male or female physique and some clothing and hair type choices. Nothing you do here will affect how your character plays as they are purely cosmetic. You can earn perk points in-game by collecting certain magazines and completing challenges which can then be spent on skill and equipment upgrades for your character. Instead of a standard skill tree progression where acquiring an upgrade will unlock the next in line, Far Cry 5 presents something akin to a skill bush, where you can unlock any upgrade at any point so long as you have enough perk points. This means that you can craft your character to suit your style of play without having to spend time unlocking less useful skills.

Finally, there is one serious flaw in the story structure and it comes when you gather a certain number of resistance points in each region. When this happens, you will be alerted to the fact that you are being hunted. Shortly after, you will be captured, no matter what you are doing, and brought off for a protracted encounter with the Seed family member in control of that region. While these encounters can lead to some interesting set pieces, the fact that they happen multiple times per region starts to grate and can really become a chore when you know that it’s coming.

The official Far Cry 5 story trailer as found on the PlayStation YouTube Channel.

When Far Cry 5 was announced in mid-2017, certain groups and commentators predicted that Ubisoft were going to deliver a game that leaned heavily on the political and ideological landscape that was emerging globally at the time, namely the rise of far right factions and patriotic religious fanaticism, whilst also taking a pot-shot at rural American stereotypes. While some of the stereotypes are present and, with a cult as the centrepiece of the story, there is obviously going to be some commentary on religious fanatics and the effect of unchecked faith and belief in soothsaying prophets, it has been handled by the creators in a very tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted manner, not delving too deep into any particular philosophies or contentious viewpoints. There are no real hard-hitting jabs at the current political maelstrom engulfing the United States bar a few throwaway jibes, and everyone should realise that any stereotypical portrayals of the Hope County inhabitants are purely done for outlandish comedic effect and not with any offensive motive in mind.

Far Cry 5 will never win awards based on its socio-political commentary, but that was never the intention. Instead they have delivered a game that is enjoyable on many levels; creeping around compounds and obliterating numerous enemies with a vast arsenal of weapons; opening up your wingsuit and taking in the amazing vistas from the air; unpacking your rod and tackle and trying to catch that prize winning trout; trying your hand at the various Clutch Nixon stunt trials; roaming aimlessly through the verdant countryside with Boomer in tow and engaging with whatever may come your way. With the innovations and additions that have been implemented in Far Cry 5, coupled with the game’s ethos of exploration, adventure and chaotic firefights, Ubisoft have served up a game that can be taken at face value and played for pure entertainment.