With so much focus being on Far Cry 5's controversial setting, it's easy to forget that the game itself will be quite different from its predecessors.
Gone are protagonists like Jason Brody and Ajay Ghale, replaced with a silent customizable protagonist. The infamous Ubisoft Towers are gone, too. Indeed, when you climb up a radio tower early in the game, your resistance contact quips, "I'm not going to be making you climb towers all over Hope County."
And yet in some ways it's very much the same. It still relies on shock value to get you hooked, and half the fun is driving around and enjoying the pristine wilderness. Like Assassin's Creed Origins it is recognizably a part of its franchise, but it's clearly trending in a particular direction. In the case of Far Cry 5, it's trending torward being a service game, which I'll discuss in another article.
In the meantime, Ubisoft recently invited us to Livermore to play the first several hours of Far Cry 5, which included some time with of co-op. Here are a few observations from my time with it.
The Co-op is Definitely the Best Part
One reason Far Cry 5 features a customizable protagonist is that it makes it much easier to weave co-op into the central story. Previously, co-op wasn't available for story missions. Now you can play through the entirety of Far Cry 5 with a friend.
In my view, it's the right approach. Riding around with a friend through the Montana wilderness is a blast. You can mess around with the sandbox; you can fish, and you can make fun of the patchy A.I. My partner and I spent most of the session roaring as Jess, an A.I. bow specialist, as she got caught in doors, wandered through firefights, and hijacked a helicopter for no reason (something tells me the A.I. is still a work in progress).
Riding on the back of a motorcycle with a friend has the same sort of elemental appeal as in PUBG. You're totally reliant on your partner not to drive off a cliff, which helps to bind you together, and it drives home the scope of the environment. If I were to play Far Cry 5, it would definitely be with a co-op partner.
But this is also the area where Far Cry 5 is quietly tacking toward becoming a "service game." The point of the clothing is to get you to spend on microtransactions for customizing your character. The expanded co-op is meant to keep you playing with friends (while being jealous of their sweet outfits).
"We will have some in-game microtransactions, but they're purely cosmetic," said lead writer Drew Holmes. "There will be time-saver stuff for if you want to get cash quickly to buy a certain type of gun. But nothing's gated behind a paywall."
Ubisoft has been moving in this direction with pretty much all of its games, so it's not much of a surprise to see them incorporate it into Far Cry 5 as well. But for those disappointed by the shift to character customization, this is why it's happening. At least the co-op is a lot of fun.
Far Cry 5 is Overloaded with Tedious Stealth Sections
Man, the stealth sections in this game.
It seems like every single enemy encounter involves hostages of some sort. The idea is to free them so that they can empower the resistance. But if you run in with guns blazing, the minions will shoot them in the head. And so you have to tediously sneak around instead.
Thankfully, the hostage situations rarely seem to be mission critical, but it does serve to drive home the fact that Far Cry 5 isn't particularly well-suited for stealth. With relatively few tools at your disposal, you mostly have to be very quiet, set up the odd distraction, and go in for a quick takedown. Teamwork is extremely helpful in that regard, further highlighting Far Cry 5's strength as a co-op game.
I already goofed on the A.I. a bit before, but it's worth doing so again. It's simply impossible to get A.I. partners in position for a crossfire. They will inevitably blunder through an enemy camp and alert them, putting the hostages into jeopardy. It was annoying enough that I gave serious thought to avoiding the recruitable "Guns for Hire" altogether. Hopefully this is something that's addressed in the final version.
Otherwise, the attacks on enemy outposts are standard fare, with sniping from afar and hitting exploding barrels being the preferred method for taking out large swaths of enemies. More than ever, Ubisoft has the formula down to a science.
Far Cry 5's Controversial Themes Takes a Backseat to Montana's Natural Beauty
Speaking of formulas, Far Cry 5 hits on another familiar aspect of the Far Cry series: the mixture of the frightening and the funny, as well as its reliance on shock value.
Far Cry 5's opening is unquestionably unnerving, especially given the current political climate. You stride into The Father's compound along with the Hope County Sheriff, where you find him ranting about the government wanting to take "our guns, our freedom, and our faith," which is the closest Far Cry 5 comes to tipping its hand regarding its antagonist's political beliefs. His acolytes surround you menacingly as you arrest him and take him to your helicopter.
From there, Far Cry 5 takes on a horror movie feel, The Father's followers hanging from the helicopter like the zombies from World War Z. The next 20 minutes consist of a running gunfight as you flee from the remains of the chopper, slip away from your pursuers, and eventually make your way to a resistance compound. Not long after, you meet a bear named Cheeseburger.
From there, the cult aspect seems to dramatically, and Far Cry 5's gorgeous Montana wilderness takes it place. A Ubisoft rep told me that Montana's tourism bureau is excited about Far Cry 5, and I can see why-Hope County's sunny lakes and pine trees make for spectacular scenery. I found myself forgetting about The Father and his goons as I happily went fishing with my co-op buddy.
To be sure, you still see a lot of over-the-top religious iconography. Crucifixions are a common sight in Far Cry 5, as are various religious slogan. But otherwise, the members of The Father's cult are like any other Ubisoft enemy-a relatively diverse collection of men and women who happen to drive white trucks instead of the red ones found in Far Cry 4.
When I play Far Cry 5, I can almost hear Ubisoft's devs going, "No statement to make here. These are just bad cult guys. They're no different than Far Cry 3's pirates." Outside of The Father, who is modeled after charismatic cult leaders like David Koresh, the enemies feel intentionally generic. The symbols mean nothing in particular. The slogans in the enemy camps feel like window dressing. After hours with Far Cry 5, my lasting memory is not of battling a far right cult, but of joyriding through the forests of Montana. And I suspect that's just how Ubisoft likes it.
In that respect, Far Cry 5 is very much in line with its predecessors: happy to position its antagonists for shock value, but reluctant to delve any deeper into their ideologies. Characters like The Father are just the hook to get you into the sandbox.
So while the Ubisoft Towers are gone, Far Cry 5 still has all of the familiar trappings that have come to define the series. It is what it has always been. Any attempt at being daring appears to be an illusion.