Far Cry 5, the latest in the long-running series of madcap open-world first-person shooters set in beautiful places that you blow to smithereens, is exactly the mixed bag that you expect it to be. This time around you are exploring the fictional Hope County in the wilderness of Montana, fighting members of a religious cult who have taken over. When the setting was first announced many were intrigued by the thought of developer Ubisoft Montreal tackling timely and difficult topics such as right-wing extremism and religious fundamentalism in America, but, now that the game is out, the consensus is that it does not confront these topics in any meaningful way.
Instead, those who like their games ‘politics-free’ won’t like the jokes about “making Hope County great again,” and those looking for some form of substantive criticism will be frustrated by the glib, devil-may-care attitude. As Ben Kuchera puts it in Polygon, the game “doesn’t want to offend anyone, so it will end up annoying everyone.”
That being said, if you’re able to look past those critiques, the direct dose of Far Cry might be enough to satisfy fans of the series, and I have to admit that it frequently was for me. Wandering the gorgeous landscapes fighting, hunting, fishing, driving, or even simply hiking is fine-tuned to always be dealing out doses of action and reward in a decent mix, and the variety of gameplay is pretty impressive. Gone are the radio towers players would climb to unlock new areas. Instead, you can now ask almost any non-cultist person around for some tidbit of information about an outpost or “prepper stash” — puzzle mini-levels filled with ammo and experience points.
Indeed, it’s the people of Hope County, and the game’s interest in them that save the experience for me. For a game that is too cowardly to draw its villains as more than brain-washed drug addicts (most of the cultists joined ranks thanks to a psychedelic called “bliss” — very subtle), it puts regular citizens front and center, and most of what you’ll do is save them from terrible fates. Driving along the roads you’ll see them being publicly executed; and along the rivers, you’ll discover them being forcibly baptized. Saving them will let you speak to them and learn valuable information, hire them to join your party and bring them along on missions and outpost attacks. Otherwise, they’ll hop in the nearest car and go to a liberated outpost and start helping out.
Far Cry 5, as it stands, is a game about saving innocent people and helping them rebuild their communities to mount a defense against a cult that wants to destroy their way of life. It’s not a serious deconstruction of the rise of American authoritarianism like it’s original marketing suggested, but instead, it’s more like an exploitation film about the power of friendship. It’s also a AAA open-world shooter, with all the spectacle and genuine beauty that comes with that scope and budget. It could have been more, but I’m alright with admitting that for now, it’s enough for me.
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