Six years ago, Far Cry 3 was released to huge critical and commercial acclaim. It injected new life into the franchise and created a signature tone and gameplay for the series, something that Ubisoft Montreal has since followed to the letter. Far Cry 4, while objectively very good, didn’t offer enough originality compared to its predecessor, while Far Cry: Primal felt like a reskin, resulting in a bland experience. For many it seemed that Ubisoft had killed the goose that laid the golden egg, running an original concept firmly into the ground.

The same was said about Assassin’s Creed, a series that had a long-overdue shake up last year with Origins. The game boldly reinvented the stale AC format while capturing what made the franchise so successful, but can the same be done for Far Cry?

Gone are the tropical islands, Himalayan mountains or other exotic locales which the series is renowned for. Instead the game takes place in fictional Hope County in rural Montana, where a fanatically religious doomsday cult known as the Project at Eden’s Gate are causing trouble. The player, a local Deputy Sheriff, is sent in as part of a task force to apprehend the cult’s omniscient leader, Joseph Seed.

In typical Far Cry fashion, none of this goes according to plan and mayhem ensues. It’s worth noting that the player is able to choose between a male or female character, an option that Ubisoft was heavily criticised for excluding in past games. Despite customisation being limited, it’s still a nice touch.

Hope County is gorgeous and surprisingly varied. From winding rivers and spacious wheat fields to vast mountain ranges and dense woodland, the world is impeccably detailed. Despite the familiarity of Southern USA the game retains that exoticism. There’s something alien about seeing the juxtaposition of ordinary establishments such as petrol stations and bars among the over the top chaos and mayhem, but it’s a feeling that perfectly encapsulates Far Cry’s spirit.

Ubisoft have previously spoken about how their approach to exploration in Far Cry 5 has been heavily inspired by the more natural progression seen in Breath of the Wild. Instead of repeatedly climbing up towers to reveal the map, locations such as enemy outposts and hunting spots are discovered by talking to people or reading magazines and road signs found throughout the world, making player interaction and exploration more like reality. The game does not include a mini-map, forcing the player to navigate using their environment. This is expertly complimented by the ability to mark locations using binoculars, similar to how Shrines could be marked in BotW. It’s a huge improvement and one which makes exploration far more enjoyable and rewarding.

Hope County is divided into three regions, each run by one of Joseph’s siblings. Completing activities in each of these regions builds a resistance meter which, once filled, will allow the player to take on story missions. The game does little in the way of hand holding, plonking the player smack bang in the middle of the map and allowing them to go in any direction and take on activities in any order they please. Sadly, Ubisoft haven’t completely reinvented the wheel and a couple aspects of the game remain somewhat formulaic.

Once the map has been revealed, the activities available therein are enjoyable but limited, and eventually become downright repetitive. Outposts are the same as they’ve always been. Hunting has had a slight revamp, meaning it is less important than in previous games and is no longer needed for crafting purposes, instead serving as just another way to make money. The addition of a fishing mini game is fun but has very little longevity. The inclusion of dynamic side missions to accompany the story, on the other hand, offer a welcome change of pace. These vary from big action set pieces to downright bizarre scenarios, all of which are reinforced by Far Cry’s typically sharp-yet-silly humour and solid shooter mechanics.

In terms of gameplay, Far Cry 5 doesn’t do much to challenge the norm, offering the usual plethora of gameplay styles from stealthy bows and sniping, to all out guns blazing and explosives. The inclusion of planes and helicopters are a nice addition to the players already expansive arsenal. It’s all very good, but nothing revolutionary. The biggest change comes in the form of the Guns and Fangs for Hire, sidekicks which will accompany the player once a mission has been completed for them. Using these sidekicks is fun and offers yet another approach gameplay wise, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before.

There’s the usual abundance of quirky weirdos and reprobates in the game’s roster of characters, but the main attraction of any Far Cry game has to be the antagonist. Whether it be the psychotic Vaas or the charismatic Pagan Min, the franchise has a history of doling out the A-class baddies. Sadly, Joseph Seed doesn’t live up to the billing, but fortunately his siblings do. Each one represents an aspect of their brother’s personality, conveyed through some stellar performances reinforced by gameplay variations unique to each region. Without going into too much detail, the combination of the four creates interesting concepts which perfectly reflect the game’s themes.

Speaking thematically, the game has come under significant criticism regarding very clear parallels to and satirization of current American culture and politics, which some argue do not properly tackle the severity of the issues. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the game’s plot is bad, it’s just a very pulpy, tongue-in-cheek look at American culture. This is true to the tone of the franchise; criticising the game for not trying to look at these issues in a more serious manner is unjust.

As for multiplayer, the game expands on the co-op found in Far Cry 4, which was only available in free roam, by making the entire story playable with a friend. Causing havoc with a buddy is great fun, but the experience is soured by the fact that progress doesn’t carry over when in another players game. The game also features an incredibly expansive map editor which allows players to create multiplayer maps and single player scenarios. The editor includes over 9000 objects, including objects from some of Ubisofts’ other IPs such as Watchdogs and Assassins Creed, so the possibilities here are almost endless. Sadly, finding good user made maps is marred by one of the worst matchmaking systems conceivable. Come on Ubisoft, it’s 2018 and this is simple stuff.

Far Cry 5 doesn’t rewrite the formula of the franchise, instead offering a refined and perfected version of the old format. There are some changes, most notably in the approach to open world gameplay which indicates a huge step in the right direction. There are improvements and changes for the better, however, these changes lack the ambition and scale to truly make Far Cry great again.

★★★★☆

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