It's probably fair to say we've had a bit of a chequered past with the Far Cry over the past few years. Although we were fans of the original game way back when, the more recent instalments in the open world shooter series have left something to be desired to say the least, with too much emphasis on awkward stealth, in your face gore, and an awkward, punishing difficulty. With initial artwork suggesting Far Cry 5 was going to add an extra layer of heavy political commentary on top of the proceedings, we were all ready for a trudge through a dull, by the numbers, uninspired world. And boy, were we ever wrong, as Far Cry 5 is easily the best game in the series so far.
As with other recent Far Cry games, there's a swish scripted intro, and a nifty antagonist in place to get the ball rolling - although, if we're honest, this is perhaps one of the weakest bits of the game. The whole story here revolves around a cult known as the Project at Eden's Gate, a group of what are essentially lunatics who've come together to do the bidding of a man they call "The Father" - a guy so evil, he's still sporting a man bun in 2018. Together with his brothers and sister, the Seed family lead a heavily religious organisation that believes the end is coming, and that they must be prepared. Unfortunately for the residents of Hope County, Montana, that preparation involves kidnapping, looting, and perhaps more sinisterly, "culling the weak", so that the populace as a whole will be strong enough to take on whatever comes next. Though the whole "cult on American soil" story is certainly appealing, it is also a bit of a lazy setting, with the cult drawing very heavily from Christianity, rather than being something entirely original, or even a bit more of a mix.
Into the weirdness comes your character, "the Deputy". Starting the game as part of a group of four lawmakers sent to arrest the Father himself, Joseph Seed, you soon come to realise quite how much kool aid his followers have been drinking, as they literally throw themselves into the blades of your helicopter to prevent you from taking him away. Having crashed in the forest in the middle of nowhere, you're lucky to be rescued by the boss of the local resistance movement, who's more than keen to enlist you into his ranks, as they've been rapidly losing the war. With precious few men on your side, then, it's up to you to lead the fight back against a group of people who not only believe God is on their side - but who are more than willing to die for their cause.
However, there's no doubt the intro makes Far Cry 5 sound a lot heavier than it really is. In fact, a large part of why this game is so much fun is that it's so absolutely whacko and weird. As a great example, though the whole game is playable in two player co-op online (although sadly, only one person's story progress gets saved), those playing offline can recruit computer controlled "guns for hire" to keep them company during the game's many missions and firefights. While a wide range of characters can be ordered to fight alongside you, those looking to have a bit more fun, will go straight for the game's three animal companions - Boomer the dog, Peaches the cougar/puma, and Cheeseburger the diabetic bear. No, really.
With all three being available from the start, there's no elaborate quest chains or story marks you'll need to hit before unlocking these - all you need to do is head to their markers on the map, and complete the one, short mission. After that, you'll be able to fight alongside a bear, a dog, or a puma, which not only makes the game a heck of a lot easier - it also makes it a lot more fun. With Boomer able to rush up to enemies and pinch their gun (being sure to return it to his master for your later use); Peaches being great at stalking enemies; and Cheeseburger, well, being a mother flipping bear, all three animals are more than capable of mowing through entire groups of enemies on your behalf - and to thank them for a job well done, you can even pause to give them a bit of fuss.
Though Far Cry 5 may have a similar "open world" feel to the other games, it also, somehow, seems harder to get lost. Despite the game having ditched the mini-map, the world feels more compact, and more full of things to do, with just the right mixture of exploration and actually-doing-something to keep you wanting to hunt out that next hidden location or base.
With the game's world loosely divided into three regions, each is being watched over by a different Seed sibling, with the heavily armed Jacob Seed being the boss in the mountains to the north, while the sister of the family, Faith Seed runs the show in the East, where the known drug addict poisons the mind of the populace with a substance known as Bliss. The more you explore of Hope County, the more missions, objectives, side quests, and hidden stashes you'll discover, with story missions leading you towards one of the game's boss characters, and the rest giving you chance to experiment with the many ways you can cause chaos.
And really, that's a good thing, because there are so many different ways to play Far Cry 5. While previous games put a heavy emphasis on stealth, lurking in the shadows seems to be much less essential here, even if it is still an option. With many of your mission objectives involving attacking various strongholds and turfing the cultists out, you can still definitely choose to go in stealthily if you want, using your binoculars to "tag" enemies, making them show up even through walls, before topping them with a silently fired bow. Or, you can shoot a gas tank, send your bear in to rough everyone up, and run in behind it all guns blazing; you can jump in a plane with a friend, and have them sit on the gun turret behind you, blasting anything that gets in your way. Or, you could just tear around on a quad bike blasting everything in site. The choice is yours.
Not everything is about blowing things up, either. One of the best types of missions in the game are the prepper stashes - essentially a more puzzle based mission that sees you having to figure out a way into a building or hideaway that's full of money, ammo, weapons, and everything else you need to cause havoc. One of the earliest ones we came about was hidden in an underground bunker - the only issue being, the bunker itself had been flooded. A handy note nearby mentioned that there was a water pipe built into the bunker, but as power had been cut, it wouldn't work. In order to get to the stash, you had to find your way into a nearby boathouse, turn on the power, head back to the water pump, drain the water, and only then could you get your hands on the precious rewards. A nice change of pace from the usual shooty bang bang missions, these more puzzley missions offer a great way to wind down - and a reason to explore.
In fact, there's a lot more like random bits and bobs we like about Far Cry 5 too. For starters, there's a new progression system in place, which means rather than forcing you to hunt animals to craft new equipment, all you need do now is complete various tasks (kill X enemies with a crossbow, glide X meters in a wingsuit) to get skills points which you can spend unlocking new "perks" for your character. From letting you take an additional animal pal along with you on missions, to giving you more health, or letting you breathe for longer underwater, you can focus your attention on buffing your weaknesses, and make your path through the game a lot easier. There's also a choice of three different difficulty levels if the going really gets too tough, so everyone can get in on the cheeseburger fun.
Offering a much more light-hearted, and equally more involving take on the Far Cry format, Far Cry 5 is a really refreshing change for the series, and one that's up there with Ubisoft's equally impressive Assassin's Creed Origins when it comes to the best open world games. With a gorgeous world to explore, so many different ways of tackling each mission, and, of course, a bear you can fuss, Far Cry 5 is well worth a look - and after how well we got on with 3 and 4, we never though we'd be saying that.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4