The pee tape exists! And it’s been in Hope County, Montana this entire time.
While trekking through the Southern end of the Deep South in Far Cry 5, the latest installment of Ubisoft’s engrossing series, you’ll encounter Special Agent Willis Huntley, who’s on a special assignment from “the Big Man himself.” Amid talk of “espionage,” “fine Turkish saunas,” and “prepubescent eggheads,” he’ll offer you a side mission: track down a compromising hotel video tape of the Big Man that “could make him look bad to the public.”
It doesn’t take any major decrypting to figure out what’s going on here. And while it’s fun chasing down the chopper carrying an agent from “Kremlandia” to obtain this infamous VHS, this situation is a solid example of the oscillating tone the latest Far Cry game is working with.
Four years after the release of Far Cry 4, the fifth chapter attempts a fresh start for the series by transplanting players from the typical Himalayan and tropical island settings and into the USA. With it, the developers have tapped imagery of political Americana as their playthings while opening up a much larger open world. Despite a story soaked in American flags, fundamentalist Christian cults, and AR-15s, it doesn’t dig deep enough to make any sort of statement one way or the other on the current state of affairs. But, boy, is this one fun playground.
Once you pick your character — male or female, it doesn’t seem to matter since you never speak and are referred to either as “Deputy” or “Rook” (short for rookie) — you’re introduced to the fictional Hope County as a member of a government enforcement squad on a mission to arrest Joseph Seed, a.k.a. The Father. The leader of a cult called Eden’s Gate, he’s taken a firm grip on the region and forces the unwilling to convert, justified by talk of an apocalyptic scenario. You only just make it to your helicopter when Joseph’s zealots attack the aircraft and run off with your teammates. Saved by a “prepper,” you are now part of “The Resistance” and must work to save your partners and coax a confrontation with Joseph by bringing down his three lieutenants, each claiming their own region of this kingdom.
Director Dan Hay claimed there was no intent to make Far Cry 5 overtly political, which, I think, is the problem right there since the premise and cutscenes continue to invite such comparisons to the real world. John Seed, Joseph’s brother and the most religious of his wingmen, confronts you in a church as his followers, sitting in the pews with crosses emblazoned on their shirts, cling to their guns. He’ll later tell you, in a scene following his demise, to “look at the headlines, look who’s in charge” because “society is broken” and “leaders are too impotent to act.” Then there’s the fact that you’re part of something called “The Resistance.” The game never truly resolves this more politically charged side, choosing instead to jump between the seriousness of the plot with missions like the “Testy Festy,” which involves securing a certain part of a bull for a food festival.
Yet, completing the Testy Festy task is part of what makes the game so enjoyable. The main Far Cry formula may be the same as past installments, but the open world is so vast you’ll happily offer your own life up to The Father so you can explore everything Hope County has to offer. Even as I’m writing this review I was forced to leave a few unplayed missions in my queue.
The story missions proceed based on where you’re at in filling the progression bar, which moves based on various challenges (e.g. rescuing civilians, liberating cultist outposts, and aiding characters that’ll eventually become available on your roster). You progress through the game by exploring it. Even the cutscenes with the main villains occur at any given moment. You could be heading out on a story mission to help out Boomer the dog (one of three animal companions you’ll acquire along the way) when, depending on if you’ve made enough raucous in Holland Valley, John’s men will track you down and bring you back to his underground bunker for questioning and converting.
The tighter functionality, too, is meant to make exploration the main priority. Crafting gear, for example, isn’t much of a thing this time around and reserved for the main shops. Hunting wildlife also doesn’t hold the same benefits as in previous games. If you’re running out of money or need a specific ingredient required for a side mission, you might want to go hunt some grizzlies. But doing so doesn’t move the story along. Instead, completing tasks (headshots, gliding in the wingsuit, etc.) grant points you can use to acquire perks to improve your skills. (Although, those honey badgers don’t give a f– and will maul you, even when you’re trying to be sneaky.)
Adding to this rip-roaring odyssey are your companions. Joining Boomer is Cheeseburger the bear and Peaches the mountain lion, while the non-animal assists come from characters like Nick, a pilot who will come in handy when you’re driving cross country and an enemy aircraft all of a sudden sweeps down to detonate your car. Then there are the guns for hire. You can tap various characters chilling at outposts to come with you on missions, fight enemies, and, if they aren’t dead themselves, bring you back to life when necessary. The good times get even wilder if you decide to opt for the co-op option.
Perhaps the biggest letdown is the villains themselves. There’s potential for Joseph to be so much more than he is, but he never comes close to rivaling, say, Vaas from Far Cry 3. He isn’t quite that memorable. He speaks a lot of about the end of days and saving people, but his motivations aren’t that interesting or fleshed out. We see John carving the names of the Seven Deadly Sins into the flesh of new recruits before cutting off those parts of their skin, we see others turning themselves into brainless junkie cannibals, but what exactly is the allure here? What makes these particular cult leaders so dangerous, so persuasive that they’re able to convert thousands to their cause? Again, it’s a lack of a human connection to this world that ends up working against it.
Faith Seed, the only female general, is the most interesting of the four head honchos. A modern Cersei, she lulls victims into submission through The Bliss, a psychedelic drug extracted from a white plant that will seriously mess you up if you decide to take cover in those bushes. Her cutscenes, too, get you drunk on the lush visuals of her hallucinogenic haze, offering perhaps the more striking imagery Far Cry 5 has to offer.
Is her presence a statement on the opioid crisis in America? Should we be taking something away from the fact that those dehumanized Bliss-ed up druggies are just more target practice on your mission to liberate Hope County, instead of people to be saved? Despite cues to the contrary, nope and nope. It all just gets lost in the Bliss.