Far Cry 5 Review

In order to throughly examine this work and provide fair criticism, this article contains spoilers.
You have been warned.

I do not like Far Cry 5. My issues with the game are many, and partly already chronicled in my writing about the games endings. My frustrations extend across all aspects from the way you play the game (mindlessly) to the way it presents its fictional cult (vapidly) to the way the game makes the player’s presence known in the world (it doesn't). There is nothing redeeming to be found within the 25 hours I spent in Hope County. The small victories within one-off side quests can’t redeem a game that refuses to engage with anything meaningful or even succeed in hiding its rote systems that have been played out for two games now.

 
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Gameplay Loop

One of the main responses to complaints about the narrative of Far Cry 5 has been to cry, as the Bad End Podcast put it, “the gameplay!” However, even in this regard Far Cry 5 fails.

Each Far Cry game has been about repeating the same series of tasks over an elongated period of time with a drip feed of storylines along the way. Complete main missions and occasionally a named character will appear to spout off some pseudo-intellectual dialogue. Complete side missions and you’ll interact with the zany characters that are meant to entertain you with their characteristics that sure are “out there” amiright? Except that in Far Cry 5 the people you meet and talk at you don’t have interesting things to say. Some even have a pre-filled system for delivering quest locations on your map.

Go up to an NPC with an icon above their head and they will recant you an “A, B, C.” Statement. It usually goes like this, “A was doing this, then B happened. You should check out C.” Sometimes with a few additional flourishes but the basic information stays the same. Clear this outpost, find this prepper stash, rescue these hostages, destroy this building. The delivery system has been tweaked but what you are being tasked with remains the same. All of it is repeated again and again across each of the three areas and with little to distinguish one from the other. Clear an outpost in John’s region or Jacob’s or Faith’s, and the execution, location, and following result are the same. Most all major games are a cycle of gameplay repeated over a period of time, but most have the decency to hide that cycle with variety; Far Cry 5 does not.

Nearly every missions requires you to kill, whether it be cultist or animal, and to travel to a location to do so. Follow the highlighted icon on your display, kill everyone, maybe hold square over a specific item, and mission accomplished. Very little is memorable throughout the game. An early mission in Fall’s End has some entertaining dialogue around the Testy Festy, a gathering of locals to enjoy cooked bulls’ balls. The mission requires you to kill a bull mid-intercourse and freeing the cows beforehand induces a sexy music track to begin playing. This, and Hurk Jr’s comments about making his daddy and mommy compete for his love were the only times I enjoyed my time with Far Cry 5.

Window Dressing

Other characters attempt to be a source of humor. There is an alien conspiracy theorist who gets teleported and leaves behind a gun that can vaporize enemies at close range. A government agent comes in discussing high-level security threats and has the defining trait of saying “pardon my french” whenever he uses a word vaguely obscene such as poop. Aaron, aka Tweak, has daddy issues and hates two pigs for some reason, sending you to whack them to death with a baseball bat. A scientist fails to warn you that the serum to attract Angels actually will attract skunks and a mob of black and white mammals ensues. There are more, but none that leave anything memorable for you to keep, and all have one or two missions before they disappear forever. Had I spent more time with these characters, especially the ones who die and the game expects you to care about, I may have developed an actual bond. Far Cry 5 is obsessed with making sure you’re never bored or in one spot for too long, something Heather Alexandria pointed out, which is probably why you never spend meaningful time with anyone.

Playing into this, the radio stations are a source of worldbuilding details that become literally drowned out by the world around it. The radio is only accessible when inside a vehicle, and even then the volume is pretty low, guaranteeing it won’t be heard very well when driving. Even staying in an unmoving vehicle won’t guarantee you the ability to listen in on the religious radio station, or news reports that evaded me my entire playthrough.

And ultimately I don’t think the game is very interested in engaging with substance. There isn’t anything here for the player to find, so they hid what they could lest the player become curious. It’s something that Astrid wrote about, with the title “Far Cry 5 Offers Nothing to Believe In.” as well as Errant Signal in his video analysis of the game.

Throughout the game you will be kidnapped so that the game may force some time with the antagonist of whatever region you were liberating at the time. These kidnappings occur very frequently and in exceedingly ludicrous ways. Twice I was in a wingsuit flying through the air only to have the screen fade to black and a loading screen greet me. Loading is long and frequent, breaking up the pacing of cutscenes significantly. The controller vibrates to notify you when it's nearly finished loading, as if the game anticipated the player to grow bored during the length of these loads.

Mindless waypoint complaints can be soothed by playing with the UI options, which allow you to turn on or off every detail that appears onscreen by default. I did notice that even with it all off, the sound effect for binoculars tagging enemies will still trigger, as if the developers threw this option in without considering the other systems it interacts with. However it doesn’t keep the default experience from being so brain dead. Even the simplest of people can follow the yellow marker point to point for the entire game and make it through without ever having to think beyond, “Go here. Kill that.” It’s completely mindless and offers no challenge.

Narrative Dissonance

Early on, Joseph Seed will tell the player that “not every problem can be solved with a bullet.” You then proceed through the entire game killing everyone with bullets, sometimes with bow and arrows, your bare hands, or animal companions. That phrase is repeated later on, as if the game looks down on the player’s actions, despite them being the only option available to interact with the world. Instead you are given a weapon of death, pointed in their direction, and told kill. Over and over and over until it becomes almost reflexive which could have been used to make a comment on that impulsive violence except Far Cry 5 doesn’t.

A narrative conceit created for gameplay is the drug Bliss, which is used to justify the existence of brain dead enemies for the player to mow down. The Bliss is positioned as something you can’t escape. This is evidenced by the treatment of Angels, those who have been overtaken by the Bliss, as well as the very telegraphed betrayal by the rescued ally named Marshal. Taken from your group at the beginning of the game, Marshal is taken by antagonist Faith and rescued midway through redeeming her area. He is taken back to the headquarters of the resistance in that region, a prison, and proceeds to shoot an ally NPC, open up the prison to invasion, and commits suicide. All of this is blamed on Faith’s ability to control through the Bliss, except that both you and the sheriff were exposed to the drug without the same after-effects. Angels are assigned for death, despite their status as unwilling subjects of the cult, and the drug’s influence is called irreversible, despite characters surviving multiple exposures. As Holly Green writes, this usage of drugs in games “[is] not just inaccurate, it’s lazy.”

Graphics

Common praise is thrown at the graphics, and the developers’ ability to render a realistic Montana landscape. And yes, Far Cry 5 looks pretty, but every AAA game looks great and their status is fleeting until the next big game releases. This is why Journey remains beautiful whereas Uncharted 3 begins to show its age when compared to the latest iterations in that genre. The ability for developers to render realistic graphics is not only a temporary accomplishment but one that reinforces and crunch nature of game development.

Even separate from that, details in its ability to render a world falters compared to an earlier game in the series: Far Cry 2, as evidenced by this video from Crowbcat. Some of the most telling differences lie in small things such as bush branches being pushed by the presence of the player, whereas Far Cry 5 only has flat 2D textures angled in different directions for bushes. Fire in Far Cry 2 burns foliage by slowly eating away at the branch’s leaves. In Far Cry 5 it simply makes the affected greenery swap out colored textures for black ones. While the landscapes may be in higher resolutions with greater fidelity, it loses the many small things that lend the player a presence in the world. Instead you are simply a mounted camera with arms for killing.

John Seed

Upon completion of the tutorial island you will be unleashed to travel wherever you so desire on the game map, though it lightly pushes you to begin with John Seed’s area to the southwest. In this area you rid the town of Fall’s End of peggie (the derivative term used for Project Eden’s Gate members) occupation and kick off the resistance to John Seed’s control. Everytime a major point is passed on your Resistance meter John will have you captured and brought before him for lectures on sin and atonement.

John is obsessed with the confession of sin and the resulting atonement that confession yields. However this isn’t the same as confessing to a priest in the Catholic Church. Instead, John enjoys carving the sin’s name onto your flesh before cutting it out and placing it on whatever surface lies nearby for all to see. The imagery is crude though effective. Having your sin made a part of your flesh and having that flesh  taken from you and posted in public is freeing, both in that it is no longer a part of you and that it is no longer hidden. The flesh throughout the New Testament is a source of sin, of failure, of our inherent flaws. To have that flesh serve as the easel upon which our specific failing is made known to all who can see it, and to cast it out of us, is a violent, but functional, metaphor. Failing to explore why John does this, and specifically why he seemingly loves to do it, is where Far Cry 5 falls flat.

Cult leader Joseph recognizes that John still has growing to do before he can become a true leader of the cult. John never mentions frustration with his place in the power structure, which might have fed his anger. Instead, John simply takes pleasure in inflicting pain on others. Giving John a clear source for his anger, for his need to force others to atone for their sin, would have made him a more believable person. Likewise, Joseph could have been made a better antagonist if the source were a tragic one he exploited, like with Faith.

The context that came to my mind that would have improved my empathy for the character was that John was gay amidst a cult that killed those who couldn’t or wouldn’t conform. Having John previously cast out of religious institutions due to this, and to have him be given shelter and power by Joseph would have justified his place within the cult. To have Joseph turn around and betray John by carving this “sin” onto him but leaving it to John to cut out would have given him a source of internal conflict. This could have been the reason he so enjoyed cutting the sins out of others, because he was unable to cut it out of himself. John’s sin could have been other things as well, whether it be a lack of faith, jealousy of his older brother, pride in his control, these too would have worked as sins he didn’t want to acknowledge.

However, to have John be gay would be to acknowledge that Evangelicals, one of the largest demographics of the United States, especially rural counties like the fictional Hope County of Far Cry 5, cause unjustified harm to people simply for existing. And because Far Cry 5 has a cowardly approach to most of the subjects within, this would have been too “political” for them to include. Due to the lack of depth in John’s character, Far Cry 5 shows its not only unwilling to do anything slightly provocative but also to make its characters more than empty vessels of dialogue. John remains a vapid character because of this, and even his  “Say Yes” infomercial can’t drown out the overwhelming dullness surrounding him.

Faith Seed

Once you have eliminated John and conquered his area, you move on to Faith Seed’s to the east. Faith, named after the virtue, is in charge of the production of the Bliss drug for the cult. She communicates through the Bliss constantly, but lacks any semblance of humanity save for two instances.

The first is when you destroy the large statue of Joseph in the center of her area, when she will mention that your actions will cause Joseph to bring down consequences on Faith, what exactly this means is never mentioned unless you explore certain caves. In them you will find notes discussing that there are many Faith Seeds, and this one is simply the latest to have that designation. The others, the ones who failed, met terrible deaths at the hand of Joseph and his cult.

The second appears just as she is about to die during your drugged out fight with her. Its presence near the end of her campaign was insulting as I had already spent enough time listening to her boring lectures on trusting in Joseph that I couldn’t care less. With this one she brings up how she was ostracized and bullied and that Joseph was the only one who took her in. The twist, if you can call it that, is that he drugged her and exploited her for his own purposes, betraying the faith she had put in him. Why she was ostracized and bullied is unanswered, and given her appearance as a standard blonde girl, doesn’t really come across as believable no matter how cruel humans can be.

Riley MacLeod has written about the double standard Faith represents a double standard among Evangelicals, but even that is being too sympathetic to the game. The references to her exploitation come way too late or rely on the player finding them among the game world. Failing to mention the betrayal by Joseph earlier means there is no time spent on how cult leaders frequently sexually exploit the women, and children, of the cult with their power. Far Cry 5 is more than willing to show off gun violence and brutal executions but barely even acknowledges the sexual violence that occurs within the cults it wants to badly emulate.

Jacob Seed

Jacob Seed is perhaps the best of the four siblings, though that isn’t very high praise given his company. Jacob is a war veteran who spent a period of time in the first Gulf War. It was during this time that he and a teammate were shot down and stranded far from any allies without the required provisions. Starvation drove Jacob to achieve a mindset that he referred to as clarity, one that drove him to kill and consume his friend in order to survive. This mindset, one that he purports separates the weak from the strong, is how he rules over the northern section of Far Cry 5’s map.

Opposing him is the Whitetail Militia, who are frequently taken prisoner for mind control sessions that allow Jacob to trigger them, and you, into violent frenzies with the song “Only You (And You Alone).” How this condition has been implanted into you isn’t discussed. Much like the Bliss drug, it is merely a narrative shortcut to allow for dream-like sequences in which you run through a shooting gallery whenever you are captured.

Jacob’s ideology about separating the weak from the strong calls to mind John the Baptist's teaching about how Jesus was coming to separate the wheat from the chaff. Conveniently this interpretation leaves out the fact that those who were spared in the New Testament were not the ones who were strong but instead the ones who believed in Jesus and his teachings. Jacob has the most coherent arguments for why the world is going to end, though he never discusses anything else beyond that. While he mentions upon his impending death that he doesn’t actually care much whether or not his brother talks to God, it is about the most we get out of him besides his obsession with meat and killing the weak.

Joseph Seed

Joseph Seed lacks charisma; he lacks a defined faith beyond the world is ending. Most likely this is because those behind Far Cry 5 didn’t want to upset any Evangelical Christians with direct references to Jesus or the New Testament outside of Revelations. Joseph, and especially John, appear less like rural Montana citizens and more like Silicon Valley douche-bros with their partially shaved heads and millennial fashion wear. You could mistake them for Richard Spencer and his “dapper” style that was used as a way to legitimize his disgusting views on race. Far Cry 5 may want to use that same style, but don’t worry the cultists aren’t white supremacists; in fact, they’re very inclusive as indicated by the amount of non-white folks among them that you murder throughout the game.

Joseph’s problem is the game’s problem: the appearance of depth and meaning. Each character has one trait or characteristic that is repeatedly used but never given depth. Joseph believes the end of the world is coming and that he is God’s chosen vessel to save everyone, willing or not. He uses this to justify the violence his cult commits to those who resist. The game justifies his violence by telling the player they are the reason people suffered, that Joseph was right and you should have never come to stop him. This would have been slightly more acceptable had Joseph been a detestable asshole who I wanted to shove a knife into, but he isn't. Instead Joseph is a boring prophet proclaiming over and over how I’m wrong, he is right, and the world is going to collapse so we all better follow him into the bunkers belowground. He even sings “Amazing Grace” at the outset, as if to unknowingly hammer the fact that this game is only ever surface level with its source material.

Midway through each area, when you are captured for the second time, Joseph will make an appearance to speak to the player. Each time he tells a story or attempts to make a point that was so banal the only one I remember was insultingly generic. When he visits you and Jacob he retells a story about how when he was younger he had a wife and soon-to-be-born child. His wife got in an accident and died while the child barely hung on to life. Joseph, feeling called by God, killed his child in the hospital by cutting off her oxygen. The reason behind this ploy is obvious; it is to build up the players hatred of Joseph. However, it came in the midst of all the other awful shit going on in Far Cry 5 that just rendered it another dull addition to the tone of the game. I already heard a companion describing how a cook tortured his victims. I already saw John carve out the flesh of another companion. Faith showed me how she forced people to jump to their death on the rocks below. Throughout Hope County I came across bodies strung up on road signs, people dead in their homes, and piles of corpses in makeshift mass graves. All of these things should be repugnant, but because Far Cry 5 constantly throws these images at you and fails to do anything with them beyond asking you to be horrified, it makes them vapid.

Joseph Seed has his own book, one which may be available to read excerpts from elsewhere but in-game it only exists to let the player know the cult is not drawing only from the Old Testament and Revelations. Verses are quoted and thrown at the player as if they mean something. Our main antagonists all have Biblical names with no thought behind what they represent. It shows that the game has no interest in doing anything other then delivering a re-skinned Far Cry game with a North American evergreen forest setting.

Closing

There was real potential to do something interesting with the setting. Whether it be to show how religion, actual religion not this Eden’s Gate pseudo-religion, is often used to justify awful things. They could have included an attempt to contact the outside world only to find the federal government was uninterested in spending resources on a backwater county, leaving the citizens to die and the cult to rule until their own collapse. Violence could have been made slightly meaningful if the people you were killing weren’t so generically villainous in their actions.

Connections could have been made to show how preppers and militias are often fearful not only of government intervention in their lives but the influx of immigrants and The Other. It fails to acknowledge the violence already present in that region separate from the introduction of a doomsday cult. In regards to gun ownership the game seems to have something to say, though unintentionally: it's a good thing the good preppers and militiamen had guns to fight off the bad preppers and militiamen that make up the cult. This is essentially the “good guy with a gun” argument implemented in a place where law and order has been done away with. See, the 2nd Amendment is justified because without it how else would these people have defended themselves from the cult? Tracking and blocking mass sales of guns, especially those designed for the sole purpose of killing humans, definitely wouldn’t have kept this cult from obtaining their armaments.

Instead we have as Julie Muncy describes, “a hall of mirrors.” A game that lacks the ability to do anything more than deliver the same uninspired experience the series has been able to mask well enough until it brought it to a land I know. And it forces you to reconsider what you thought about the previous entries, and that their exotic locations were perhaps an uglier choice than we initially thought. That is one thought provoking thing Far Cry 5 managed to instill in me, I can’t say the same for anything else.