Welcome to a world without consequences. Set in a twisted version of Montana, USA, Far Cry 5’s Hope County has become overrun by religious fanatics, and your nameless deputy is either a professional freedom fighter or a destructive terrorist in a fight to restore order.
It sounds nitpicky, but the problem extends further. You’re free to shoot a quest-giver or ally in the head, leaving them writhing in pain on the floor, but as soon as you get them back up again, they act like nothing ever happened. The game asks you to fight for the cause, even though your character, a new Sheriff’s Deputy - who gets merely a handful of customisation options in the way of backstory - represents an establishment that locals don’t care much for at the best of times.
None of this would be an issue, if the game’s plot didn’t ask you to take the situation so seriously. The visual presentation - particularly stunning on Xbox One X at times - gives a sense of realism, while the practicalities of the game suggest the opposite.
As you start to complete missions, specialists will offer themselves up to join you in your quest (you’re arbitrarily limited to taking one into battle at first, then two later), and they can range from the fairly believable, if stereotypical, redneck with a penchant for explosives, to a bow-sporting Lara Croft wannabe, and, even… a trained bear called Cheeseburger.
Far Cry 5's plot asks you to take it seriously, whereas the game itself suggests the opposite.
Fighting with allies in stride makes you less of a lone wolf and more of a tactical force, as you can dispatch them into combat on a whim - they’ll even try to do it sneakily if the alarm hasn’t already been raised. Unfortunately, while in a BioWare RPG like Mass Effect or Dragon Age these allies are a true extension of your character (as well as having plentiful character of their own), here their implementation is staggeringly basic and the AI not up to the task nine times out of ten, often giving the game away or spending too long dawdling to prove useful.
Far Cry 5 is at its best as you make your way across the map, perhaps in one of many vehicles, towards an objective. Here the game’s freedom is a blessing, giving you the choice to get involved or jog on, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad will happen if you don’t prevent the evil going on all around you. Where things fail to hold together is when the narrative presents you with one of the Seed siblings, confusingly referred to as both Lieutenants and Heralds in different places in the game, and demands you pass judgement on them by destroying their regime a piece at a time.
Take Faith (above) for example, the younger sister of Joseph: she’s busy getting the locals hooked on a euphoric drug called Bliss so that they can see the light of ‘The Father’ (Joseph). As you begin to loosen her grip on her section of Hope County, she pays you a visit a few times and forces you to complete tests, such as a literal leap of faith that represents your own descent into drug addiction.
This begins to play tricks with you as you wander around the world - showing you animals you’re looking for or civilians in peril only to have them disappear or change shape when you get to them - but the climax, your final confrontation with her, is relegated to an antiquated-feeling gun show. Compare this to a more cerebral experience in, say, BioShock Infinite, and you’ll find that the places where the game as a whole could have gone that extra mile begin to wrack up.
If you’re purely looking for some solid shooter gameplay, then everything on offer is fine, though many of the better guns are locked away until you’ve made a dent in the Seeds’ regime. That or held behind prohibitively expensive store fronts which gesture naggingly towards Silver, the game’s premium currency.
FC5’s extremes are perhaps more at home in user-generated content fest Far Cry Arcade mode (and, by the names of them alone, its zany DLC packs), which offers up a range of challenges to keep an itchy trigger finger satisfied, as well as the opportunity to create your own.
All of this leaves Far Cry 5 in a strange place. The main antagonist doesn’t have the charisma or interest of someone like Vaas, who sticks in the mind from Far Cry 3’s trailers alone, which makes meandering around the world more compelling than actually getting closer to a final showdown with The Father.
Those who want a more tactical experience already have Ghost Recon Wildlands, albeit in third-person, and the awkward, mismatched tone here takes away more than it differentiates. If you fancy a distraction which is fun and varied while it lasts, but ultimately does little to leave a lasting impression (whilst failing to ask any thought-provoking questions at a time when the US’s attitudes and values are more under the spotlight than ever), then Far Cry 5 could be what you’re looking for.