The "Far Cry" franchise has taken players to plenty of exotic locales. They've taken players to Africa, the tropics and even to prehistoric era.
For each chapter, the setting plays more of a pivotal role than any character. It shapes everything from the gameplay to the story. With "Far Cry 4," the mountainous nation of Kyrat lent itself to the creation of a grappling hook so that protagonist, Ajay Ghale, could scale cliffs while in "Far Cry Primal," venturing into the cold required players to either find a fire or winter clothes.
With its setting in the fictional region of Hope County, Montana, "Far Cry 5" steps into uncharted territory for the series. How does Ubisoft Montreal create a novel experience with a setting so close to home? The developer reaches into the darker depths of the American psyche to create a nightmare scenario about a cult that takes over this remote area.
For the first time in the series, players create their own protagonist who is a rookie deputy who works for Hope County Sheriff Earl Whitehorse. Backed by a U.S. marshal, they are sent to arrest Joseph Seed, the leader of the Project at Eden's Gate sect. Unfortunately, the execution of the warrant goes awry as zealots take down the chopper ferrying Seed to the authorities. As players survive the crash and escape, the extent of Seed's power becomes clear.
The doomsday cult has managed to infiltrate every aspect of life in Hope County, and supported by an army of followers, Seed and his family dominate the region. It's up to the players to build a resistance and wrest control from the fanatics.
To do that, players will have to take up arms and follow a familiar path of combat. Like any "Far Cry" game, players strengthens the resistance by liberating outposts, liberating hostages, destroying cult properties or complete missions. The big difference between this entry and previous titles is that players have free rein to dismantle Seed's operation however they see fit.
This degree of open-endedness and the options to customize the protagonist goes hand in hand with the ethos of freedom in "Far Cry 5." Past titles followed a general narrative path, where players unlock distinct zones while also upgrading their character via a skill tree.
This time around, the developer pushes players to dabble in each region, and they encourage that with a sidekick system. Called Guns or Fangs for Hire, the feature lets the Rookie team up with an array of partners. These include a dog who goes by Boomer, a pilot named Nick Rye and Jess Black, a huntress. Players can also call in a friend online to partner up and take on the Seeds.
Although the AI-controlled partners aren't the smartest, they do have traits and power-ups that players should consider before tackling a mission. Jess and Peaches, a mountain lion, are excellent for jobs requiring stealth while the gun-lover Hurk Drubman Jr. and the pyromaniac Sharky Boshaw are good at quests focused on destruction. To acquire these allies, players will have to explore the three regions of Hope County controlled by a Seed family member.
Other changes to the "Far Cry" formula include a progression system based on perk points and fulfilling challenges. Again, the system encourages players to explore the space and side quests to see what different combinations of weapons, allies and tools do. Ubisoft Montreal also gets rid of tower-climbing missions that reveals the map to players. Now, the Rookie has to gather intelligence about an area by speaking to resistance members and liberated locals.
All these elements reinforces a push to explore the world and experiment with the gameplay systems. It's an evolutionary step for the "Far Cry" franchise, one that makes the experience more organic and emergent as the rest of the game. It gives players more opportunity to see the game's random systems collide and create magic.
The only off-putting element is the tone. "Far Cry" titles always had a serious tenor that's punctuated with quirky characters. The latest chapter flips that around as players encounter so many oddballs that it feels like a first-person "Grand Theft Auto" title. The experience is unbalanced, but that doesn't ruin it.
For all the over-the-top elements, "Far Cry 5" has its moments. Some of the best happen when realistic characters ask players to do relatively normal things like driving a pregnant woman so she can deliver her baby at a clinic.
Missions like that are a reminder that "Far Cry" is at its best when the game feels grounded in reality and less like a caricature of itself.
"Far Cry 5"
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Rating: Mature ___
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