Review: Far Cry 5
Published by Ubisoft
Where recent Far Cry games have taken the player to far flung locations in the Himalayas, the Pacific, and cave man times, the fifth iteration of the mainline series is set in Montana. Featuring a home-grown terrorist in cult leader Joseph Seed as the big bad, Far Cry 5 takes the established series’ formula into America’s own heart of darkness.
The player sees the world through the eyes of their own (customisable) character known only as The Deputy. Brought in to help arrest Eden’s Gate leader Joseph Seed, this character ends up against his followers, an army addled by a combination of a drug called Bliss and Seed’s hypnotic preaching. Much like Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, the portion of Montana that the cult have taken over is a hellish attempt at recreating isolated parts of the Old Testament. Convinced that the United States outside of the confines of their community is inviting its own eternal damnation (and drugged out of their minds) the cult make for dangerous adversaries.
Surprisingly, Ubisoft managed to get Far Cry 5 classified in Australia despite its drug subplot, a feature that saw We Happy Few frustratingly refused classification earlier this month.
Far Cry’s open world approach works well in the game’s version of Montana, presenting a beautiful but deadly place for the character to go hunting, craft items, and create a lot of mayhem. The in-game animals and non-player characters are programmed to interact with or without the player’s input and each battle plays out slightly differently every time. The enemy AI is responsive to the point that taking them on without a plan is inadvisable, and yet most of the fun comes in when things go sideways. The designers of the Far Cry series have long sought to make the game a kind of “anecdote factory” and this continues to be the games’ selling point.
While a great addition to the wider series, Far Cry 5 is not perfect by any stretch. The beginning of the game is particularly jarring, transitioning from a smooth, opening scene to a tutorial sequence that lands the player in the thick of things rather quickly. The usual ludonarrative dissonance that comes with an open world title is there (seeing your character’s friends kidnapped but opting to go hunting instead of rescuing them immediately is the most obvious example of where the ability to go and do seemingly anything in the game world gets in the way of experiencing the narrative). It could also be said that the game had potential to say more about its subject matter.
Perhaps the worst thing about Far Cry 5 is that the game does not even attempt at all to explore nonviolence as a potential response to the cultists. While this may sound odd as a critique of a first-person shooter, many other games have given the player the option of approaching their worlds without ever killing (Dishonored is perhaps the most famous example). Given that one of the game’s major characters is a Christian pastor, the fact that the violence taken up against the cult is not even particularly discussed in any real way feels like a lost opportunity for narrative complexity.
This, however, is not to say that the game does not offer any insightful commentary or opportunity for reflection. Far Cry 5’s story is ostensibly about cults—the creative team responsible for the game brought on several ‘cult busters’ and psychologists as consultants. And yet, the game’s bad guys resonate in a way that means its warnings go further than an ‘avoid cults’ PSA. While Far Cry 5’s creators have denied that the game has any particular political message (its initial concept was thought up in 2012 before Trump’s presidency), the cult’s apocalyptic message that ‘the collapse’ is near might as well be accompanied by a call to Make America Great Again.
Relevant Magazine’s review of Far Cry 5 deemed the game’s portrayal of Christians as being caricatures. Despite this, the genuine belief exhibited by Joseph Seed’s followers in a twisted gospel of violent judgement is something of a cautionary tale. These characters are people who fervently believe that they are part of the few right believers whose job it is to ‘cleanse’ others of their sins (a task that protestant theology reserves for Jesus himself). It would be a mistake to think that it is only cults that think this way, or that Far Cry 5 had no warning for mainline Christianity, including members of the Uniting Church.
Far Cry 5 is rated MA. It is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor