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Far Cry 5 review: Say yes to this mess

Far Cry 5 is a masterful refinement of the series' formula that creates an addictive loop of ultra-satisfying action, progression and gameplay.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
6 min read

For a while I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from Far Cry 5 or whether it was going to substantially differentiate itself from recent entries in the series. I attended a reveal for the game about a year ago in New York, where I was first introduced to its setting and antagonists. Quite honestly it was a bit dramatic. But it certainly set the stage for what, at the time, felt like a unique approach at a Far Cry game -- at least from a narrative point of view.

The Good

Far Cry 5 offers a huge open world to explore as you systematically dismantle a dangerous cult. Satisfying action, a gorgeous setting and exceptional presentation all work together seamlessly.

The Bad

The occasional janky moment during a mission can break up the action. Glitches are present, but infrequent.

The Bottom Line

Far Cry 5 is an awesome open-world action game, delivering the most fully realized, player-driven entry in the series to date.

Far Cry 5 focuses on a religious cult that's taken over of a sizeable chunk of Montana. It's amassed a scary amount of weapons, influence and resources to the point where it's essentially an impenetrable militia. It's the first Far Cry game to take place in the US and it's more eerily reminiscent of domestic tensions than it likely planned on being. Despite the familiar anxieties it reflects, the game's creative director says it was conceived nearly a decade ago.

But after my time with the game at E3 2017 and the months leading up to its release on March 27, I've come to understand that Far Cry 5 isn't a massive detour from the series' legacy, but instead a highly refined, cohesive vision of what makes a prototypical Far Cry game tick. It's also easily one of my favorites in the series.

Ultimately, the focus on the cult -- the Project at Eden's Gate -- can sometimes feel lost among Far Cry 5's sweeping, open-world vistas. Perhaps the story would have been more weighty and focused in a more linear game with an A-to-B experience. Thankfully, there's no loss of fun in Far Cry 5 for it -- it's a blast to play 

Far Cry 5's narrative ambitions aren't all for naught. It showcases a handful of memorable moments and characters that feel important and a number of allusions that will undoubtedly force you to compare them to real-world events. And sure, some of the people you'll meet in the game will force an unwilling "oh, brother" from your mouth.

The Far Cry series' notorious strength in creating heinous villains is certainly present here too. But ultimately, I found Far Cry 5 to be a better game than some great premonition, though there is occasional imagery that can only be defined as "too real."

In typical Far Cry fashion, you're tasked with leading the resistance against the Project at Eden's Gate, or the "Peggies" as they're referred to in-game. You'll need to methodically take out its leaders, the Seed Family. Three siblings each control an area of Hope County, with the fourth and main bad guy, Joseph Seed, also known as "The Father," at the center of the operation.


The Father

Ubisoft (PS4 Pro screenshot)

With that said, the premise starts to spiral further into silliness than seriousness. The cult's reach is only touched on at the start, but it isn't long before you begin to witness the ridiculous number of people inside this thing. Peggie members consist of trained pilots, chemists, doctors, soldiers and more. Their presence feels like it's in the thousands, not to mention the underground military bunkers, chemical production facilities and the 200-foot statue they've erected.

To put it plainly, the founders of Eden's Gate are real shitty people and their evil has permeated throughout almost all of the fictional Hope County, Montana.

Far Cry 5's greatest success is its overall refinement and finesse. It's trimmed so much fat that nothing seems like a tedious undertaking, from the removal of tower-climbing to the inclusion of crafting within the weapon wheel. Very few of its objectives bored me. Without a doubt, Far Cry 5 deserves praise for its structural design -- despite its massiveness, it's all digestible.

Instead of unlocking points of interest by some kind of physical ascension, you're encouraged to explore the world you're constantly liberating. You can talk to civilians you've freed from the cult and turn over the stones of a once-peaceful Montana county. New areas open up through these interactions and more open up as you take down the cult outposts peppered across the map.

Ubisoft (PS4 Pro screenshot)

This creates a real satisfying loop, with side missions and other to-dos all logically unlocked and able to be tackled at your discretion. Smartly, there's usually no progress that's gated by a specific objective, save for maybe a vanity outfit, vehicle or weapon. There are multiple paths to acquiring perks and plenty of ways to earn cash or learn about hunting spots.

Adding crafting to the weapon wheel was the right move, but placing ingredients inside lootable containers removed the need to forage through wooded areas in search of some mystical root. Sure, it's all micromanagement nonsense, but it stops crafting from becoming a chore.

Far Cry 5's moment-to-moment action is ripe for co-op play, and you should try it out if you can. But it offers a solid alternative with Guns for Hire mode. Some residents can be recruited to join your team, but it's the specialists that make it worth your while. Nine specialists are unlockable throughout the campaign, ranging from snipers to chopper pilots to actual animal allies, which include a stealthy cougar or a freaking grizzly bear named Cheeseburger. These friendlies become indispensable as you play and the difficulty ramps up.

Ubisoft (PS4 Pro screenshot)

From the start, it appears that everything in Montana wants to kill you. Whether it's the seemingly endless number of murderous Peggies or the overly aggressive wildlife at every turn -- Hope County is a damn warzone.

But it's also gorgeous. There are endless peaks to scale, caves to explore and fishing spots to enjoy. Taking a helicopter lets you rise above the chaos on the ground and take in the sprawling forest, hidden lakes and stretching farmland. That is, of course, before the cult's aerial reach starts coming after you.

Ubisoft (PS4 Pro screenshot)

Far Cry 5's presentation complements the game's impressive streamlining, with a slick 3D map, great menu system and infectious foreboding score.

And then there's Far Cry Arcade, which I only got around to trying out a few times. It's essentially a playground that can be accessed through the menu or at most locations in the world map.

Inside, you can take on community-created levels or develop your own, using assets from Far Cry 4 and 5 a number of other Ubisoft properties such as Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed. The creation tools also let you mess around with specific properties in the world, including gravity.

I guess Arcade's popularity will depend on the frequency and quality of levels created by players, but I enjoyed the three maps I played that were designed by Ubisoft. On paper it's an intriguing sandbox worth of tools to play with. There's also a Season Pass for DLC that includes spin-off modes set in a zombie world, Vietnam and Mars.

Ubisoft (PS4 Pro screenshot)

Far Cry 5 is better game than a cryptic allegory for why cults and bigotry are bad. Instead, it provides an addictive and satisfying gameplay loop as you systematically take down a powerful militia.

There's plenty of charged banter in Far Cry 5, but it never really manages to say anything meaningful. A few cutscenes offer provoking commentary, but juxtaposing tons of open-world action with a sprinkling of scripted events in between makes for sporadic bits of exposition at best.

While it doesn't deviate too far from other recent Far Cry entries, this iteration is by far the most complete, the most realized and an undeniably wild experience.