Genre: First Person Shooter (FPS)
Rating: M for Mature
When Ubisoft published its announcement trailer for the next entry in the Far Cry series, it was like a “shot heard round the world.” Depicting people being drug to rivers for baptisms, hostages praying on their knees at while facing the barrels of automatic weapons, and roughly bearded individuals bearing elaborate Iron Crosses on the backs of their clothes and skins of their foreheads, the video clip sent the gaming industry into an uproar. By the time of its May 26, 2017 premiere, the sincerity of “American Evangelism” had been called into question given, as post-presidential statistics and exit polls would reveal, Christian support of a candidate whose word selection often betrayed the grace expected from those of the faith. With baited breath, the gaming industry devoured the trailers for Nick Rye, Pastor Jeffries, and Mary May. Some felt that the game would somehow air America’s dirty laundry, given that every other Far Cry game has been set in an environment on the brink of war. Others began a (vulgar!) petition for the game to be canceled. Even those of us at Geeks Under Grace wondered what kind of commentary Ubisoft sought to provide: would the role of religion in Far Cry 5 serve as a direct criticism of Christianity proper? Oh, and of course, would there actually be a game worth playing under all this veneer?
Violence: Guns and explosive projectiles are as common as oxygen. Considering the prevalence of these elements in the game, I would consider the quantity of blood surprisingly low by comparison. This could be attributed to the lack of dismemberment or viscera. Despite its “M” rating, the violence in Far Cry 5 is relatively tame compared to a dozen other M-rated games that I could list.
The more disturbing imagery comes through environmental exploration and cutscenes. One character commits suicide. Another murders someone while under… an…influence. Players will inevitably encounter evidence of torture in various locations, including at least one instance where a piece of flesh is carved from a man’s chest. Wild animals regularly get into fights, including dogs. A significant portion of the Hope County population is subjected to behavior modification treatment, like the Ludovico Technique from Clockwork Orange.
Language/Crude Humor: The number of four-letter words one encounters is directly proportional to the kinds of characters the player wishes to have in their party. Jess in particular will drop more F-bombs in a 5-minute fight than the average M-rated game will feature in an hour of gameplay. Coarse language, which includes references to certain individuals as an unflattering euphemism for the female anatomy, the irony of how often Jesus’ name is uttered in vain in the context of a video game revolving around a religious cult is not lost upon me.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Prohibition is in effect when the player arrives at Hope County. However, as one liberates certain sites, it is possible to reinstate a bar called the Spread Eagle (which is an innuendo). Combinations of certain wildflowers can yield stimulants that gamers can use to temporarily enhance their character’s speed and endurance. It is possible to “bake” a certain “brownie” for the inventory, but I am uncertain of its use. One quest, which I did not complete, concerns the retrieval of some hemp to be placed on an “underground” market in Hope County.
A hallucinogen derived from a white moonflower called Bliss is a prominently-featured element. Once John has broken potential candidates, their next destination could be the Henbane River territory. There, they could be subjected to quantities of Bliss to the point of overuse. Those reduced to a thrall state via Bliss are called Angels; they are essentially zombified slaves who obey Faith’s commands without fail.
Sexuality: Fornication is frowned upon in Hope County, as I failed to detect impropriety during my playthrough. However, one recruit, Adelaide Drubman, makes up for the otherwise asexual atmosphere by reminding everyone within earshot that she is a cougar who is getting hers with a young man a fraction of her age. She embarrasses her son, Hurk with her antics, though when he is introduced, he engages in some light suggestive banter himself.
It is possible to encounter animals mating. One mission requires players to unleash a pack of steer upon a heard of cattle, and proceed to castrate the steer afterward. The character who issues this mission commands an inexhaustible arsenal of euphemisms for testicles.
Spiritual: Whew. It is no secret that this review is behind the ball in terms of delivery date. So, I will admit that I broke procedure and read a few impressions. It would seem that the industry was disappointed by Ubisoft pulling its punches since the initial announcement trailer; they might have been expecting a strong direct criticism of Christianity, rather than the depiction of a generic cult that gamers would universally agree is crazy, and deserving of its destruction. I do believe that Far Cry 5 addresses Christianity, but indirectly.
For example, John Seed’s design is most certainly a metaphor for the evangelical and charismatic aspects of the faith. Well-dressed and generally soft-spoken, John’s charm is among his most powerful weapons. If those qualities are ineffective in influencing the inhabitants of Hope County to tithe according to the size of the blessing that they desire,
buy his books, and confess their sins, he will resort to violent methods. Through John, Far Cry 5 illuminates sin shaming; this references, for example, churches that would force pregnant teen girls in front of congregations to announce their guilt while the guilty male party—often a participant in the congregation—escapes criticism. John Seed is an equal opportunity oppressor, however, and both men and women are tortured equally so that they will inevitably “Say Yes.” It is important to recognize that “Yes” is what one says to provide consent. Yet if this consent is given under duress, it is assault. One such technique the player experiences directly comes in the form of a “baptism,” where drowning is simulated.
Faith Seed symbolizes the redemptive aspects of the gospel. She is a former cocaine addict who has been rehabilitated if not also while under the influence of Bliss. The player-character at times experiences hallucinations brought on by the Bliss, a high which could be interpreted as a “spiritual” experience. Unlike the other members of the Seed family who have to physically apprehend the player, Faith can speak to him/her from anywhere within her region. Far Cry 5 is indirect, but it is possible to interpret these interactions as a counterfeit Holy Spirit experience.
Army veteran Jacob Seed represents the paramilitary aspect of part of American Evangelism. He personifies the kind of Christian who volunteers as armed plainclothes guards at churches, rocks “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo” bumper stickers on their pickup trucks, and strictly adheres to the “eye for an eye” concept when Jesus said to turn the other cheek. The eldest of the Seed siblings, Jacob is not so much a practitioner of the faith as he is the family’s enforcer, who uses its ideology as a mechanism for control.
Be prepared to read scripture displayed conspicuously, and to hear quotes from the Bible without context. Joseph Seed is the biggest offender, while adopting the persona of Jesus as depicted by popular western interpretations, but with modern hair management. To call him a false prophet would be an understatement since he unironically answers to “Father.” Yes, that is a capital “F.”
After probing around in the character creator that had to have been shoehorned into the game in such a perfunctory manner that it sometimes does not properly acknowledge the player’s gender, players will be subjected to a montage of key members of the community from Hope County, Montana, while on a helicopter ride. The destination is a compound, and the purpose of travel is to apprehend Joseph Steed, leader of a cult called Project at Eden’s Gate, on the suspicion of kidnapping with the intention to do harm. Accompanied by a US Marshall, the county Sheriff, and his two deputies, players can arrest Seed, who surrenders willingly after his sermon depicting the last days is interrupted. The party does not get far. “Divine intervention” in the form of disgruntled cult congregants down the helicopter. The player, a junior deputy known only as “Rook,” attempts an escape with Marshall Burke after commandeering an escape vehicle. Because all paths out of the area are blocked during the chase, the duo gets off-roaded into a river, and are separated during their escape from the transport. The “Peggies” fish Burke out of the water, while a man named “Dutch” surreptitiously rescues Rook. He then proceeds to debrief the player on the situation in Hope County in order to liberate it from Peggie occupation.
Ubisoft did their darndest to reproduce not just an open world game, but a sandbox game in the style of Just Cause or Grand Theft Auto. During the introductory mission, Dutch even makes a meta-joke concerning Rook only being required to climb a tower once—a gibe at previous Far Cry and the tired gameplay element. At any rate, I would consider the integration of sandbox features a smashing success. Spontaneity is Far Cry 5‘s biggest strength; bears spontaneously fighting bulls, a stealthy intrusion of enemy territory raucously interrupted by a rafter of wild turkeys, and stumbling upon an involuntary baptism are among. I found a helicopter within the first ten minutes of leaving Dutch’s section and used it as the fastest way to travel without shame. Random encounters are frequent. Before investing into the work of liberating Hope County, it will be difficult to drive for thirty seconds without passing by some sort of procedurally-generated random encounter. Those who wish to fully emerge themselves into all that this game has to offer run the risk might end up clocking upwards of 100 hours, while those with OCD may never finish.
The vivacious countryside comes at a cost. According to Digital Foundry, PS4Pro and xxXBOXxx owners can enjoy 4k at a cinematic 30 fps. PC owners such as myself can push for higher frames with top-end hardware. But even with a machine that could power a terminator, Far Cry 5 suffers from a conspicuously nasty hitching problem. This is not a Blighttown-style frame rate drop that stays low, but a sudden, inexplicable stutter that happens even in areas such as caves, that should be low-spec. In contrast with the performance of the industry’s previous AAA FPS, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, the occasional hitching here severely impaired my enjoyment of the game, sometimes causing me headache-like symptoms. Those who are visually sensitive should be forewarned; the in-game benchmark is misleading, as it is a pre-scripted sequence, unlike actual gameplay where some suspect that the sputters are due to the game processing the random events in the background.
When I was not cringing at the frame rate counter inexplicably dipping as low as 30 frames while I stood still, Far Cry 5 is quite possibly the best-looking video game the industry has to offer right now—I even fired up the masterpieces Witcher 3 and GTAV to confirm. As a side-mission required me to scale a northern mountain, great effort was required to keep my mouth closed in the presence of its splendor. Southward, a “prepper stash,” or cache of resources, required me to cross a bridge in front of a waterfall that appeared to be a facsimile. Faith’s Bliss sequences dangerously seduced me with a simulation of heaven’s possibilities. I would often visit the Guns for Hire screen and marvel at the animations and details of my companions. Character models, particles, fauna and flora are all on point.
To complement the ambiance of Far Cry 5 is a soundtrack that has a three-hour runtime(!!!). Though I have to admit that country music in Montana does not sound much different from what I hear in Alabama, tunes such as “When the Morning Light Shines In” had me idling in the pause menu just to listen to it. “Sunrise on the Soldiers” is a great treat for liberating a territory. The songs from the Hope County Choir are disturbingly…excellent. If it were not for the lack of references to God, they could be easily mistaken for genuine worship music; if I ever commandeered a Peggie vehicle, I would not even bother changing the channel, because the music is astonishingly pleasant to listen to compared to the standard secular fare. It makes for a perfect placebo. Even the Hammock Collection of Faith Seed-themed songs are mesmerizing despite being remixes of songs in the base soundtrack. For those looking for licensed music featured in the game that would be “banned” by the Peggies, well, there is another four hours of that, too.
The division of the landscape into three regions controlled by each member of the Seed family, John, Jacob, and Faith is arbitrary, except to justify a method to the madness that is the story. All three are unlocked from the beginning, so one can finish them partially, or fully, in any order (most will do John’s region first). This freedom is great from a gameplay perspective, but Ubisoft does itself a disservice when, after players have accumulated a certain amount of
experience resistance points, an unavoidable sequence of events takes place where Rook is captured, and subjected to the relevant lieutenant’s mania. Apparently, Ubisoft really wanted to make sure that players did not miss out on their precious cutscenes. The first time John captured, I blamed myself for not being careful enough. The second time, I was driving in the wilderness, with no human in sight. By the fourth time, I just wondered why John did not put a bullet in my head regardless of Joseph’s wishes. Expect around twelve obligatory scripted interruptions that are counterintuitive to the freedom that Far Cry 5 otherwise provides.
Not only are critical story elements delivered in brute force fashion, but they are also inconsistent in quality. The presentation of John’s region, from the members of the resistance to random answering machine messages (seriously, who still has a landline, let alone an answering machine?) strike me as painstakingly crafted. Faith’s region feels like a mere extension of John’s, though the serenity of her “capture” scenes are almost worth the repetition of falling under multiple Bliss trances Jacob’s region should appeal to those enamored with the outdoors…and Social Darwinism. His tired design concept is straight out of boot camp for psycho maniacs, and is incongruent with Far Cry 5‘s thematic inspiration. It is as though Ubisoft had originally planned to address America’s obsession with guns and military prowess, but pulled its punch for the final product. Jacob is supposed to represent gatekeeper to simulate the exclusive nature of paradise, the contrast between him and the rest of the Seed family is as clear as his penchant for camo wear. Jacob is simply out of place.
Repetition is an unfortunate theme in Far Cry 5. Because resistance points are conjoined with Rook’s exploits, s/he will ostensibly emancipate the rebel forces over time. Each region has a “hub,” and from there, one can launch an assault. The problem is, after liberating the Spread Eagle Tavern, these missions become stale fetch quests and rescues.
Those familiar with the Far Cry (or Crysis) franchise should be accustomed to what are now standardized mechanics. Earning perk points to unlock “skills” such as crouch running, lockpicking, or expanding inventory space involves fulfilling criteria such as killing enough enemies with different kinds of weapons, stealthily taking down a certain number of hostiles, or accumulating headshots. The more adventurous (completionists in particular) will also hunt specific animals and catch certain fish to earn these points. This formulaic regurgitation of RPG-like elements in the Far Cry games is prosaic and unfun. Having to unlock abilities that should be default features, such as being able to carry more than one gun and a pistol, perturbed me. This kind of filler is one area in which Far Cry 5 excruciatingly reminds its audience that it is indeed a video game. Thankfully, for those like me who do not want to waste time by participating in electronic outdoor sports such as angling, speaking to non-hostile NPCs may reveal the location of a pepper stash—a weapons, gear, and most importantly, perk caches abandoned by individuals who were preparing for disaster, but they were unable to survive themselves.
Gunplay is also underwhelming, a nigh-unforgivable offense for an FPS. There is not a single distinguished weapon to be found here. The customization options such as silencers or red dots are as cutting-edge as 2007. I finished the game with the gun I picked up in the first of my twenty-seven hours in it. There was no incentive for me to do otherwise.
Among what is fun in Far Cry 5 are the Guns for Hire. While their AI is reminiscent of Ellie in The Last of Us, such that they are “invisible in plain sight” as long as the player remains undetected while sneaking around to liberate compounds, they are otherwise pleasantly responsive to commands. They are also impeccably designed, teeming with personality. Even the designated animal recruits, Fangs for Hire, exude charm; not since pressing the hug button in A Boy and His Blob have I felt this attached to bestial companions in a video game. I am particularly fond of Boomer the dog, who can spot all the hostiles in a compound for easy pickings. Peaches the mountain lion can be used to clear a whole fortress while undetected. Cheeseburger the bear is just hilarious to use to hear his prey cry out “OMG, it’s a bear!” as they run lest they get mauled. Be sure to pet them all to be treated to some adorable animations!
Likewise, the human Guns for Hire are such a hoot that it is shame that only two can be present at any given time. Nick Rye providing air support with strafe runs or bombing vehicles is something that CoD would lock behind a kill streak; here, all one must do is liberate his airfield…and perhaps take his pregnant wife to the hospital. Hurk Drubman Jr. embraces all of the magnanimous characteristics of the redneck stereotype with aplomb (his father takes on the negative tropes), and he is hilarious. However his mother, Adelaide, consists of a whole bunch of cougar tropes. Her vulgarity quickly gets old, even if her helicopter is sometimes more useful than Nick’s plane. Jess Black manages to outdo everyone combined in terms of impropriety, raining as many F-bombs as she does arrows. That is a shame, because her stealth trait is game-breaking–like Peaches, she single-handedly clears out fortified sites in their entirety. Even so, like my guns, my favorite turns out to be my first: Grace Jones can snipe a driver of a tanker right out of his seat, even if she is in the rear; she can tag a pilot right out of a cockpit, too. As a bonus, their interactions and “awareness” of each other fondly reminded me of Baldur’s Gate 2 style of companion small talk. Still, they would sometimes irritatingly loop their lines.
Far Cry 5 delivers precisely what one should expect from a $60 AAA fps game. It provides the kind of variety such that those who wish to play “by the book,” by strictly adhering to objectives can do just that, while those who want to experiment with physics and such may do so. There are some dead spots in the story, such as Jacob Seed’s routine, which is filler up to a specific contribution that impacts one of the endings. And speaking of the endings, Ubisoft has certainly evolved the craft—it is virtually impossible to feel some kind of way while playing, and certainly after finishing this game.
The Bottom Line
While Ubisoft's FPS formula is beginning to show its age with gameplay and mechanics that are too familiar for comfort, encasing the package with an exigent theme such as religious zealotry makes all things (seem like) new.