Yahtzee reviews Far Cry 5.
I noticed the sun saw fit to rise again this morning, so I guess Ubisoft is putting a sandbox game out. They really are to sandbox games what Sierra was to point-and-click adventures in the 90's. "Let's just hack out two or three a year, 'cos all those Tom Clancy plushies don't pay for themselves. But never mind that we're single-handedly making the sandbox game market look like what most online dating sites look like to heterosexual women!"
Last year was Assassin's Creed's go, so now it's Far Cry's turn, so since I guess we're hacking out the usual thing: charismatic villain with an army of followers takes over small, helpless, isolated nation and has to be opposed by gormless tit with untapped survival skills they developed from routinely leaving all their gift-shopping to the last weekend before Christmas. But where to choose for a setting? What part of the world could audiences credibly believe would allow itself to be taken over and isolated by a charismatic psycho with inexplicable legions of mindless followers, and which, furthermore, has a greater density of firearms than it has effective social services? Hmm, I wonder... "Thank you, Yahtz. I think everyone's gotten the joke." Oh, hello, rural America! Didn't see you there, hiding under Canada's frilly miniskirt! You ever read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? 'Cos by my reckoning, the U.S. is up to about Volume IV.
So an isolated county in Montana has been taken over by a doomsday cult run by the prerequisite charismatic villain, so charismatic that there was no money left for the player character's charisma budget, so it's Faceless Silent Protagonist a Go Go - Faceless Silent Police Deputy, rather - sent into the heart of Cultland to arrest their leader, but making the rookie mistake of showing up in a helicopter which, in the prologue of a video game, is always tempting fate. Someone didn't play Outlast 2! Predictably enough, we soon find ourselves minus one helicopter, in deep behind enemy lines, and tasked with liberating the county piece by piece from the evil Trump voters. Well, actually, while one might get that vibe from the premise, in practice, the politics are more even-handed; yes, the cult are all religious fundamentalists to whom gun ownership is more important than basic personal hygiene, but they're also very racially diverse psychedelic drug users sporting hipster beards and man buns, so you've pretty much covered whoever you personally think are other people presently ruining the country.
Well, Far Cry 5 has much of what should now be expected from the Ubisoft sandbox (a phrase that, for me, must now be said with the same tone as "the Rape of Nanking"): liberate the outposts, stop the convoys, find collectibles, stare at people till little icons appear over their heads like fairies on Christmas trees. But some effort seems to have been made to escape some of the Ubisoft sandbox's worst excesses. For example, you don't climb radio towers to unlock the map; in fact, the game makes a little joke about that with the air of an unpopular teacher humiliating themselves in the Christmas play in the hope that the kids will start liking them now. And as for liberating districts, there are only three, one for each of the main sub-bosses, although the charisma budget was still running low, so they're all basically the same character as the main boss: infuriatingly self-assured, soft-spoken religious nutter talking condescendingly at you like a Bay Area health food specialist.
The game as a whole is also laid out the way I personally think all sandbox games should be laid out: the linear plot advances to the next stage after you've done a certain amount of missions; it doesn't matter which or in what order. What is, after all, the point of a sandbox if it's just a rigid critical path of plot missions and all the side stuff is so much leftover Thanksgiving gravy? Or indeed, of using a leveling system to ensure that only a tiny chunk of a sandbox is worth hanging around in at any one time? Yes, thankfully, unlike Assassin's Creed Origins, it doesn't feel like everything's designed around loot box and micropayment bollockry; although, there are still micropayments, so I'm not going to toot Ubisoft's horn just for being not quite as big, horrible, money-grubbing bastards as we know they're capable of being.
Also, it actually has an ending; it doesn't just dump you back in the sandbox after the final story mission and go, "Hooray! The day is saved! I know, from a layman's perspective, it might seem like everything's as fucked as it's always been, but maybe you can finish up the last few side missions and then, I don't know, buy yourself a bunch of flowers." So don't plan to leave stuff for post-ending fuckabouts, 'cos there ain't none. Focused as I am on narrative gameplay, I do appreciate this, because a story without an ending is orders worse than a story without a beginning, mainly because a story without a beginning just doesn't exist, and therefore, isn't much worth worrying about.
But having said all that, the ending of Far Cry 5 - let's raise the Spoiler Alert Level to "Elevated" - is a bit of a downer; not disappointing, more depressing. And granted, that's why I seek out stories - to actually feel something other than the usual background radiation of slightly aroused contempt - but it's kind of killed any future inclination I might have to replay the game, knowing it's not going to turn out well. And unlike, say, God of War III, in which turning off the game is the only way to ensure that Kratos doesn't fuck the whole world up a dog's bumhole and yet we play anyway for the fun and spectacular combat, the gameplay of Far Cry 5 is just going through the same Ubisoft sandbox motions as always.
The apple has fallen far from the unforgiving trees of Far Cry 1 and 2; it's still relatively easy to get yourself a bow or a silenced sniper rifle, squat in a bush, and have all the outposts, alarms, and half the guards taken out before they can finish daydreaming about knobbing their first cousins. But it's also hardly worth using clever tactics like that, 'cos on one occasion, the outpost got alerted, but the whole lot of them were taken out by the random NPC support character I brought along while I was still scoping out the area for cougars.
Also, the game seems to have absentmindedly forgotten that we can spawn as many attack helicopters as we want; 90% of the missions are outdoors and get real fucking trivial when you show up in an attack helicopter. Although granted, it becomes much more likely that the mission will somehow fuck up if you do that; after I finished the last sub-boss, I promptly attack helicopter-ed over to the big boss's stronghold, 'cos that's what the game had always said to do, only to find it deserted. I was wondering if that was the point and was keeping an eye out for vats of Kool-Aid, but no, after I fast-traveled somewhere else, I got a message from one of my earpiece friends going, "All right, now go to the boss's stronghold. Sorry, we hadn't finished blowing up the party balloons."
Far Cry 5 is about as good as Ubisoft sandboxes get these days, and take that for the massively qualified statement it sounds like. It's got Ubisoft's strengths on display and not so many of its bad habits; tight and killer gameplay that has been polished for over umpteen games to a state of perfect functionality with a decent story to spice it up. The tying of missions to individual NPCs GTA-style creates a deep cast of characters with admittedly some overlap; all three regions have their own version of "tough, no-nonsense leader lady" and about nine variations on "frivolous comedic violence-liking person". The story is also pretty fucking relevant for the times; that was almost depressing about it. "The world's spiraling towards nuclear war? Well, yeah, obviously, that's a pisser, but hang on; is there something we can conceivably blame on the Democrats?"
- The far side: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I'm not sure it sends a positive message to imply that abusing psychotropic drugs essentially turns you into a fucking all-powerful wizard
- This election season vote for the Drugs and Facial Hair Party
Extra: Differently Morphous Edit
My latest book, Differently Morphous, is out now on audible.com as an Audible Original, meaning audiobook first with print version further down the line, so get those ears unstuffed. It's a contemporary paranormal fantasy about the difficulties of adapting to modern life when you're a formless Lovecraftian horror from beyond the veil of time and space.