After a few missteps and some serious cases of franchise fatigue, it seems Ubisoft is back on track in 2017/18. After an elongated break between games, Assassin’s Creed Origins has gone on to be wildly successful both critically and commercially, and this has no doubt contributed somewhat to the company’s decision to delay the release of their next flagship title by around a month, into March next year.
I got to go hands-on demo of with Far Cry 5 at Ubisoft’s Sydney office this week and I’ve come away feeling confident that the final game is going to be an absolute must-play.
Right from the start it’s clear that Far Cry 5’s setting is a radical departure from previous games. Eschewing the more ‘tropical’ feeling of most other series entries, everything this time takes place in the fictional Hope County, Montana. Hope County initially looks and feels significantly more flat than the likes of Far Cry 3’s Rook Island setting, or Kyrat in Far Cry 4, but after a couple of hours of exploration it’s safe to say that it makes for one of the more engaging backdrops in the franchise.The demo I played took place in the full region of Holland Valley, which seems to make up roughly 1/3 of the final game’s open world. Holland Valley is one of three major areas run by the siblings of the game’s primary antagonist, Joseph Seed, and is (at least initially) quite overrun with the unhinged and violent members of his cult, ‘Eden’s Gate’. While much of the overall story is obviously still shrouded in mystery and will remain so until the game is out in the wild, it’s clear that having a maniacal, self-loving and wordy villain is a series establishment at this point, and it works. Accompanying the rolling country and peaceful-looking estates in Hope County is an overbearing sense of dread and unease as Joseph’s influence on every corner is almost palpable.
In typical Far Cry fashion, players are tasked with roaming around the map as they see fit, completing tasks for each area’s various inhabitants and gradually dismantling the enemy’s operations in an effort to reclaim the land. Ubisoft Montreal seem to be doing a great job so far of injecting Far Cry 5 with the same huge doses of mission variety that series fans have come to expect, based on the couple of hours I had with the game. In that time, I defended a church against an onslaught of grave robbers, broke into a cult-run farm and escaped in a stolen aeroplane, adopted a dog following a shoot-out in a pumpkin field, and even watched some bulls mate to the sounds of ‘Sexual Healing’ before robbing them of their testicles. It’s safe to say that the series’ trademark over-the-top humour and bombast is in full swing again, here.Outside of main and side missions, exploring off the beaten path can be just as rewarding, thanks to the sheer amount of depth the team has managed to give each inch of the map. Interesting landmarks, some occupied by enemies, scores of unique flora and fauna and all amounts of incidental detail give each area of Hope County a great deal of personality and solidify the overall tone that the game is selling.
Not surprising (but still welcome) is the same great feeling of gameplay in Far Cry 5 that has been gradually perfected and refined ever since the divisive Far Cry 2. First-person gunplay feels physical and weighty without being cumbersome, and strikes the right balance between conveying impact and keeping things fun. While never particularly intelligent or challenging, Far Cry’s staple rhythm of simple stealth giving way to balls-to-the-wall action continues to work brilliantly, and makes each enemy encounter feel like its own epic cinematic set piece. Driving and piloting the game’s various vehicles is similarly accessible and fun, I commandeered everything from cars to ATVs to planes in my short time with the game, and was happy to find that the parachute and wingsuit are back despite the relative decrease in verticality in Far Cry 5’s map. I’m keen to see how gameplay and character progression change as the game goes on, but based on this demo I can at least be confident that the core experience is every bit as solid as fans expect.
It goes without saying that Far Cry 5 is also a bit of a looker. Hope County’s fictional landscapes could easily be mistaken for real-world Montana, and every locale is dripping with personality. Playing on PS4 Pro, even in this early state the game looks sharp and runs great. Taking to the skies in one of the game’s planes showcases much of the natural beauty that I was initially worried would be less impactful in this more rural location than in the lush landscapes of prior games. Where Hope County lacks in breathtaking mountain scapes or pristine tropical beaches it makes up for in sheer atmosphere and a real sense of place, thanks to keen attention to detail and a great supporting cast of characters. From the handful of missions I played through, the same great writing the series has come to be known for is in full effect again, with a range of personalities that strike a perfect balance between over-the-top and empathetic. Plus, there’s a dog. So y’know, big points for that.
My biggest takeaway from this brief session with is that Ubisoft seem have learned from some of their stumbles in recent years, especially those that resulted from the aggressive annualization of their staple franchises. Assassin’s Creed Origins is a perfect example of the kind of radical uplift in quality and success that can be found in giving these IPs (and their respective development teams) a little more breathing room between releases, and I’m confident that Far Cry 5 will drive that point home even more. It’s still hard to say whether my very positive couple of hours with the game will extend to the full experience, and story has every chance of missing as much as it hits at this point, but things are looking good so far. Short delay aside, there’s a lot to look forward to for fans and newcomers alike when Far Cry 5 hits stores next year on March 27,