If an AI were to create a game based on popular Google search terms for video games, Far Cry 5 would likely be the result. Whether that's a good or a bad thing largely depends on what you expect from Far Cry at this point, and probably games in general.
Because Far Cry 5 isn't a bad game – in fact, it's an awful lot of good old fashioned fun. But it doesn't do anything you haven't seen before, and the core loop is incredibly repetitive. Long time series fans will bemoan the lack of survival mechanics, too, and they'd be right. It's probably the most criminal aspect.
Especially when the opening cutscene sets you up for such a thrilling experience. You play as a rookie cop who's sent in to help arrest the leader of a religious cult. On the chopper ride there, the local sheriff, a US marshal, and a deputy fill you in on the happenings so far.
The scene is terrifically set. The sheriff is clearly terrified and suggests you turn around multiple times. Meanwhile, you can clearly see that the cult isn't to be messed around with. There's basically an army of them and they've taken over an entire state. Three cops in a chopper feel very ill equipped to deal with the situation.
This all culminates in an incredibly tense arrest while cult members surround and jeer you. It's terrifying, and very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. Soon enough, everything goes wrong and you're running for your life, hiding amongst the trees trying to seek out a weapon as a mad cult chases you.
If things remained this tense, we'd be in for a real treat. But soon enough you're in an action-fuelled car chase, mowing down hordes of cultists like it's Call of Duty or Uncharted. This sets the tone for the rest of the experience, which is a goofy, balls out action game of shooting cultists, blowing stuff up, and driving really fast.
To Ubisoft's credit, it's all incredibly slick and competent. The guns are satisfying, the explosions more so, and you don't have to learn a thing to pilot a chopper, quad bike, or jeep. They just work, and handle really well.
The core loop is less satisfying. You have to form a resistance in three different areas so you don't have to fight an army by yourself. This involves the usual Far Cry stuff of attacking outposts, as well as destroying cult property, rescuing civilians, and killing VIP targets.
Each of the three areas is controlled by a lieutenant, and killing each of them is your ultimate goal. To lure them out, you have to gain three levels of resistance in the area they control, which forces a showdown. Each time you gain a level, you also have a mini face off, which gives you an opportunity to learn more about them, the cult, and the big bad boss who calls himself "The Father".
The cult's reasoning is more interesting than you'd expect, and is tied into very real political events. It might even hit a nerve if you can lose yourself in all of the melodrama, but ultimately it's all just a little too far-fetched to get its claws into the most scrupulous of players.
It doesn't help that the villains feel ripped right out of a Batman Arkham game, and spend so much time trying to convince you that they're not crazy while staring far too intensely into your eyes. If we could accuse a video game character of over-acting, we'd level that complaint at all of the villains here.
Aside from the main stuff, there's a bunch of side quests to complete, like Tony Hawk-inspired stunts to perform, collectibles and treasure to seek out, and henchmen to hire. You can even hunt animals, fish, or take on wingsuit glides if you're not feeling a gunfight. Most of this stuff rewards you with cash you can spend on new weapons, modifications, vehicles, and outfits.
While this all culminates in a a ton of initial fun, it all starts to run a little thin about two thirds in. Despite Ubisoft's clear efforts to tackle it, ultimately there's just not enough variety, and the occasional goofy quest to hunt down bull genitals for a "Testy Festy" just doesn't cut it.
It doesn't help that the design doesn't encourage you to use many of the game's features. Attacking a cult outpost is as exciting as you make it, but once you've settled on the easiest method of tackling it, why would you make it more difficult for yourself? Aside from a few easy challenges that reward perk points, there's no encouragement to experiment, and that's a shame because there's so much to experiment with here.
What does help, though, is that you can play almost the entire game in co-op, with a friend taking on the role of hired help. It's so much more fun working together to tackle an outpost without setting off a single alarm that you'll wonder how you ever played Far Cry without it.
Then there's Far Cry Arcade, the true multiplayer component. Here you can create and play a variety of challenge maps with your friends, and level up your multiplayer level. We can't imagine many will bother with it, and we can't help but feel like Ubisoft has missed a trick by not including a Battle Royale multiplayer mode. Far Cry just seems such a right fit for it.
The best thing we can say about Far Cry 5 is that it's competent, and the worst that it's far too safe. Ubisoft is clearly more interested in making an experience that appeals to everyone to satisfy the bottom line. That's a real shame, because there are the makings of a highly entertaining sandbox survival adventure here. Sadly, you won't see any of it, because there's no encouragement to experiment when running and gunning is as effective as it is.