Far Cry 5 Weaves a Frightening Story into Series’ Familiar Sandbox Formula

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Compelling, charismatic, and all kinds of crazy, Far Cry 3‘s Vaas, and Far Cry 4‘s Pagin Min, significantly raised the bar on video game villainy. These baddies were so good, in fact, many felt they were underused or not done proper justice by their respective game’s stories. Far Cry 5 wastes no time addressing this issue, immediately introducing players to cult leader Joseph Seed – dubbed “The Father” by his fanatical followers – then ensuring his impact and influence is felt long after he’s retreated to his doomsday bunker.

Our hands-on session with Ubisoft’s ambitious sequel starts at the game’s very beginning, as we assume the role of a rookie sheriff’s deputy sent to serve Seed an arrest warrant. The opening is easily the series’ best, a spine-chilling chain of events we’re still contemplating a week after experiencing them. It’s too good to spoil, but suffice to say witnessing Seed calmly croon Amazing Grace, amidst unspeakable violence and chaos, is something that will likely assume permanent residence in our subconscious.

Shortly after Far Cry 5 has planted the seeds of our future nightmares, we find ourselves in more familiar franchise territory, tossing sticks of dynamite from the passenger’s seat of a pick-up truck. Fast-forward a few more minutes and we’ve settled into a comfortable groove of performing neck-snapping take-downs, scoring headshots, clearing outposts, and generally enjoying the sort of dynamic chaos the series is so damn good at delivering.

What’s less familiar though, is that these franchise-defining activities are accompanied by regular reminders we’re trespassing in a world run by The Father and his Project at Eden’s Gate followers. The game’s Hope County, Montana setting wouldn’t look out of place on a postcard…save for the hooded victims strung up around town. A stroll through the otherwise picturesque environments also reveal cult symbols and propaganda, as well as the words, “sinner”, “greed”, and “gluttony” scrawled on buildings and billboards.

Such unsettling imagery is mere mood-setting ambiance, however, compared to some of Far Cry 5‘s other narrative devices. During an outpost liberation, an activity that could feel untethered to the story in previous Far Cry entries, we’re immediately greeted by another “cleansed” victim. Hooded and hands bound behind their back, the prisoner is kneeling in a pool of their own blood. We move in to rescue them, but upon closer inspection – and the presence of swarming flies – it seems we’re too late.

Far Cry 5 Screenshot

Over the camp’s PA system, we hear an ominous message repeatedly referring to “culling the herd.” This part of Hope County is apparently run by Joseph’s brother, Jacob, a soldier in charge of recruiting the strongest civilians to the cult’s cause – whether they like it or not –  while sacrificing the weak. We discover a few folks in cages, and wonder if their fate’s already been decided.

Upon rescuing the hostages and liberating the outpost, we meet Jess, one of the game’s “Guns for Hire.” Ubisoft has hyped this feature quite a bit, explaining how it allows players to build a resistance by recruiting NPCs who’ll fight by their side. Based on this previously-established intel, we weren’t surprised when Jess capably skewered cultists with her compound bow.

What we weren’t expecting though, was that she’d scare the crap out of us with a disturbing tale describing how a cult lieutenant called “The Cook” earned his name. We won’t get too graphic or spoiler-y here, but lets just say the sadistic pyromaniac didn’t adopt the moniker because he makes a mean pot of chili.

Jess’ story, which had us stopping our protagonist in their tracks so we wouldn’t miss a gruesome detail, unfolded on a simple walk through the woods. It was a small stretch in a massive game – one that could’ve easily been accompanied by silence – but it provided a big narrative payoff. Much more than an unsettling tale meant to feed morbid curiosities, the story supported the game’s larger narrative, helped immerse us in its world, and fueled our motive for the next objective — finding and eliminating The Cook.

Most of our time with Far Cry 5 was spent tackling side objectives and activities that could have felt like fun, but arbitrary open-world tasks on a checklist. Thanks to the game’s focus on world-building, story-telling, and character development, however, we never felt far from The Father’s influence or impact on this rich world.

We look forward to digging deeper into Far Cry 5‘s cult nightmare – even if it means suffering a few of our own sleepless nights – when Joseph Seed brings his reckoning to Xbox on March 27.