Ubisoft’s latest addition to the Far Cry series, Far Cry 5, released earlier this year as a flamboyant look at cult culture in rural America. We’re dropped into Hope County, Montana, where the delusional Seed family – led by the self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Seed – have taken over and are trying to make the world a “better” place. Each of the siblings runs a region with their own zealous plan to keep the “good guys” out, and convert the protagonist – your customisable character – to do their bidding.
Far Cry 5 was released with plenty of critical acclaim, most of which was given for an intriguing story and the new ‘follow your own structure’ way of playing. The game changed many things about the tried and true formula of the Far Cry games of old. A lot of people, reviewers especially, found this to be a breath of fresh air for the giant sandbox that is Hope County. Rather than following along the linear path towards an ending, each region requires a certain amount of ‘resistance points’ before you can face the head Seed and bring them down.
Now, I understand that when it comes to Ubisoft, the term ‘stale’ is thrown around a lot. In terms of gameplay, the repetitive method of ‘climb the tower’, ‘liberate the outposts’, ‘hunt the bad guys’ have left a bland taste in everyone’s mouths. I can understand where people are coming from; it’s annoying waiting a few years for a dev company to give you basically the same game, just with a different environment. Hearing about the ‘go anywhere!’ layout of the map and the friends-for-hire they showed us in all the trailers and demos got an approving nod from yours truly. However, what didn’t sit right with me was the silent customisable protagonist they wanted to try out, and free-flowing framework for the overall story.
Starting Far Cry 5, as soon as my friends began calling me by their inventive nicknames “Rook” and “Dep”, my eyes began to roll. As much as the fearsome introduction of Joseph Seed left me uneasy and intrigued, I’d already lost half my interest. Far Cry games are about dropping a civilised character into a world that wishes to change them, turn them, or kill them.
Jason Brody from Far Cry 3 gets stripped of his comfortable Californian douchebag persona until only a monster remains, one that he kinda likes being. Ajay Ghale from Far Cry 4 converted from a troubled teen turning his life around, to realising that perhaps being King of Kyrat was a better fit for him, even if it meant killing along the way. As much as you may agree or disagree on your opinions of these characters, you can’t deny you came to these conclusions after hearing them speak. In my opinion, there are not many places in the first-person shooter genre for a silent protagonist, especially in an open world game.
Never leaving the first-person perspective gives you a look into their world; what they see, and how they see it. Sewing up the protagonist’s lips except for grunts and breaths of air makes the already huge open world seem much emptier than first imagined. It made me feel like my character didn’t need to overcome anything, as long as they soaked up bullets. Your friends-for-hire – the ones you save or recruit along the way – can talk to you, but you can’t talk to them? You never get that extra insight into their lives; their characters are just like those dolls with the strings on their backs. Jess Black may have finally found her purpose after the break down of civilisation, but my God, I do NOT need to hear it every 15 steps. Hell, there’s even cues to give in to John Seed – Joseph’s younger brother – and scream out “YES!” to his cause, but they leave it at a button press and a slight camera shake. A massive missed opportunity in my book to give just a hint of immersion.
All that aside, you drag yourself through Hope County to rescue your friends, and to ultimately, track down and kill Joseph Seed and send the peaceful country setting back the way it was. However, as mentioned above, you must track down and kill each of his siblings in their own regions. They’re all following the will of Joseph in recruiting only soldiers willing to work towards cleansing the world. The way of getting through these regions and ridding them of the filth is by gaining resistance points until you finally get to their story conclusions. Getting to these conclusions, I won’t deny it; it was a struggle. I’ve never understood the con that open world games give you too much to do. To me, I love having the choice, however, the lack of overall structure seriously overwhelmed me, and the bland nature of these missions failed to engage me.
To make up the resistance points, you complete whatever you want, as long as it aids your cause. Random and absolute IRRELEVANT missions given to you by flavourless NPCs may give you a slight points boost, but absolutely no substance. There may as well have been a sign with big red paint saying “SHOOT DOWN 3 SATELLITE DISHES”. Sure, they get you to the intense cutscenes quicker but paired with the silent protagonist who may as well just be a naked mannequin, holy hell, it sure made this game feel so much longer than it needed to be. If you tried to follow the story at all by picking up missions from the characters they actually name, then hats off to you. I tried, I really did. I just didn’t care. As the player, I was given the choice of what to care about, and the only thing that got me through was the huge world and the frequent trucks to blow up.
In saying this, the story itself isn’t half bad. If they’d kept to the linear path, I can only imagine this would have been a story that stuck with me for years. At different story beats through each region, you get struck down against your will (sometimes mid-mission) and taken to a secluded area – mostly underground bunkers. While being held prisoner, you listen to the (chosen) antagonist talk and talk about their big plan to rid society of the dirt and to be born again into a clean world. These cutscenes and gameplay sequences are really what you work towards. Getting to them felt like you had reached a goal, that the hours you just put in accomplished something. Even if you take down all the outposts, the trucks still keep on coming; there’s never any less bad guys to defeat, so the close up faces of your enemies as they try to convert you to their cause is where things actually get interesting.
These cutscenes also break up the monotonous collection missions, and convoy destroying gameplay. They were definitely what I looked forward to every time I picked up the controller, especially when they started to break down their hard outer shell right before their deaths. They were scared, and they didn’t even know if Joseph’s end of the world ramblings were true, but they followed blindly anyway because Joseph told them to.
John’s dying words of “What if Joseph is right?”; Faith’s screams of “He plied me with drugs (…) I was seventeen! You think I wanted this?!”; Jacob’s speech of “I don’t know if he talks to God, it doesn’t matter.” They were all fearsome in their own way, and their deaths were what made this game’s story strong, had Ubisoft given it a chance to be strong in the first place. After each sibling’s death, there’s a quick scene with Joseph alone in a dark room discussing his thoughts and what he’s going to do to you if he catches you, however, afterwards, it’s as if they never existed. And if I’m being honest, by the time I took down Faith, I had completely forgotten what John’s role in this big plan was. I can only imagine this disconnect occurred due to the extended period of monotonous gameplay in between the bosses.
Then, we get to the end.
We knew the ending was going to be the showdown with Joseph after defeating his siblings. Everything we’d done so far was leading to this conclusion. We FINALLY get to kill Joseph Seed. It’s what we came to Hope County for. It’s what we killed all those people for. So, after a brief combat sequence where you win back all your possessed friends (although, if I’m being honest, I don’t know who a lot of them are), we finally get him while he’s babbling some Biblical mumbo-jumbo.
Just a quick show of hands, remember that whole nuclear war subplot they were feeding us throughout the game?
YEAH, ME EITHER.
So, it ends with, uh, nuclear war. The world begins to explode, and through the fiery hellscape that is/was Montana, we barely escape. Actually, no, we don’t. Joseph Seed, the Prophet, the one who’s been telling us all along that the end of the world was here, takes us into a bunker. We’re all that’s left. We’re family now. He stares at us with the same intensity I felt playing an entirely different game last year, and it’s over. We’re left with the main menu title card, that was once a sunny outlook on a quaint town, now blown to hell. I was on the absolute edge of my seat, mouth hanging open. I actually felt impressed by this ending. It was bold, it was nihilistic, it was unexpected, and least of all, we’re the ones handcuffed to a bed with the antagonist looming over us. There is no ‘GOOD’ ending, this is all we get! Everything we did, it was all for nothing. Those civilians we saved, dead. The outposts we liberated, destroyed. Everything is just gone. Well played.
However, coming out of it all, I couldn’t help but think “where the hell did all that come from? Was Joseph hiding a bomb all along? Did I miss something obvious?”; I knew there was no way this ending was going to be seen in a good light by the public. I was right. I read many articles discussing how stupid it was, how useless it was. While I don’t disagree about the foolery, I also didn’t feel the hate, until I came across an edit at the bottom of Polygon’s article.
“Update: Shortly after publication, a Ubisoft rep reached out with a correction on the ending.
“Wanted to clarify that in reality, the ending has been hiding in plain sight. Joseph Seed continually says that the end of the world is approaching. The radio news broadcasts hint of a larger problem unraveling outside of Hope County as the game unfolds, like increasing tensions and a world in chaos, stating that nuclear war seems imminent.””
Reading this made me throw my hands in the air. I didn’t hear a word of these broadcasts and seemingly, no one who wrote about their feelings for the ending did either. Perhaps you can chalk it up to some sort of social commentary. Those doomsday theorists you hear about on social media or see on a street corner; you ignore them because of course, they’re going to be wrong. They smell funny and don’t have all their teeth. However, it still just doesn’t sit right within the theme of the game. Within an hour or so of playing, I began wondering how the rest of America isn’t privy to all this information. I could believe the island pirate setting of Far Cry 3, I could understand the dictatorship of Pagen Min in Far Cry 4, but had no one tried to fly over the mountains for help? Not a single person escaped the county in this time? After a while, you kind of disregard any realism that there could be, because, video games, but then they end this game almost saying “you got so engrossed in this world you forgot about what’s outside the walls, huh?” No! I didn’t!
However, to be fair, looking back at the clues throughout the game via YouTube, I can see where this ending came from. The fact that Joseph was predicting the end of times; the fact that he was growing a community of strong-willed people who had to do what was necessary to survive, the fact that they kept their people in underground bunkers and YOU destroyed them.
Hell, listen to John’s final speech:
“What if Joseph is right? Did you ever stop to think about that? Everyone thinks he’s crazy, but he’s not. Look around you, this is a world on the brink. You can feel it in your bones, look at the headlines, look who’s in charge. You want this key (to the bunker)? You think you’re saving people but they’re already safe. We had a plan. You don’t understand, you don’t believe, you don’t care?! May God have mercy on your soul.”
Ubisoft, I understand what you’re trying to do, and perhaps had there not been another 10+ hours of randomised sandbox gameplay after his speech, I would’ve put two and two together. And I understand your love for dramatic storytelling with an overwhelmingly evil protagonist, but you can’t have it both ways. If you wanted me to experience the game the way you hoped, with the side-plot of a world on the brink of total annihilation, give me a damn good reason to care. I listened to podcasts while ticking the boxes along the way, I listened to music while I ran through the world because it was made very obvious, very quickly, that none of the side quests mattered to the story overall. Bland as hell NPCs, annoying friends-for-hire, and a silent hero is not what was needed to spice up the Far Cry games, despite what all the reviews say.
I said I enjoyed the ending – I’m not lying – and the reflection on all that happened with the Seed siblings made sense in hindsight, and has even gained praise from me that wasn’t there before, but the sandbox approach wasn’t best suited for something this massive. It didn’t work for me, and if you look hard enough, you can see it didn’t work for other gamers either. I can appreciate how this world was put together, but perhaps, in this case, less is more.