Far Cry 5 is five this year, so Ryan pays a return visit to what is still a hugely entertaining open-world romp – and possibly the best unofficial A-Team game ever made.
I’m in rural Montana, driving around in my van with my buddies in tow. In the back I have Jess Black – a hooded, sharp-tongued archery expert. In the skies above I have Nicky Rye, my mullet-owning pilot, who’s adept at swooping down on enemy encampments, raining down bullets and bombs, all while loudly swearing.
In the dozens of hours I’ve sunk into Far Cry 5, I’ve puttered around the game’s doomsday cult-controlled state, rescuing innocents from wild-eyed acolytes armed with guns and beards. I’ve retrieved a sweet old lady’s pet mountain lion by leaving a trail of meaty chunks for it to follow. I’ve picked through scattered piles of dog poo, searching for the key that will unlock a hidden bunker full of loot. I’ve landed a biplane upside down with unwitting precision, right in front of a cultist convoy, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Originally released in March 2018, Far Cry 5 was released to a minor shudder of controversy; its depiction of a (fictional) US county in the grip of right-wing religious extremists potentially seemed a bit too near-the-knuckle given the real-world tensions gripping the country during the Trump administration. The game’s opening certainly hints at something dark and nasty: via glitchy mobile phone footage, we’re introduced to cult leader Joseph Seed, a rail-thin, claptrap-spouting figure partial to executing people next to his own pulpit. The view then switches to first-person interactive mode, casting the player as a Deputy charged with wading into a church and personally slapping a pair of handcuffs around Seed’s skinny wrists.
The tension positively crackles as the Deputy and a group of other law enforcement-types trudge nervously towards Seed’s church. Seed’s acolytes are everywhere, spitting out threats and waving firearms. As you help apprehend Seed and usher him back to a waiting helicopter, the suspense builds. It’s obvious something’s going to go horribly wrong – it’s only a case of when.
One fiery helicopter crash later, and you’re stranded in the middle of Hope County, Montana, all chances of outside support gone. The only option left is to scavenge what weapons you can and help a small but tenacious resistance group take back the region from Seed’s acolytes, one farm, petrol station and barn at a time.
As the tension from that dark and bloody opening ebbs, it becomes clear that Ubisoft Montreal isn’t remotely interested in making some bleak, button-pushing comment on America’s distinctly uneasy relationship with religion and heavy firearms. Whether it meant to or not, what the studio actually made is the closest we’re likely to get to an action sandbox based on The A-Team.
For readers too young to remember, The A-Team was a 1980s TV series about a small group of neurotic ex-Vietnam veterans who drove around the US in a van, helping ordinary people with their problems. In one episode, they might be helping a small truck-towing business from being run out of business by violent rivals; in another, they’d be protecting a small town’s fire station from being run out of business by – you guessed it – violent rivals.
It was formulaic and delightfully silly, not least because, in a series where people reliably fired machine guns at each other, nobody ever got shot. Aside from one fractious episode where Howling Mad Murdock (Dwight Shultz) got shot in the shoulder, bullets tended to either hit background objects or kick up dust around bad guys’ feet. There was even an amazing incident where some villains riding a helicopter slammed at top speed into the side of a hill. Not long after the ensuing fireball died down, the bad guys were seen running away from the wreckage without a scratch.
Far Cry 5 is much, much gorier than The A-Team, and for important gameplay reasons, people are regularly shot and killed. But what Ubisoft’s game shares with that old eighties TV series is its sheer goofiness. We aren’t quite talking Just Cause levels of outright absurdity, where you can surf on the wing of a fighter jet, but it all the same, there are plenty of silly things happening in Hope County – eccentric characters with weird side quests, and encounters clearly created by writers who weren’t taking their brief entirety seriously. One quest – essentially a boss battle – involves shooting a wild feline capable of absorbing hundreds or rounds of anti-tank ammunition.
The various interactions between systems also create their own forms of immersive goofiness. Within days of Far Cry 5’s release, YouTube was awash with videos in which NPCs’ dramatic monologues are interrupted, mid-flow, by savage bear attacks. Every player will have experienced their own variations on these, whether it’s animals appearing at random moments or the game’s AI playing up in hilarious ways. I’ve watched with detached bemusement as a bearded villain attempted to throw a hand grenade at me as I ascended a ladder, only for the device to drop back down and explode at the goon’s feet, instantly killing him and the five other bad guys waiting to climb up the ladder after me.
Far Cry 5 also shares plenty of The A-Team’s teatime-action-show good-naturedness. For all the bullet-strewn violence, missions often conclude with smiling, wholesome-looking locals repopulating the places you’ve just liberated. Farms once encircled by menacing chaps with guns are replaced by happy workers picking and packing vegetables. Boarded-up bars and petrol stations once again buzz with life and commerce. Apart from the shattered corpses of your enemies strewn about the place, it’s all quite utopian.
A few hours into the game, and you’ll start to assemble your own merry band of buddies (or ‘Guns for Hire’), who’ll happily join you as you potter around Montana. These buddies don’t even have to be human; among the furrier characters you can add to your crew are a dog named Patches and the mountain mentioned above.
Going on missions with my buddies have given me some of my most joyous moments in Far Cry 5. There’s something quite special about planning and executing a benighted raid on a marina lousy with Seed acolytes – quietly moving your buddies into position, picking off the snipers guarding the perimeter, before calling in Sweary Nick to provide air support. I love it when a plan comes together. Single-player survival games can feel a bit lonely at times, so the ability to assemble your own gang of crack commandos feels refreshingly sociable (and far less fraught with potential problems than, say, playing online with flesh-and-blood, annoying humans).
Simply tearing around Hope County, offing bad guys and solving people’s problems is so much fun that it’s almost annoying when Ubisoft barges in with its chunks of story. Far Cry 5’s plot isn’t necessarily bad, but its villains are studiously bland, and most of the cut-scenes trap you in a scene with them as they spout inane stuff about the wages of sin.
I was particularly irked when, just as I’d pulled off an A-Team-style defence of a church from marauding villains, one wielding a flamethrower, I was suddenly whisked off to a story mission (The Confession) that trapped me in a bunker full of villains and tasked me with finding a means of escape. I mean, sure, sneaking around, throwing knives and baseball bats at what looks like members of Pantera is fun and everything, but I just wanted to get back to my van and my buddies. I was so keen to do so, in fact, that I found myself skipping a cut-scene where Joseph Seed’s brother John – one of several family members you have to bring down in the game – talked religious gobbledygook at me while I was tied to a chair. Torture me if you like, John – just don’t bore me to death.
Five years on, and Far Cry 5 is still a cracking sandbox game. Far Cry 6 may have more dramatic heft, and a more interesting villain thanks to the always-reliable Antón Castillo in that role, but its 2018 predecessor still remains a good-humoured blast. No, Far Cry 5 doesn’t hold up a fractured mirror to a divided America; instead, it has players liberating dusty old petrol stations and pumpkin farms with a mixture of heavy artillery and a pet mountain lion. And sometimes, that’s enough.
Read more: The politics of open-world games