If there was anything I used to love about Far Cry, it was the hunting. There is nothing like the steady tension and anticipation of tracking an animal and waiting for just the right moment to take your prey. With the beauty of Far Cry’s environments and its vast menagerie of exotic creatures, it provided endless hours of entertainment. For many years my Saturday mornings have been spent in quiet solitude, basking in the artificial but brilliant Dunia Engine sunlight and creeping through the dense flora, arrow on bow string and Hunter’s Instinct in-hand.
As I play Far Cry 5, I struggle to recapture that feeling. And it’s strange, given the game’s setting. I’m from the West Coast, I grew up in a small wooded farmland not unlike Montana, and you’d think I’d be enthralled that one of my favorite series set its latest game so close to home. But despite their attempts with this installment to move away from some of its stale shooter conventions, it all feels the same. What makes Far Cry special has been repeated, but not improved upon. And in the case of rural American culture, it seems like such a missed opportunity.
Following Far Cry Primal, it’s surprising that Ubisoft did not expand on what made their spin-off title so great. In many ways it was the series’ most honest game, and with its focus on progress and survival made the most sense thematically. While the new companion system of Far Cry 5 allows a certain degree of control over the hired help, the one in Far Cry Primal was more fun. There were a wider variety of animals to tame, and they were easily recruited and dismissed in a way that makes Far Cry 5 seem laborious. Primal also allowed the player to scout locations with their owl companion and tag, attack or bomb enemies several feet away, a feature that could have easily been adapted to Far Cry 5 with a hawk or falcon. By pursuing a “primitive” theme, they added strong strategic elements that made exploring the land (and the primary goal of building and supporting a tribe) more exciting, practical and sincere. The Montana setting would have been an ideal time to perfect that.
Another area of disappointment is the weaponry. Far Cry 5’s guns are boring. While you can purchase better guns and attachment upgrades as your character progresses, the compromise in stats is often unsatisfying and the more powerful guns don’t necessarily seem unique or special, making the grind and slog to purchase them worthless. The authenticity of their models also doesn’t inspire a lot of interest in their individual merits, and personally, having grown up in a culture that treats guns as a hobby, I also think it’s a shame that the game doesn’t seem to address America’s preoccupation with them—for better, or for worse. Guns are not nearly as front-and-center to Far Cry 5’s narrative as they should be, given how ubiquitous they are both in the game and our country. The game neither reflects on nor criticizes them, making their presence seems almost incidental. It’s bizarre.
I’m also a little disenchanted with the performance enhancers crafted with the game’s four types of flora. The system has needed refinement for some time now; in the past, the plants were identified simply by color and could be found in predictable clusters based on their type. As a crafting mechanism it’s always been a little thin, designed more for efficiency than supporting the game’s lore. But in Far Cry 5, no significant improvements have been made. The plants have proper names, but other than that, their presence adds nothing outside of their use as a predictable and nearly infinite resource. As there are few other ways to learn about the setting, or engage the game’s natural environment without destroying it, it seems a shame.
The exploration aspects of the game, which are vital to the experience of hunting and gathering resources, as they allow the player to take the scenery at their own pace, also leave something to be desired. While I’ve seen additions to these elements of Far Cry praised as an improvement, I’m not impressed. The new icons for the locations of key collectibles are helpful, but they’re also revealing. The game wouldn’t need them if each location were a compelling area to search and spend time with in the first place. The radio towers, meanwhile, were removed from the game specifically to encourage players to take the information they need from their surroundings and interact more with the NPCs in order to foster a sense of community. And yet, the game doesn’t ask the player to really value the people they’re supposed to be defending. Characters who reveal nearby stashes and locations can be slaughtered without mercy at any minute. Of those you meet, few are given any substantial dialogue or back story. They’re never more than a helpful stranger at best, encouraging a sense of detachment.
It may seem unfair to zero in on the hunting specifically when the experience hasn’t changed all that much from Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal. But that’s just it. There’s no challenge anymore. The actual hunting process itself is stunted by repetition; it’s nothing we haven’t seen in the three games that came before. There’s always a snake that will hiss and lunge and a bird of prey that will dive and attack, and neither will provide a hide that you can sell or use as an upgrade. There’s always an aggressive, large animal that will charge and run you over, like an elephant, rhino or bison. Deer and wild boar provide bait, predator cats can be seen sneaking and pouncing from the tall grass, and wolves or coyotes or dogs roam the hillsides. Sometimes there’s a territorial flightless bird like the turkey or cassowary. Do all the world’s animals really boil down to this rough handful of types and behaviors?
But in terms of adapting the game to a specific culture, there was so much potential overlooked. All the past times both legal and illegal that I remember from growing up in the country, either directly or by proxy, just aren’t there: tracking, poaching, baiting and trapping, climbing trees, kayaking, riding horses, rock climbing, whitewater rafting. There are certain experiences in the game that I identify with, like fishing in camouflage hip waders, riding ATVs through dusty mountain roads and wondering if the dog that just chased a cougar into the bushes is going to come back alive. But those moments are betrayed by the lack of depth in the areas that are significant in terms of what country life meant to me. Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal, for all their flaws, facilitated a relationship between progression and land, tying together exploration and character advancement. The animals you found and killed as the story went on were roughly timed to coincide with the need for upgrades to ammo storage, establishing a pace for how quickly you opened up new territory. In Far Cry 5 however, those upgrades are tied to Perk points, and skins are only occasionally used in missions. Most often they’re just sold for cold hard cash and used to buy weapons. Outside of the bait that herbivores provide, you don’t use what you kill.
It’s just sad to play a game set in such a beautiful place that doesn’t actually value the land. While purging Hope County of its animals and plants hardly seems to be an expression of love in the first place, the process used to have a more practical purpose, one that made sense to me. White Americans may have an astounding ability to consume and exploit resources, but by now a lot of us know better than to become a one-person extinction event. And where I come from, you keep what you kill, you kill what you eat, and you don’t sell off stacks of skins like some kind of 18th century French trapper.
Ultimately, the rural American trappings of the game’s aesthetic are just set dressing; the mechanics weren’t created to tell a story, the story was written around the mechanics. Expecting more is, as the great Cher Horowitz said, like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. And while I may perceive the Far Cry experience to be wrapped around hunting and gathering, obviously the creators feel otherwise—the game really is, at the end of the day, about conquering outposts in the woods. But all the same, Far Cry needs this. There are so many shooting games out there, and few that offer a quality hunting experience at all, much less one that surpasses even the best Cabela’s Hunter games. And in the absence of good writing, this may be the only way to distinguish themselves from their FPS peers. In fact, it may already be too late—Horizon Zero Dawn has already inspired a loyal fanbase despite being a new IP. They have completely stolen Far Cry’s thunder.
Ubisoft has reached the end of the line in terms of reskinning the Far Cry series. The removal of some of its older conventions is not enough to keep the games modern and competitive with others in their class. And some of its new features are too dated or unnecessary to keep things interesting (a formal companion system should have happened years ago, if at all). If you want to maintain our attention, Ubisoft, play to your strengths. Lean into cultures you portray and give Far Cry an identity of its own.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.