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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (348)

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Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Fallout 4 3/5
Tomba! 5/5
Odallus: The Dark Call 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 4/5
Call of Juarez: Bound i... 3/5
Drakkhen 3.5/5
Unravel 3.5/5
Zero-K 2/5
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes... 4.5/5
AereA 1/5

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Far Cry 5   PC (Steam) 

Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamentalism    4/5 stars

“Far Cry 5” is, ironically, the 12th game in the long-running ‘Far Cry’ franchise, which was started shortly before the advent of the dire 7th Generation, in 2004, by a small-time developer called Crytek, but published by that French hive of scum and villainy known as Ubisoft. Soon after the release of the original “Far Cry,” Ubisoft simply bought out the IP and has been developing the sequels in-house ever since (hence why there are 12 of them in 16 years).

As but one of the uncontrolled deluge of samey FPSes that started receiving 7th Generation console ports of PC originals, the ‘Far Cry’ series wasn’t even a blip on my radar early on. It wasn’t until the release of “Far Cry 3” on consoles and its accompanying advertising that I was aware of the series and became able to differentiate it from the similarly-titled ‘Crysis,’ which was, at the time, a meme revolving around the impossible PC hardware specs required to run it. When ‘Far Cry’ did manage to separate itself from the mob, it was largely due to the grating, over-the-top villains present in “Far Cry 3” and “Far Cry 4.”

When it was announced, however, “Far Cry 5” finally grabbed my interest and held it steady. Instead of aping a generic Action Hero movie, as did its early predecessor, “Far Cry 5” would attempt to tell a modern-day tale about the biggest bogeyman our society must deal with, yet continually ignores: Religious extremism. This is exactly the type of tale I think more media needs to address, so I set aside my usual disdain for Ubisoft, my general disinterest in modern/postmodern settings, and persnicketiness about the FPS genre in order to finally dip my toes into the ‘Far Cry’ series. I wasn’t disappointed.

Presentation
“Far Cry 5” is built in the most current version of the Dunia Engine, which is a modified version of the hoary old CryEngine developed by Crytek back in the day, and from which the series garners its name. From a design standpoint, “Far Cry 5” is a monumental accomplishment, with incredible, realistic environments, well-animated people and animals, and extensive face-capture and motion-capture technology used to bring proxies of actual actors into the game as 3D models. Unfortunately, this is still an Ubisoft game we’re talking about, so minor – often humorous – visual glitches about. I saw my first goof within less than 5 minutes of starting the game, as a deranged individual waved a club at me… which had the handle protruding through his wrist. These visual glitches aren’t harmful to the game long-term, however, they do a fine job of breaking the immersion which the game tries so hard to build, what with its minimalist HUD.

Audiowise, “Far Cry 5” is pretty much what you’d expect from a big “AAA” game. There’s some bland, forgettable ambient music that plays occasionally, but for the most part, exploration is unaccompanied. There are also radios throughout the game that play either licensed Oldies or special compositions created for the game, depending on which station they’re tuned to. I could have gone for a ‘Fallout’-like option that allows the player to listen to these tunes wherever they are… but that may have proven distracting in a game that focuses significantly on stealth at times. As an “AAA” game, voiceacting (and occasionally visual likeness) is handled by real, legitimate actors, though no one on the huge casting roll is a big enough name to sink the budget all on their own.

Technically, “Far Cry 5” is pretty solid for a “AAA” Ubisoft title. I never experienced a crash, and the only non-graphical glitch I ran into was in the post-game DLC, and I was able to fix it just by reloading my game. Still, “Far Cry 5” is not exactly a bed of roses from a technical perspective. First, there’s the omnipresent DRM… TWO layers of it, with both Denuvo and Uplay crapping up the game. It also very much wants to be an online-only experience, which could become problematic in the future. Then there’s the absolute disaster that is the game’s default keybinds. While “Far Cry 5” does include native Xinput support, which works fine, I play all my FPSes with a Razer Hydra, and in order to access the Hydra’s superior aiming features, I’m forced to remap keyboard controls. While this shouldn’t be an issue, some FPSes – “Far Cry 5” among them – use absolutely horrendous default layouts for their controls and make it impossible to rebind a handful of commands (though the rest are rebindable), and make it doubly impossible to employ sane context-sensitivity to make the same key do different things depending on in-game circumstances. It’s just mindboggling that a modern PC game can get away with this… but then the people who gleefully use typewriters to control their games seem to like how cumbersome it is, and nobody apparently wants to rock that particular boat.

Story
“Far Cry 5” offers a narrative exploring the potential of Evangelical Christian religious extremism to become militant in modern America. Our hero is the mute, nameless, genderless (can be male or female) Rookie Deputy to the U.S. Marshal’s office. In the company of the Marshal himself as well as the local sheriff, our hero finds themselves serving an arrest warrant for one Joseph Seed, who is accused of kidnapping. Joseph Seed is the charismatic leader (portrayed admirably by actor Greg Bryk) of a group of heavily-armed militant Christians which has taken over the fictional Hope County, Montana, building up its resources and recruiting from the local Montanans known as ‘preppers,’ in preparation for an apocalyptic event known in ‘Father’ Joseph Seed’s Evangelical writings as “The Collapse.” Together with his two brothers and sister, Seed’s activities, which started out as innocuously as Revivalist tent sermons, has become increasingly aggressive, with frequent assault, coercion, financial pressure, and the afore-mentioned kidnappings.

As our Rookie hero and their allies cuff Joseph Seed and take him into custody, amidst his prophetic, Biblical ramblings (which closely parallel the book of “Revelation”), everything goes sideways, Seed escapes, and the law enforcement team gets separated. It soon becomes everyone for themselves, as Seed’s siblings capture most of the team, leaving the Rookie the unenviable task of rescuing them, breaking the Seeds’ hold on the county, and fulfilling the original arrest warrant.

In order to break the fanatical, zealous hold on the county, it’s necessary to build up resistance amongst the un-converted population. Our hero will meet and assist a large number of people spread across Hope County, most of whom just ooze folksy charm and quirkiness.

Unfortunately, “Far Cry 5” takes the easy, less-controversial way out by declaring that the religious fanatics it portrays are a ‘cult,’ and thus completely outside the bounds of what one should expect from normal Christians. Heck, there’s even an Episcopal pastor (I assume, since he wears a white collar but clearly isn’t Catholic) who serves as a key ally through 1/3 of the game. However, as groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (just to name the most obvious example) have shown us, mainstream Evangelical Protestantism can easily reach unplumbed depths of depravity without the use of narrative crutches like hypnotism and mind-altering drugs, as employed by the antagonists in “Far Cry 5.” Alas, Ubisoft was too afraid to point out the truth, that Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam, by virtue of their shared cultural heritage, both have the requisite DNA to breed fanaticism and terrorism.

Another lapse in judgment on the part of the “Far Cry 5” writing team is the way in which encounters with the main cast of villains are structured. As an open-world game with a large degree of freedom, progress through the main plot is based entirely on a Resistance Meter that appears on the world map. In each of the three regions controlled by Joseph Seed’s siblings, the player’s activities to build resistance against the cult’s activities gradually fill this meter, which is marked with three dots. Each dot represents the player building enough resistance to catch the local cult leader’s attention, which results in the player being kidnapped and forced to escape from a cult compound. Every. Single. Time. Not only does this story structure become incredibly formulaic after the first two times the player experiences a kidnapping, but the kidnappings themselves are incredibly ham-handed.

Still, in spite of its faults, I enjoyed the narrative and the concepts presented in “Far Cry 5” quite a bit. The constant references to the book of “Revelation” provide a nice subplot to follow; the villains are well-written as the kind of self-righteous asshats I love to hate, yet they aren’t completely one-dimensional; and the backdrop of rural Montana culture lends a sense of believability to the whole thing. “Far Cry 5” even managed to throw me for a loop with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming, which is a rarity.

After the main campaign is over, Season Pass owners can play through three side-stories that are tangentially-related to things in the main story:

The first DLC is entitled “Hours of Darkness,” and takes place during the Vietnam War. Tied to the main story by a side-quest in which a Vietnam veteran asks the player to recover a bunch of stolen cigarette lighters, each inscribed with a fragment of a door code, “Hours of Darkness” puts the player in the footsteps of that NPC as he tries to reach an extraction point after a helicopter crash. I found this DLC to be short and boring, as I have no interest in Vietnam or traditional war stories in general.

The second DLC is entitled “Lost on Mars,” and follows the comical and completely outrageous exploits of a pair of good ol’ boys who happen to be recruitable NPC companions during the main story, Nick and Hurk (short for Hercules). This sci-fi adventure involves alien abductions and an impending invasion of Earth, which only two of Montana’s finest intellectuals (read: complete idiots) can attempt to fix. “Lost on Mars” features tons of ridiculous dialogue to go along with its implausible scenario, but between the dumb humor and a few excellent new gameplay mechanics, I quite enjoyed it.

The third and final DLC is entitled “Dead Living Zombies,” and is tied to the main story through a side quest in which the player assists a hack movie director named Guy Marvel, who is attempting to film some scenes for his latest horror schlock movie in Montana during the cult takeover. “Dead Living Zombies” doesn’t take the form of a standard Sandbox FPS as does the rest of “Far Cry 5,” but is instead a series of seven linear stages, wrapped in the trappings of bad Guy Marvel movie pitches to a variety of thinly-veiled movie producer look-alikes (That’s totally not Oprah or Stan Lee in there. Nope!). Not only is “Dead Living Zombies” short, linear, and filled with zombie stupidity, but the entire DLC is intentionally designed around speedrunning and high-scoring, which seems to be the antithesis of what a ‘Far Cry’ player would want. It was awful… but at least parts of it were funny.

All told, “Far Cry 5” is rather compact for a Sandbox game. I experienced all of the content in the main game and all three DLC packs, and the play time shook out to 30 hours for the main game, 4 hours for the Vietnam DLC, 6 hours for the Mars DLC, and 2 hours for the Zombie DLC, for a grand total of 42 hours. When Bethesda Sandbox games last hundreds of hours and don’t provide a significantly better experience, I’m inclined to say that the Ubisoft Sandbox formula might actually be the better of the two.

Gameplay
Having never touched a ‘Far Cry’ game before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard horror stories about how ‘Far Cry’ games are basically Radio Tower-Climbing Simulators, and how the world map is so covered in white icons that it looks like a baby vomited icon-shaped cereal all over it, and how all of the missions are the same… yet I didn’t find “Far Cry 5” to be that way at all.

“Far Cry 5” is a fairly straight-forward Sandbox Shooter. After a short introductory mission that sets the scene for the events to follow, the player is dropped in the center of a large world map and is free to go wherever they want in pursuit of the ultimate goal of building resistance to the Seed family’s religious cult, eliminating Joseph Seed’s siblings (and thus their leadership and influence over various cogs in the cult’s overall apparatus), and eventually confronting ‘Father’ Joseph Seed himself. Heading in any of three directions from the center of the map leads the player into different territories controlled by different Seed siblings, but there is no ‘correct’ order in which to tackle them, nor is there anything forcing the player to stay in one territory until it is completely liberated.

Building resistance to the Seed cult is largely a function of helping the locals and showing them that by making their own show of force, they actually can push back against the cult’s omnipresent threats of violence. The world map starts off with a few suggestions as to where the player should start looking for locals to help in each region. For the most part, though, the player will find new locations simply by stumbling upon them while exploring, asking individual locals (who are marked with a [!] to designate that they know something useful), or finding and reading maps.

Mission types are also not nearly as homogenous as the series is accused of being. Each region does include an overarching ‘Destroy Cult Assets” mission and a Collect-A-Thon or two, but those are generally quite sparse. Many of the game’s missions consist of liberating outposts from cult control and allowing resistance members to move in (thus opening weapon and/or vehicle shops, depending on the location), however outpost missions are far from the only things to do in the game. The majority of actual story missions are fairly unique, and usually involve helping a specific important resistance member with any manner of things that need doing. Main missions run the gamut from rescuing people, to recovering stolen supplies and/or vehicles, to collecting Rocky Mountain Oysters for the local testicle festival. In between all of these various missions, the player is also free to hunt-down and crack-open a large number of abandoned prepper bunkers, where all manner of valuable loot awaits. In between actual missions, as an open-world Sandbox, all manner of dynamic confrontations can occur with no real context surrounding them. Cultists patrol seemingly everywhere, while Montana’s local wildlife is free to prowl around as it pleases. This can lead to serendipitous moments where a bear randomly charges into an occupied locations and kills most of the cult members without the player lifting a finger… or it can go the other way, where the player barely survives a heated firefight with several pickup truckloads of cultists only to be killed by an enraged turkey afterwards (yes, that actually happened).

Unlike ‘The Elder Scrolls’ series, ‘Far Cry’ knows it is not an RPG. However, “Far Cry 5” includes a number of very well-implemented Action/Adventure elements that could confuse the easily-confused into thinking it is an RPG of some sort. The player character has a skill tree, and can spend various amounts of Perk Points in order to unlock perks from this tree. These range from things like a parachute to stop falling damage (which is still annoyingly difficult to mitigate at times), bigger ammo bags for various types of weapons, improved accuracy and less sway with various types of weapons, more health… the whole nine yards. There is no experience system, however, and Perk Points are earned both by doing various things in game (getting a certain number of kills with a certain weapon category, hunting a certain quantity of wildlife, etc.) and by finding Skill Magazines hidden all over the world (but mostly in prepper bunkers).

“Far Cry 5” only allows the player to carry one long gun and a side arm at first, but there are perks that can expand the player’s arsenal to three long guns and a sidearm. There are also a number of ‘special case’ weapons of various categories that count as a sidearm, despite not being a pistol. The arsenal available to the player is quite large, but bolstered to insanity with the Season Pass. It includes pistols, semi-auto rifles, full-auto rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, bows, grenade launchers, and rockets. To top that off, melee sits in its own category, as do thrown explosives, giving the player plenty of weaponry at their disposal, even before unlocking the additional holster slots. In general, though, I found that not all weapons in “Far Cry 5” are created equal, and that a few types (grenade launchers, full-auto rifles, and the ONE non-bolt-action sniper rifle in the game) handily outclassed everything in certain other categories (SMGs, shotguns, and pistols). “Far Cry 5’s” arsenal also includes a reasonably robust modding system, allowing the player to stick whatever sight/scope they want on their guns, as well as silencers and expanded magazines. Further, the way weapon purchasing works is incredibly user friendly: Once a player buys a gun or a mod, it can be reacquired for free from any gun merchant in the case it is lost or stolen.

“Far Cry 5” can also be played in a number of different ways. I know that there is a significant audience out there that is, for whatever reason, obsessed with Stealth, even in non-Stealth games. “Far Cry 5” awards bonus money for clearing missions undetected, but the bonus is really just that – a non-mandatory extra prize for doing something a specific way. Going loud is just as viable, though the ‘Far Cry’ series makes use of a somewhat unique method of pointing out enemies that can lead to an abrupt surprise death for those who opt to forego stealth altogether. See, in most modern FPSes, enemies are highly visible. They might have a pip above them or a big obnoxious health bar. Or maybe they’re highlighted in red. “Far Cry 5” opts place no gameplay markers on enemies until the player takes action to do so, either by aiming at a target for a few seconds or by scouting the potential target with their binoculars. Enemies tagged in this way gain a red pip and red highlighting (as per the standard) while friendlies and neutrals get blue and white pips respectively.

In addition to weapons and explosives, the player also gains access to a handful of consumable ‘homeopathics,’ that essentially act as potions, providing a temporary buff. Due to the way the enemy targeting system works, the only homeopathic to EVER use is Ultimate Hunter, which temporarily auto-marks all enemies within the player’s field of view.

It is my understanding that previous ‘Far Cry’ games have been fairly lonely experiences, with one reluctant hero pitted against an entire evil organization. “Far Cry 5” mixes that up a bit by allowing the player to recruit 9 NPC companions of various types, up to two of whom can accompany the player into every situation except for the previously-mentioned forced kidnappings. It’s even possible to bring in a friend for online coop, whose avatar will fill one of the companion slots. I greatly appreciated the ability to bring backup with me in “Far Cry 5,” and was shocked at how much better the companion system was than – say it with me – the one in ‘The Elder Scrolls’ games. Unfortunately, having companions isn’t without its downsides, as I found that, as entertaining as their banter might be, most of the AI companions are absolute trash. Whether it’s the middle-aged cougar helicopter pilot who can’t stop talking about her many male conquests while simultaneously getting shot out of the sky, or the actual cougar who stealths too deeply into enemy territory and gets killed, or the redneck imbecile with the incendiary shotgun rounds who can’t stop setting grass and buildings on fire, or the stealth archer who is constantly on the opposite side of the county from the player’s location, the old maxim, “good help is hard to find,” holds painfully true. I ended up almost exclusively using Nick Rye, a pilot who never leaves his plane but does an adequate job of keeping cult pilots off the player’s back and occasionally makes a decent bombing run, and Boomer, a dog who sticks close the player, does stealth more subtly than the other beast companions, and who auto-marks enemies by pointing them. Of course, for those who hate all 9 of the main companions, it’s actually possible to recruit ANY non-cultist in the game, who will join-up toting randomly generated weapons and perks (the latter of which unlock as they get kills).

Finally, "Far Cry 5" isn't just a game about running around Montana on foot, killing lots of insane Christians. It's also a game about driving vehicles while killing insane Christians. There are numerous types of vehicle in the game, and the player is free to drive any of them: Cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, tractors with mulchers attached to the front, boats, jetskis, helicopters, and airplanes are all scattered around Hope County, just waiting for someone to take them for a spin. While this ready availability of vehicles is authentic and provides the player with a lot of options, in practice, most of the vehicles have somewhat iffy controls that take getting used to, the default keymapping for driving is truly horrific, and some vehicles, like airplanes, are just not fun to drive, even with practice.

Overall
Aside from the fact that “Far Cry 5” is an Ubisoft game, with the expected visual glitches and layers of DRM, the end product is actually quite good. Between the refined Sandbox FPS gameplay and the topic of the narrative – which may be uncomfortable for some, but religious extremism is something that needs to be addressed in our entertainment media now more than ever – it provides an experience that is anything but samey. The Season Pass, however, is not a great value, with only “Lost On Mars” proving itself worth the price of purchase.

Presentation: 3/5
Story:
Main Game: 4/5
Hours of Darkness: 3/5
Lost on Mars: 4/5
Dead Living Zombies: 2/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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