Welcome back to our Game In Progress review of Far Cry 5. Our second installment covers the violent, drug-fueled liberation of the Henbane River region, up through the battle with Faith Seed.
There’s music playing somewhere close by as I crest the ridge, gun in hand, eyes peeled, as ever, for Peggies (Far Cry 5's cheerfully folksy nickname for its uniformly murderous enemy hordes). The song’s not any of the apocalyptic cult nonsense that’s always blaring from the radios in this area, either, but a soulful guitar tune, echoing in the Montana night and coming from a guy I suddenly notice seated calmly around a nearby fire. Surprised at the moonlit beauty of the moment, I stop, unacknowledged by the musician or his companion, and just stand there listening for a few seconds. It’s a rare moment of peace for Far Cry 5, a game so willing to deluge the player with quips, story dialogue, and general game-related shouting that you’ll often have to parse multiple pieces of post-mission radio chatter at the same time, each overlapping and vying for the player’s attention. On the quiet mountaintop, I breathe the music in for a minute, and then slip down into the valley that was my original target, intent on taking yet another cult encampment apart piece by bloody piece.
The overstimulation is rough all over Hope County, but it’s at its worst here in the Henbane River region, where the cult’s “siren,” Faith Seed, holds sway. That one-word description of Faith’s character— evocative as it is of a thousand poorly drawn, embarrassingly animated video game femme fatales—elicited a cringe the first time I saw it, but her depiction in Far Cry 5 is refreshingly unsexualized. Instead, walking barefoot in a white dress while giggling among the butterflies, Faith serves as the Project At Eden’s Gate’s child-like “Good Cop,” cheerfully emphasizing the belonging, certainty, and happiness that the cult’s members feel, a message only somewhat diminished by the fact that she likes to make her case through the over-application of a mind-controlling hallucinogenic drug called “The Bliss.”
Each of the game’s three regions has a different way to show that the area’s “herald” is getting fed up with your efforts to rally the regular folks and fight back, and Faith’s particular approach uses Bliss by the barrel load. The conceit is that the entire region is so suffused with the stuff—and that cult leader Joseph Seed’s adopted “sister” is so adept at getting into people’s heads—that everyone in the area is hallucinating constantly. It’s a neat idea in theory, leading to you seeing fake Faiths traipsing through the valley’s fields. In practice, though, it means you’ll frequently find yourself fending off a bunch of cultists who take a few bullets before suddenly transforming into attacking animals or “Angels,” drug-ruined crazies who serve as the game’s stand-ins for zombies. These constant ambushes back off once Faith is finally dead—after a boss fight far more boring than any battle in a hallucinated heavenscape has any right to be—but as you reach the second half of your time in Henbane, there’s a deluge of fake/real enemies barging into even the slightest moment of peace. As a goad to finish off the region, it’s obnoxiously effective, but for a game whose best moments often come in the quiet margins, the distraction is unwelcome.
Also unwelcome: The increased ham-handedness of the region’s “brainwashing” sequences, which break out at periodic intervals as Faith suddenly whites out your screen and “welcomes you to The Bliss.” While her torture-minded brother John had similar player-capture sequences, those at least had an undeniable, visceral nastiness to them. But Faith’s “let’s all be friends” approach lacks any similar kind of punch, not because her message is any less insidious or evil, but because these hazy, dream-like sections are so tightly controlled and scripted. Faith makes a hard sell and the game does its best to make the case that your character is falling for her spiel, giving you instructions, like “Throw yourself off a building,” that have to be followed if you want to progress. But it all rings hollow, precisely because the player never has any agency here.
That made sense for John’s sequences, which were all about powerlessness and control, but if part of the point Ubisoft is trying to make here is how seductive the good-feeling parts of being in a cult can be, the game undercuts itself by not giving the player any option to buy into Faith’s bullshit (and by attributing most of her manipulative prowess to a quasi-magical, irresistible drug). Cults are scary because they are, on some level, voluntary, but Faith’s Bliss-soaked brainwashing glosses over that element entirely. Her capture sequences do serve their basic purpose—keeping the focus on the region’s villain, by giving you occasional face-time with them, and layering in a few more of The Father’s eschatological beliefs—but as a building block for a story the game frequently fails to tell about the ways people are seduced into evil, they never rise far above “Just say no.”
That disappointment isn’t helped by the fact that, halfway through this second major area, I started to feel my enthusiasm for Far Cry 5's basic run-drive-shoot action begin to flag. Not coincidentally, that came at about the same time that I purchased the last interesting upgrade in the game’s character-building Perks system, leaving me with nothing to work toward but a bunch of ammo bag expansions and “revive an NPC fighter in less time” bonuses that weren’t setting my heart on fire. I’d also just wrapped up the majority of the parts of the Challenge system that allowed me to purchase those upgrades, meaning I’d suddenly lost two interesting progression systems in one unfortunate swoop.
But for as long as those systems hold out, they’re great; not just as a series of escalating powers for your character, like the ability to sneakily blow up vehicles or wingsuit into any previously visited location, but also as an incentive to mix up how you play. The Challenges work almost like optional tutorials, granting perk points for trying out all the game’s different weapons and AI-controlled companions. It’s never obtrusive, but getting rewarded with a fun new upgrade because I’d remembered to give shotguns a try—instead of my customary long rifles or SMGs—was always a nice treat.
Ditto for the other way the game doles out those initially precious customization points: Prepper Stashes. These bits of environmental scavenger-hunt delights are one of Far Cry 5's truly great additions to the series, replacing the ubiquitous Ubisoft radio tower climb with mini-stories that all have some kind of twist tacked on. Stumble onto—or get clued into—a location where some prescient right-winger squirreled away their anti-Cult supplies, and you’ll be gifted with some sort of small puzzle that’ll let you unlock the waiting cache. (And if there’s something a little hinky in the way the game idolizes the prepper movement like this, it’s all part-and-parcel with the fact that Far Cry 5’s only real political stance is “Thank god somebody bought all these damn guns.”)
In one of these scenarios, I found myself fighting my way through a haunted, Angel-filled mine; in another, I took down a sniper, then used his gun to shoot the lock off a door at 150 meters. Whereas the game’s story missions can sometimes feel leaden and forced, the stashes all move fast, contain great rewards—at least, as long as you still need perk points to unlock an extra weapon holster or enhance your sneaking skills—and always have a hook. It’s to their credit that I still do one every time I come across it, even if all I’m going to do with the upgrade points is unlock extra slingshot ammo that I’ll never use. I continue to have a similarly enthused reaction to cult outposts, which remain the peak of the series’ signature “tackle this any way you want” approach; the ability to reset these back to active status after the game is over is a welcome treat for anybody looking to do nothing but sneak around, snap necks, and blow shit up.
Hitting the upgrade plateau and losing that feeling of steadily building strength was still a blow, though. As I made my way into Far Cry 5's back half, I caught myself spending long minutes on the game’s map screen, paralyzed by indifference as I contemplated which icon to head to/blow up next. That wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the game’s mission-granting characters are a profoundly uncompelling lot. I had to seriously ask myself whether it was worth the extra plot progression to spend time around yet another violent weirdo with a brain full of unfunny video game “jokes.” The dip in quality in the cult storyline took its toll, too. At some point, I began to feel that old Ubisoft “working through a checklist” malaise start to sink back into my bones, and I realized I was fighting my way through the gun-toting crazies of the Henbane River valley not because I was especially interested in resolving Faith’s story, but simply because I wanted to cross her off my list.
All’s not lost. I still have hopes the game’s militia-themed final region and the finale beyond it will allow some kind of message, good or bad, to seep through this latest batch of feel-good, druggy blandness. There’s also the lure of the game’s potentially infinite, bizarre, player-created-and-curated Far Cry Arcade system. I’ll be dipping into that hodgepodge of weirdness as part of our final installment next week, as I attempt to figure out whether there’s anything more to it than a few poorly programmed co-op experiences, a bunch of blatant Overwatch rip-offs, and some recycled Call Of Duty maps.