Back when I was planning out this article I thought my choice of picture was a bit risky, but since then Ubisoft have blown the whole thing wide open by announcing a canon sequel set in a post apocalypse where Joseph Seed is still alive. Rather than write anything about the announcement of Far Cry New Dawn I’ll just say that I’m opposed to it, I think the ending of FC5 stands alone beautifully and any kind of follow up cheapens it. I will be reviewing it though, and I will try to have an open mind about it, but I really think a sequel is completely unnecessary. Anyway on with the show.
I love Far Cry 5, it’s had a deeply ingrained, lasting effect on me since I finished it and I want to talk about just why I love it so much and why it’s so good. I think it should be obvious at this point but if not: spoilers abound from this point on. I’ll be ripping the thing open and rummaging around quite thoroughly.
Part I: Apocalypse Now or: “The world is on fire and it’s your fault”
So The Father was right, the cult was right; the world has come undone in nuclear fire. The great collapse is upon us, but that’s okay, because the Seed family can enact their plan to heard the populace of Hope County into their missile silos and- oh, right, you killed the Seed family and blew up their missile silos. So now the only people confirmed to survive the apocalypse are you and the man you were sent here to stop. Just you and Joseph Seed at the end of the world, Father and Child, prophet and disciple, whether you like it or not. Quick side note: can you see why a Mad Max-style sequel undermines this? I stand by my statement that this is the best video game ending ever. It’s a bold claim, but I just love how it flips everything on its head in a way that’s so simple, but so effective. You may well have seen it coming, but to take that formula of “Charismatic cult leader foretells the apocalypse” and after tearing down their entire support structure have them be right, that’s a gutsy move, and it ties up the events of the game superbly. I’m glad it’s canon too; I’d seen theories floating around that it’s a hallucination and that the Deputy manages to escape and find out that the world hasn’t been destroyed, but nope: Hope County lies in ruins. That alternative main menu? That’s legit. The world is on fire and it’s your fault, and for what? To be the hero, Spec Ops The Line style? Out of a genuine sense of justice and the desire to help people? As John Seed puts it; you’re trying to save people, but they’re already safe. It’s a question of whether the ends justify the means: the cult use extreme, cruel methods to ensure their numbers, supplies and physical capability, and that’s what the Deputy (whose name appears to be Rook, as it turns out) is trying to stop, but with the revelation that those methods were to prepare for an actual apocalypse and that Rook’s actions have ensured that the number of survivors will be small at best, things take a turn. Is The Father the villain of the story? He’s certainly the antagonist, but is he the villain per se, or is he what TV Tropes refers to as a “Well-Intentioned Extremist”? Of course the question arises: did Joseph actually know the apocalypse was coming? Did God really speak to him as he claims he did? The general explanation for the doom saying is that the world they live in is basically ours, and given the current geopolitical climate nuclear conflict seems inevitable. That’s something I can get behind, but how did Joseph know it was coming, if indeed he did? More importantly, given that the world does end, is that question rendered moot? The world being bathed in Nuclear fire is foreshadowed by Faith, both in dialogue and in Bliss hallucinations. As she puts it: If you don’t listen to him, he’ll be right. The game has these moments of foreshadowing throughout but unlike say the aforementioned Spec Ops The Line, which was very much a subversion of tropes and genre throughout, Far Cry 5 pretends to be a more traditional version of this story until the very end. It even has a big, dumb boss fight with Joseph. You beat him, you free your friends after he quickly kidnapped them all off screen, you’ve finally got him in handcuffs and bam, this isn’t how things are supposed to go. It’s not like the wishy washy “is this really happening” cop out from Outlast 2 (which did the cult thing in far inferior fashion) either: the world really ends, and now you’re stuck with a man who quite rightly hates you. How’s that for subversion?
Part II: Drugs, Gospel Choir and The Platters
I listen to video game soundtracks a lot. As musical accompaniments to visuals they’re required to convey emotion and feeling, or at least augment whatever meaning the visuals and gameplay are going for. Far Cry 5 has multiple soundtracks that all do a brilliant job of that: quick shout out to the “Reinterpretations”of Oh the Bliss and Help Me Faith. The former is an ethereal, dreamlike piece that signifies a trip to Faith’s little pocket dimension, and frames the scene in the game’s amazing opening in which Burke and Rook careen into the lake. The latter is used for Faith’s boss fight and, hauntingly, the vocals evoke the sound of someone struggling to breathe, which is fitting given Faith’s use of bliss gas. Anyway the one I want to talk about is the diagetic album “When the World Falls”; an album of songs performed by the “Hope County Choir” about how great Joseph, Jacob, John and Faith are, how the cult is the way forward and everyone who doesn’t join deserves to burn up in holy fire. It’s a beautiful album but what makes it important is that it plays in-game on radios, bits of it are sung and hummed by goons, and it non-diagetically plays now and then to hammer home certain action beats, like the van crashing during the baptism mission in Holland Valley. See, this part of the article is about how the cult indoctrinates people, and memorable, enjoyable music playing constantly on radios is ingenious. It’s a gentle way to get people on side, introduces them to the cult and the Seed family and even gives them each a bit of context. John’s song is about how he’s a noble, brave soul who’s picking everyone up out of the dirt and marching them to salvation. Jacob’s is about how he’s ruthlessly practical and sometimes you just can’t get through to people with teachings and prayer. Faith’s is about her backstory of woe and despair, and how she longs for the Father’s guidance. Joseph’s offers a pretty complete portrait of a man who’s spent his life thanklessly working for The Man, taking his licks without ever giving into the Devil and how he’s stronger for it, here to lead his flock and save us all. Compare that with Jacob’s use of music: classically conditioning people to fly into a violent rage whenever they hear “Only You” by the platters. Kidnapping Rook, starving them in a cage for days and making them run a gauntlet repeatedly until they instinctively do so inside the base of the cult-opposed Whitetail Militia and kill their leader, Eli. Jacob’s extreme “You’re useful or you’re meat” Social Darwinism and Faith drugging everyone into a highly suggestible stupor with the risk of making them completely brain dead are the more extreme end of the spectrum as far as Eden’s Gate’s activities go, but can still be justified in context. Kidnapping people? If they won’t save themselves from the coming nukes I’ll do it for them. Stealing all their food and supplies? We’ll need to eat and drink when we’re all down in the bunkers. Grinding people down to their primal instincts so they can be shaped into ruthless killing machines? It’ll be a post-apocalypse, who knows what we’ll be up against? The drugging ties into the idea that the cult, perhaps begrudgingly, want to save as many people as they can, even those who oppose them, because Joseph insists upon it. Even by the end of the game after you’ve murdered his family and torn apart his survival plan he still gives you a chance to walk away, and John’s entrance into Eden is conditional entirely upon him getting you to confess your sins and be reborn, so clearly numbers are important to Eden’s Gate. People won’t come willingly? Get them completely off their tits until they understand. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a sucker for a charismatic villain, and it does help that he’s proven right, but I root for Joseph more than I do the resistance. Of course kidnapping people, starving them, torturing them, drugging them silly and stealing all their food and water are heinous acts and I’m not here to defend them in and of themselves, but I will put forward the notion that the ends may well justify the means, or at least they do as far as the Seeds are concerned, and their methods are interesting.
Part III: The Stars Align for Ubisoft’s Open World Formula
Ubisoft’s assembly line approach to open world games turned stale long ago, but somehow they managed to nail it with Far Cry 5 (and Assassin’s Creed Origins but that’s irrelevant to this topic), for a number of reasons. Firstly, the villains. I’ve spoken a lot about them already but I love the different approaches the Seeds have to the situation, each one’s group of missions in their own areas feels like its own little story and they come together to form a whole nicely. I love Joseph, I think he’s easily the best Far Cry villain: his look, his calm manner of speaking that hides a steely, threatening resolve, the fact that his warnings of a coming apocalypse are actually pretty easy to get behind, at least for me. As cult leaders go he’s both accessible and closed off. Relatable and admirable; you can see why people love and revere him in equal measure. Pagan Min was fun, Vaas and Hoyt were key to Jason’s character arc as a reflection and dark milestone respectively, The Jackal was also in a Far Cry game… but Joseph beats them all. I think the game strikes a tonal balance between the more outlandish, wackier elements and the deadly serious ones surprisingly well. You’d think Testy Festy, Hurk, alien artefacts and burning brain dead cultists to “Disco Inferno” would work alongside the opening scene, Joseph talking about euthanising his baby daughter, or everything that happens with Jacob, but it really does.
I actually really like just driving around in Far Cry 5. Don’t get me wrong, I do my fair share of wingsuit/parachute travel but the vast expanses of forest, farmland, lakes and rivers are satisfying to drive through, because a lot of scenery in the United States is bloody lovely, and Montana fits that bill. I like the character creator even though you can’t actually see Rook outside of it, I like cutting around with best girl Jess Black and Cheeseburger, and most of all I like punching key NPCS in the face, reviving them and then punching them again. In particular the racist old woman who owns Peaches the cougar, Hurk’s Dad and the chef in Fall’s End who looks like Steven Seagal. I won’t go into the more general aspects of the game anymore given that I’ve already written a review of the game and gone on for long enough at this point, so I’ll conclude.
Far Cry 5 is, basically, a Ubisoft open world game where the trappings are all good, and in terms of Ubisoft open world games, and Far Cry as a series, it works as well as it can. What makes it special are the story beats woven into that framework, in particular Joseph Seed, his family, the fantastic opening scene straight out of a horror game and the ending, all of which will stay with me. Anyway that’s enough Far Cry for now, we’ll pick it up again seventeen years from now in the surprisingly colourful world that’s risen from Hope County’s ashes.
By James Lambert