If your tootin' needs a rootin' and your moon needs a-shinin', and that helicopter over there needs a-shootin' from the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade, Far Cry 5 is finally here to bathe you in the blood of a new batch of irredeemable bad guys, this time in the good ol' US of A.
I've got to admit, I've been a-lookin' forward (stop that now. Ed.) to this one for a while. The thing that Far Cry has always done pretty well is that Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies type feeling where civilisation has fled screaming and what remains is the darkest part of man's will. Stories of cloying menace where nobody is wholly innocent and in order to achieve your goals you have to give up a part of your humanity. Far Cry 2 delivered this with aplomb, and Far Cry 3 took it in a slightly new direction, hinting that even the most clean-cut, socially integrated college kid was just one ill-fated parachute jump away from the beast within. And Far Cry 5... well, it doesn't really do this, does it? I mean, on the surface, it certainly hints at it.
We're expecting this premise of being cut off from society and left to survive in a badland filled with murderous fanatics who have taken the law into their own hands but Far Cry 5 sort of seems to misunderstand its own underlying story, and gives you a nice clean route to the re-establishment of the rule of law. You're a cop, for starters. And while I'm not deaf to the whole "OMG the Heart of Darkness is closer than you think and could happen right here in Anytown USA!" subtext, the spooky doomsday cult and the plucky resistance who fight back against them undermine the meaningless brutality that paradoxically gave meaning to the previous games.
OK, whatever. Squee is stroking his chin about the underlying themes. Is it any good as a shooter? Well, yes, I guess. It's fine. There are a ton of ways to get around from star-spangled muscle cars to helicopters, and many of these vehicles carry weapons. You can hire NPCs (or co-op chums if you have any) to man these weapons, or even drive the car while you shoot if you'd rather. The roads are clogged with enemy supply trucks (which make a satisfying boom when you slide a stick of dynamite under them) and prisoner transports (which have to be taken out with a little more finesse if you're going to free the prisoners unharmed) and pretty much everyone you meet who isn't trying to kill you will point you toward another side mission.
The wise decision has been made not to force a certain type of activity on the player in order to progress - unless you count killing the bad guys, naturally. You can still spend your time hunting wolverines with a bow if that's your thing, and the game caters to that. But it's not required in order to increase the amount of ammo you can carry. You can go fishing, rock climbing, parachuting, and zip lining to your heart's content but you're never forced into a repetitive pattern of behaviour just for the sake of completeness. Early on, you're straight-up told to your face that you won't have to climb a load of communications towers all over the map. In fact, there's a communications tower that you have to climb just in order to reinforce that you won't have to do this throughout the game. Which is weird, but there it is.
At its heart, though, gameplay is really not all that different from previous Far Cries. Everything you'd expect to be upgradable is - guns, vehicles, character skills - and capturing enemy outposts helps unlock shops and other upgrades. Graphically it's as pretty as you'd expect. Nothing really surprising or unusual. That said, the map is crammed with locations that are well-thought-out and, on the whole, quite interesting. It's stuck together in a believable way and many happy hours can pass wandering aimlessly and just exploring whatever location you happen across, trying to figure out the story. As with Far Cry 4, there is co-op throughout, and it's been carefully balanced to address the more common complaints. Multiplayer is basically just a middle-of-the-road online shooter, nice to have if you don't have a better option, but nothing to write home about.
Okay, so let's get down to the core of it. Far Cry is - and always has been - a big murderous sandbox where you can parachute out of a helicopter, shoot a couple of wolves with a bazooka, chuck a knife at the driver of a quad, steal it, drive it off a cliff into a lake and jet ski into the sunset. If something looks like it might explode it invariably does, and consequences for mayhem are kept to a minimum. That's the point. All of my moaning about the pedestrian storyline and cardboard cutout villains (a less interesting bunch than I've seen in previous Far Cry games if truth be told), the point of a Far Cry game is to generate your own ridiculous tales of chaos. All of the tools you need to make action scenes that would have Michael Bay wondering where he went wrong are handed to you in the first couple of hours. The roster of available aircraft is greatly increased. Oh, and there's a pretty fun dog you can hang out with. There is the usual menu of on-the-rails car chase shootouts and scripted battles but Far Cry 5 shines - predictably - where the others did - in off-script nonsense that makes you laugh out loud on your way to the next mission.
I know it's redundant for me to say - and I'm directly quoting Jon's Far Cry 4 review here - "That growing Ubisoft problem of over-familiarity rears its ugly head once again". If you've had long enough since FC4 or Primal to hunger for more, or you just really hate religious cults, there are many hours of mindless, gun-nut paradise to enjoy here. But it has to be said that if you've played one, you've kinda played them all.