I have very much enjoyed the Far Cry series, most often despite itself. Far Cries 3, 4 and Primal (why is everyone forgetting poor old Primal?) have all occupied me for countless hours, provided enormous amounts of entertainment in their kleptomania-inducing maps, and always done so despite everything it thinks is so compelling about itself. Far Cry’s self-belief in its own abysmal stories is always so grossly apparent, like a strutting buffoon bursting into the bar and looking around, confused, when every man, woman and animal doesn’t immediately throw themselves at his feet. So then he starts loudly demanding people throw themselves at his feet. And when they don’t, runs around putting his feet as near to people as he can and declares to the room that this counts. Oh Far Cry.
Unfortunately, this time out things have gotten a lot worse. Far Cry 5 – to run with the previous analogy – barges up to you, grabs you by the collar, and throws you down onto the ground by its shoes, screaming “MY FEET! WORSHIP MY BLOODY FEET!” Which is to say, engaging with its godawful cutscenes has become less optional. Far Cry 5 has the most egregiously bad imposition of its story.
There’s an awful lot wrong with Far Cry 5. It is by far the most unpolished entry in the series (I count this series as starting with 3, since that feels right). The bugs are many and hilarious, with NPCs teleporting, running endlessly into walls, and in my experience, just spontaneously dropping dead when looked at. Then there’s the completely awful new crafting nonsense that feels like a least of all possible worlds, the ridiculously underpowered bow (after Primal’s glory), repopulating enemies in previously cleared locations for no discernible reason, and an NPC system that probably felt like a good idea right up until they realised no one in the office knew how to start programming NPC AI. But all of that would normally be ignorable (or at least upputtable) when you devote your energies to just dicking around in the enormous maps, mopping up sidequests, and searching for hidden loot stashes. This time it isn’t, because the game will force its story upon you no matter what you might be doing at any given moment.
At first I thought these astonishingly ill-advised interruptions were the game’s passive-aggressive way of responding to my not immediately pursuing the core story missions. Because I was just farting about fishing (why always rainbow trout?! WHY?!), or just having car chases, perhaps it felt I was missing out on its true greatness so would suddenly have me kidnapped by John’s goons and forced to watch its godforsaken cutscenes. But it turns out that, no, this is in fact a notion so poorly conceived that its impositions will even interrupt you when in the middle of one of its actual core-story missions!
There I was, in Faith’s county, trying experiments for the veterinary doctor in one of the section’s Story Missions. (Aside: Oh my goodness, never have I longed for World Of Warcraft’s banal but mercifully short quest text boxes as when sitting through a four-minute monologue from a drunk man rambling nothingness before finally getting around to saying he wants me to find his missing hat or whatever the ungodly fuck it might be). I was about to pick up the pelts of the skunks he needed that I’d gathered via a scripted battle, when out of absolutely bloody nowhere Faith appeared and blew Bliss in my face, and suddenly I’m teleported to her drug-fuelled delusionland. What?! But I WAS ALREADY PLAYING THE BITS YOU SO DESPERATELY WANT ME TO PLAY!
The scene it was so idiotically desperate to show me featured the game’s main baddies offering the most incompetently constructed argument to try to convince me that, hey, you know what, maybe these so-called bad guys aren’t so bad after all! I mean, look at the state of the world, look at the horrors into which our children are being raised, and we’re supposed to accept that their desire to not be a part of that makes them on the side of wrong?! Which, in another game, in an other timeline, in an other world, might have had some sort of interesting satirical notion behind it. In another game with a different script in another dimension, it might have given the player pause for thought. But I’m not exactly the first person to point out that Far Cry 5 tries to pull off this gambit in a game where the same cult leaders string up mutilated corpses outside their bases and run around twirling moustaches on their moustaches. It’s bad on a level that implies years-long institutional ineptitude. A development that echoes with the ignored cries of a hundred begging voices of sense.
So anyway, this most misjudged and poorly handled of enforced cutscenes over, where am I? I’m back at the region’s main base, being helped out of my drug-induced stupor by the melting-wax faces of my NPC companions, and told, “Woah, we thought we lost you there,” as if saying that line is required by the constitution. And the main story mission I was midway through when it seemingly randomly interrupted? Ruined. Removed from my map as a mission, my marker gone, and when I got back there the necessary skunk and bear skins the challenge would have provided all removed. Along with the unlooted enemy corpses, and anything else I’d have gained. All I’m left with is the ghost of the mission, being told to gather a bunch of skunk and bear skins from somewhere, who knows where, which at this point doesn’t make a lick of sense – the whole point of the scripted mission was that these particular skins were infected with specific chemicals the doctor needed.
How is this a thing? How did no one at any point, even in a game made by hundreds of people across multiple sites, say, “Uh, maybe let’s not do this?”
Our story is SO IMPORTANT that these weak-minded might not focus on it properly, so we’ll have it be screamed in their unwilling faces no matter how much it breaks absolutely everything else in the game to do so.
It’s as if Ubisoft management had a meeting, in which the matter was raised, “What is it that people like about the Far Cry games, no matter how badly we write them, how ineptly we attempt to handle series issues, no matter how crass and tone-deaf and how sheer bloody incompetent we are?” And after lots of mumbling someone piped, “Well, people do seem to say that despite absolutely all of that, they do appreciate that it can mostly be ignored and the vast playground of fun can still be enjoyed.” At which point a cigar-clutching fist was slammed down against a desk, rattling the room, with a cry of “STAMP THIS OUT IMMEDIATELY!”
Far Cry 5 is certainly still a vast playground of fun, and its abysmal clown-car AI makes for some berserk and entertaining emergent silliness, but what’s so crucially different this time out is you can’t trust it for a moment. You can’t know when, or where, the game will ruin whatever you’re enjoying by cack-handedly pinning your eyelids open and pressing your face against unwanted, semi-playable (and thus not easily skippable) cutscenes.
That one redeeming feature of Far Cry games, that was so redeeming as to make them pretty essential, has seemingly deliberately been sabotaged. And that made me annoyed enough to write this.