ONLY YOU CAN MAKE ALL THIS WORLD SEEM RIGHT.
Far Cry always has, and always will be, one of Ubisoft's tentpole IPs alongside Assassin's Creed. While the latter game has been given hearty competition in recent years alongside Dishonored, Zelda, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and even the Shadow of Mordor series, Far Cry remains alone as a tried and true open world 1st person chaos simulator ripe with glorious explosions and hi-jinx galore. It's a series that, until now, has aimed to explore the far reaches of islands and Asiatic countries--most of the time as an outsider or invader. The Nepal analogue of Kyrat in Far Cry 4 was lustrous, diverse, and beautiful in how it mirrored the culture and nature of an actual country, and alongside this world was a story of a young man trying to discover the truth about his lineage. Atop a grey area of morality was Pagan Min, the charismatic tyrant whose generosity towards protagonist Ajay Ghale was one stemmed from betrayal and a lost attempt at true family. Ubisoft did the best job they could with this recipe, and created what I felt was one of 2014's better games. Far Cry 5 is, no pun intended, a far cry from the exotic locales in the past 4 iterations, preferring to take us down to Montana in the United States for country twang, grain silos, and a more toned-down approach. Far Cry 5's themes of family and falsehood are, in many ways, a bizarre funhouse mirror of the previous game's tale, and in doing so warps gameplay to positive and negative degrees.
Far Cry 5 follows the same underlying blueprint as the two previous games in the series: a huge region divided by separate claims of ownership via outposts, sidequests from various regular NPCs, animals who will pop up at inopportune moments, snappy gunplay, a wingsuit, heavy vehicular usage for travel, and antagonists who taunt you and make you miserable any chance they get. Unlike Far Cry 4, the fifth game gives a little more freedom with your choices via letting you tackle any of the 3 "herald" co-conspirators in any order and at any time. There's also a revamped "guns for hire" system, letting you have up to 2 AI companions from a list of 9 unique people or animals. Nothing's quite like storming an outpost base with a grizzly bear and a man doing strafe runs in a fighter plane. Each friend carries different skills, so depending on the situation you may want the silent bowslinger Jess Black over the trigger-happy bazooka joe, Hurk Drubman. Whether its through choppers, sniping, flamethrowing, or straight up "being a fucking mountain lion," the NPC companions are all fun or funny to utilize and converse with. They all have their distinct personalities and occasionally specific quests relating to their own goals.
Although the satisfying gameplay and combat largely remains the same from the previous iteration, there are some serious drawbacks in Far Cry 5 when it comes to other basic aspects. Foremost is the stock of guns available, which have been scaled down and made more exclusive. Instead of going out on specific goals to craft or earn special weapons like Robocop's Auto-9 or a handheld flamethrower, your unlocks rely on the level of progress across all 3 regions you're working to free. By the time you're nearly done with the game, the last of these weapons unlock--which is kind of batshit since there's no point in even using these last few tools at this point. The progression system in general is kind of fucked since it teeters between worthless and "things that you could just craft with materials at anytime in the last game." Eventually you learn to get over it, but the sad assortment of guns to play with and earn through special means feels a bit lifeless; the rewards just aren't there.
Let's talk about the most obvious change in the game, which is the fact that it takes place in rural America instead of a hostile island of madmen or an exotic hidden Shangri-la of villages and mountain paths. Montana is beautiful in motion and in passing; as usual, Ubisoft has done a fantastic job creating a scenic location that you'll be happy to drag on its face before blowing up with a remote bomb. Silos, tractors, and demonic turkeys are in abundance over the fruited plains and fields of grain, with plenty of rivers to traverse in your gunboats if you want to choose the low road. Adding to the choppers of yesteryear are fighter planes and seaplanes, which are a bitch to handle and will probably get you killed more often than not. Ubisoft claimed that FC5's world is their biggest in the franchise, though a lot of it is claimed by flatlands and the hilly mountains in the north which don't have that much to hide. The map may be larger but it feels less dense, making the game itself feel like a faster completion than FC4. Fortunately, there are no radio towers to climb to reveal locations or gain access to forts; you simply come across a thing to uncover it and earn a fast travel point. In doing so, this eliminates the need for the minimap (I never missed it) and promotes more exploration across the countryside. Although there are far fewer places to utilize the wingsuit, the other aerial vehicles and the option for an air drop make up for it.
Okay, great, we all know Far Cry is a happenstance carnage simulator wherein the boy with the biggest grenades wins the fights. What about the story and the characters therein, which have been called everything from "trite" to "downright worthless garbage?" I won't lie: Pagan Min and Ajay Ghale's dance of death across the land of Kyrat in a war to understand the past and the future of The Golden Path was a far more nuanced and well-crafted storyline than the bumblefuck cult of a David Koresh doppelganger believing in the world's end. I won't waste my time debating if there was something more political to the edge that was initially promoted for Far Cry 5 because it's clear it's not really there, just as clear as it seems Joseph Seed takes a similar "fuck politics" turn in his words and deeds. The core of Far Cry 5 lies within the apocalyptic ramblings of Seed and his siblings (John, Jacob, and Faith) as they abduct people from the surrounding areas in order to "save" them from a countrywide collapse. From the start, you are told that you are the catalyst of ruination; a prophetic horseman destined to sow even more chaos through the realms Seed has claimed.
Far Cry games, in general, are chaos simulators. Far Cry 3 asked the player if they knew the meaning of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again. Climb a radio tower, do a sidequest, reload your guns, practice your bowhunting. Far Cry 4 asked you to put aside your petty cares about this land you have no real connection to, and join the benevolent tyrant Pagan Min in the Best Weekend Ever. The twist, of course, is that you really can't, though you are free to try even as you support one of two opposing factions whose own ideals are different kinds of fucked up. If Far Cry 4 is the tease, then Far Cry 5 is the fulfillment of what the other two prophesized: the ultimate in destruction of the self and your inability to truly fix the world through a hail of bullets.
The criticisms of the Seed family (and their stupid abduction mechanics that interrupt gameplay) are all well-founded, though they do at least attempt to bring more to the table. John clearly has issues and Faith is a whole can of worms when it comes to drug abuse and Joseph Seed's predilection to "use up" people himself, but it's in Jacob's metanarrative on video game violence that the game comes closest to saying something different. Joseph Seed's final encounters and the game's ultimate passage result in one of the creepiest, most ridiculous endings in the Far Cry canon to date--much more batshit than the "congratulations, game over" of the previous title--and unlike many other people, I loved it. It's the perfect way to end a game that has promoted you to the rank of an angel of death, and in the final moments has the unflappable guts to spit in your face as a thank you for playing. As Jacob might have said, you were never really free, and as the protagonist who likely fucked up more than once in your playthrough, you might be nothing more than another horseman of death. It's a somewhat clumsy and bittersweet curtain call that could have offered more clues and pulled more strings to earn what it does, though given the overall disconnect of the entire game's shenanigans versus the brutality being kept at bay, I can't really complain too much. The game saves its most heated, honest moments only when characters--the Seed family included--are at their most desperate; this goes double for Joseph, whose postmortem moments are among the game's best and help redeem his voice actor's presence. Death, the great equalizer, serves as the emancipator of the emotional resonance that Far Cry 5 is so curiously intent on hiding.
Though I still have a soft spot for Far Cry 4, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Far Cry 5 as I soldiered on and began to unlock more ways to cause havoc. A few of the story beats did fall in nicely (someone in the dev team clearly loves Nick Rye), and by the end, Joseph Seed becomes unhinged enough to gain a degree of menace I didn't feel for most of the journey. A few shortcuts were taken here and there, but the initial experience is still a fun one to take, even if it doesn't last as long or hit as hard until the sucker punches near the end of each region. Life, as Hobbes puts it, is nasty, brutish, and short--a fitting way to transcribe FC5 versus the others of its bloodline. FC5 condenses a great many things in favor of bringing you down to earth for some home cooking in the US of A, watering down some of the potential with gaseous monologues from Jacob and John while gifting you with better excursions happening with your NPC pals. You are, in the grand scheme of Far Cry 5's world, a tiny blip trying to save a tiny town on the brink of collapse, even as the rest of the world is trying to figure their own shit out. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, fire that grenade launcher into the sun, sic your dog on cultists, and take your combat drugs daily, because we're all just ants and Far Cry is the magnifying glass we are so hellbent on using to get that last roast of the hour.
YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE SOMETHING WONDERFUL
How do you define what Resident Evil is? It began as a tank-control 3rd person survival horror set in a mansion in the midst of nowhere, then quickly spun out of control into a huge series. After the initial 3 or 4 installments, the franchise went everywhere from radically divergent (Gun Survivor, Outbreak) and revolutionary (Resident Evil 4) to hamfisted (Resident Evil 6) and possible low-key revivals (Revelations 1+2). The gameplay, as of late, has generally held on to the core principles and 3rd person controls introduced in RE4, veering further and further into badly-balanced action segments and convoluted stories. What had started as primarily a horror series was becoming an offshoot bioweapon shooter with wildly fluctuating dips in quality. As someone who enjoyed Resident Evil 2 and 4 (the best ones, the Leon ones), I began to just accept that all hope was lost and Resident Evil, with Revelations 2, had become a low-budget throwaway property concerned with microtransaction bullshit and shoddy gameplay.
Capcom's answer to this was twofold: dedication to the old-school crowd with development of a Resident Evil 2 remake, and a surprise reveal of Resident Evil 7 at E3 2016. RE7: Biohazard was to be a complete resurrection of the series, taking place in a completely new setting with new characters, and throwing the player into a first person experience. Resident Evil 7 puts the "resident evil" back into the series and more, because this is one scary fucking game fraught with terrifying situations and encounters. I was distraught when P.T., a game rich with promise, was cancelled and sent to the abyss--however, RE7 has pulled in some of the best elements of Outlast, P.T., classic Resident Evil games, and SOMA.
The obvious shift in RE7 is the 1st person control, which serves in making each escape and confrontation that much more stressful. Unlike the movie angles of classic RE games, you're only going to see what's in front of you. As I don't have a VR headset, I can't comment on what it adds to the game--but I imagine it makes things that much more immersive. Although this shares many tropes and controls with other 1st person horror games of this ilk, RE7 still rests on collecting weapons, sparse ammo, herbs, and first aid kits, and puzzles that rely on things like weird objects and a series of keys.
In RE7, you play as Ethan, who is convinced his long-lost wife is being held hostage in a Louisiana estate. Ethan wanders into a southern swampmeat residence, gets captured by backwoods psychos, and hilarity ensues. It certainly puts the "resident" back in Resident Evil, as you mainly explore and run around an old house full of secrets, a disgusting basement area, and a dilapidated shack near the water. The sinister Baker family--Jack, Margeurite, and Lucas--all have their own unique quirks and challenges for you, and their respective areas change up the game each time. You'll go from a wild goose chase with a Nemesis-esque Jack to dodging bugs in the shack to solving tripwire puzzles from Lucas in the main playthrough. I did love how the type of encounter changed with each family member I had to go through, and the resulting backtracking into new, horrible areas to keep making progress. Like the original Resident Evil, the house itself is a pertinent and important feature because you'll be traversing its entrails for quite some time, and the challenges will constantly morph. Besides the merry pranks from the Baker family, you will also have to deal with a slimy black symbiotic slew of monsters called Molded. These guys are more or less the dangerous shock troops that have been infected by whatever moldy shit is infecting everyone's brains, and some of your toughest decisions will come from whether you want to use your limited ammo to take them out or flee.
It feels like yesterday I was downtrodden over the death of the excellent P.T. project, which held so much promise in its presentation and unease. Resident Evil 7 has actually succeeded in spooking me just as much as P.T. did--the terror of pushing open each door and navigating through the next dimly-lit room had my heart pounding, especially when I knew something was following me. A lot of this can be attributed to the excellent graphics and hyper-real construction of the household, which was a reason why P.T.'s hallway and relatively "normal" space seemed so scary; there's something not quite right under the surface. Much like the odd viscera and threatening pictures in that game, RE7 has more than enough moments to make you question what the fuck is going on in this estate, and what happened to this family. The best moments come from absolute radio silence, because in those instances the threat is at its worst. You will be taken aback when you feel your safest, and every escape feels like a tiny victory--especially in the more decrepit areas of the Baker estate that have fallen to ruin and sludge.
It wouldn't be Resident Evil without boss battles, something that I feel didn't even become worthwhile until Resident Evil 4. I'm glad to say the battles in RE7 range from pretty good to genuinely thrilling. I don't want to spoil anything, but some of the battles are actually fun and/or funny to go through, especially since you're being egged at by the equally fun Baker clan. Provided you are careful with your inventory, you should almost always have enough in the tank to conquer these battles, though quite a few supply you with items in or around the fighting arenas. Towards the end of the journey, those battles may get a bit bigger and more obnoxious, but critical thinking and quick reflexes will always win out over these creatures.
Regarding the narrative and pacing of the game as a whole, things are at their best when it's confined to the madhouse of the Bakers and their humble abode. The game gets a bit iffy once you leave this area and dive into the final 2 zones, which will have you getting a bit more trigger happy than usual--but the payoff, and storyline revelations, are served up on a platter that is an exquisite callback to classic Resident Evil in ways that mirror the finale of the very first two games. After an initial game dominated by caution and fear, you're sent on a wild run through to the bitter end; a bombastic reminder of what series we're still entrenched within.
My hope going forward for Capcom would be that they continue on this new route of satisfying the hardcore old-school crowd with their REmakes, while also experimenting with this well-conceived first person dimension. RE7 is a largely satisfying endeavour when you understand the perspective of its release frame--a game that came out after P.T. was buried, in a world where Resident Evil's latest outing was a very cheap-budget but acceptable Revelations 2. Although RE7's makeup is an amazing beginning/ending with a low point in the ship zone, it's more than worthy of your time if you're hungry for survival horror and a tense, terrifying dive into gross muck and brainwashed podunks. It's an extremely promising start to what I hope is a new tradition. And after all, tradition is what makes a family closer, son.
Amazing and topical!