One needn’t advance beyond the opening scenes of “Far Cry 5” to see an example of the kind of cocksure American that makes life hard on everyone around him. After a heavily armed millennial cult takes over the fictional Hope County players find themselves in the role of a junior deputy who has been dispatched on a mission along with the county sheriff, two other deputies, and a U.S. Marshal to investigate the situation. As the delegation makes their way in a helicopter to one of the cult’s compounds, the sheriff prevails upon the Marshall to rethink the plausibility of swooping in and apprehending Joseph Seed, the self-styled prophet who leads the Project of Eden’s Gate. Shrugging off his advice, the swaggering Marshall tells the sheriff to chill and look forward to seeing his name in the paper.
At the compound, the group makes its way past a number of grizzled, weapons-bearing cult members into a church where they find Joseph Seed telling his congregation that the anticipated moment is upon them. The Marshall serves Joseph a warrant for his arrest then directs you to cuff him. Though you and your co-workers are successful in getting Joseph back on the chopper, his followers fling themselves on the ascending vehicle, and even into its rotating blades, causing it to crash. Joseph’s followers collect him from the wreckage and seize some of your companions as well. After you manage your escape from the compound, the game opens up. Exploring the neighboring areas leads to the familiar accumulation of icons on the map as the game unfurls scores of story missions, side missions, treasure hunts and the like.
If you’ve played any of the previous Far Cry games, the overall structure of the new one will appear deeply familiar. Here, too, is another beautiful landscape populated by wild animals that’s riven by man-made violence orchestrated by fanatics who try to pull you into their madness. Their efforts lead to a number of trippy scenes the likes of which are a signature of the series.
Assisting Joseph in his task of preparing his flock for a new dispensation are his older brother Jacob, his younger brother John, and their adopted sister Faith. All of the Seed siblings are deranged in their own ways. While Joseph believes that God chats with him, John extols the virtues of strength, aggression, and ascetic resilience. Periodically through the game his minions capture you and force you to participate in a ritual. As Jacob exhorts you to “cull the herd,” you must sprint through a series of rooms, killing people as efficiently as possible, before a timer runs out.
Jacob is clearly coded as a militaristic spirit run amok while John’s pathology stems from a twisted form of positive-thinking. Like a motivational speaker, John is all about getting people to say, “Yes!” For him, pain is an instrument to be used in the service of enticing people to zealously embrace the doctrines of Eden’s Gate. As for Faith, a former junkie, she pushes a better-living-through-chemistry agenda by overseeing the sect’s massive drugging operation that pumps people full of a proprietary substance called Bliss, which basically turns them into zombies. Walk through the flowers used to cultivate the drug and you’ll notice things get a little blurry and colorful. I always looked forward to getting shot up with Bliss by one of Faith’s people because the hallucinations make for a great change of pace.
There is an option for co-op in the game, though only the host receives credit for story missions (both players can still earn experience points and trophies.) Alas, I didn’t realize that when I played the game one afternoon with another writer so I had to do a few missions over. With levity in his voice, my friend pleaded with me not to write another one of those articles that lament that “Far Cry 5’ fails to seriously grapple with the rise of militant Christianity in America or whatever. I later told him he had nothing to worry about. Some formulas work well until they don’t. To my surprise, I still enjoy Far Cry’s particular blend of lush environments, fluid combat, and crazy happenings — like hunting a wolverine, then stumbling into a firefight full of exploding vehicles, or crashing a helicopter into an airplane and nabbing a trophy in the process (“Squash and Run”).
Sure, there is a character who talks about “libtards” and making places great again, and during one cutscene, Joseph Seed stares and asks if you can’t feel the end is near because of who is in charge. Personally, I find nothing surprising about a mass market product signaling to the politics of the time. It’s silly, however, to look toward “Far Cry 5” for insight into the political travails of the world. Its political commentary runs as deep as listening to one of the game’s villains cite streaming media as one of the world’s ills. If anything, the game is a reflection of the current moment, not a way forward. But it is enjoyable all the same.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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