Hands-On with ‘Far Cry 5’ at E3: Open-World Guerrilla Warfare Shooter Comes to the U.S.

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In Far Cry 5, Ubisoft brings their blockbuster open-world guerrilla warfare franchise onto American soil.

We had a chance to sit down with Far Cry 5 and play one of the game’s missions at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. We were also fortunate enough to snag a few moments with Ivan Eskandari, one of its producers. during gameplay. It was a brief but enlightening experience.

From the opening lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” to the almost beatific way that antagonist Reverend Joseph Seed stands over a table draped with the American flag, it’s pretty clear where Ubisoft’s marketing machine wants your attention. Even the name of the cult, “Eden’s Gate,” is a clear reference to Marshall Applewhite’s UFO-worshiping Heaven’s Gate cult. Executive Producer Dan Hay’s design pillars of “freedom, faith, and firearms” are all front and center.

But the transparent attempt to capitalize on national division and real-world outrage seems to have less to do with the actual game and more with the intent to make a strong first impression. Indeed, Eskandari told us that Seed’s doomsday cult is “inspired by cults and extremism from around the world.” That it takes place in our own country makes it personal, and I couldn’t help but feel the additional motivation of seeing Far Cry‘s bloody violence waged on home turf. This is a tale of home-grown terrorism showing up on your doorstep, as told by Michael Bay.

The gameplay at the show, however, had little to say about any of these themes. Instead, it focused on the stronghold assaults popularized by Far Cry 3. Our only objective was to take back a little slice of the small-town Americana gone wrong in the fictional Hope County, Montana with the assistance of our choice of one of three companions: a dog named Boomer who can rip guns from enemy’s hands or sneak up and kill them stealthily; Grace, a sharpshooter with a sniper rifle that can pick targets off from a distance; or Nick, a pilot with a plane armed to the teeth with machine guns and explosives.

The first thing I did was drop a live stick of dynamite at my feet while I experimented with the controls. Having chosen companion Grace as support for her long range skill as a sniper, this was a sub-optimal way to begin our assault. As it happens, dynamite is very loud. Instead of beginning my mission with some light stealth, I was immediately greeted by a town overflowing with shotgun-toting cultists looking for blood.

Nevertheless, I quickly assigned Grace a spot on the high ground with some extremely simple AI commands introduced in this entry of the series. She started taking pot shots at our would-be assailants as soon as she was able but succeeded in little more than suppressing a militant force already on high alert. With nothing but a stars-and-stripes baseball bat to defend myself with, the relatively easy manufactured scenario was suddenly injected with a little more drama.

I bolted across the street from my entry point under a hail of assault weapons fire and into a weathered chapel. Grace ensured that I made it there more or less whole, albeit bloodied. As I burst through the front door, I was confronted by a screaming brute with a shotgun, standing among the splintered pews. As it turns out, sometimes baseball bat beats shotgun if you’re crazy and a little bit lucky.

Shotgun now in hand, I ducked out the back of the church and into cover. I crept around the chapel, baiting some of my pursuers into my companion’s line of sight. It was the most fun I’ve had since Far Cry 2‘s excellent companion gameplay, albeit without the possibility of a last-minute rescue by your AI-controlled partner if you were incapacitated.

The rest of the fight broke down into standard Far Cry routine as I gathered weaponry and cleared out cultists, culminating in a massive explosion as I peppered an oil tanker with gunfire to clear out the last remaining enemies. Eskandari assured me that the experience would have been substantially different had I opted to use the canine Boomer’s stealthy cooperation or Nick’s aerial barrage for my companion. Perhaps they would add variety to the same territory capture gameplay we’ve seen since Far Cry 3, but in practice it felt more like different seasonings for the same hamburger.

My colleague Lucas Nolan similarly played through the level once with Grace at his side and then a second time with Nick the pilot accompanying him. Nick made it seem from the start that there is no other companion you’ll need in the entire game. Lucas easily directed Nick from atop a hill, having him wipe out the entire town while never needing to set foot on the ground himself, causing him to question how the game’s balancing will shake out by the time of its release.

All told, our look at Far Cry 5 maintained the series’ extremely solid, if overly familiar, gameplay. Ubisoft is banking on the familiarity of the game’s American setting to lend a feeling of personal vindication to the whole proceeding, but unless there is substantial variety added to the finished project, it won’t matter whether we’re raising flags in Kyrat or Kansas.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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