So far Far Cry 5 nails what makes the series great, just with added bears

I laughed a lot playing Far Cry 5. Whether it was wingsuiting my beautiful face into a bridge one minute, being headbutted off my ATV by a pissed moose the next, or repeatedly watching my pet bear - on command - shake men in the air like a puppy with a toy. Genuine laughs all around. And then there was the fire. Oh God, the fire. Fire everywhere. I couldn’t seem to make it more than 10 minutes without a poorly thought out molotov, or genius idea of ‘shooting the red thing’ near an enemy, left everyone running around in circles, flapping like wasps had appeared. Hot angry wasps made of flames.

That probably sounds familiar to even the most casual Far Cry fan but, in the opening hours I played at a recent preview event there’s a fluidity here much closer the ‘oh God where did my weekend go’ cascade of accidental adventures that made number 3 such a breakout success. It’s present in 4 to some extent, although the rote re-use of structure, and slightly less accessible terrain of Tibet, dulls the edge - it was still hugely enjoyable and improvisationally unpredictable but felt like an obvious retread with added snow. There’s no denying that number 5 is another retread, but this time with added America, and that really does shake things up much more than you might think. 

Now things are a lot more recognisable: hostages in jeans and baseball caps, familiar looking mid-western farms, trucker stops and dive bars 

Previous games always had a slightly fantastical element through their use of exoctic locations. Tropical Islands, African countries or Nepalese mountains, along with the equally exotic locals, creating a layer of separation from reality. It feels like videogame fantasy. Now things are a lot more recognisable: hostages in jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps, familiar looking mid-western farms, trucker stops and dive bars. Even the game’s opening moments, with its local lawmen and US Marshals feels far more grounded and closer to home than before. I won’t spoil too much of that but it’s a tense and atmospheric opener built on a slow, paranoid burn with some great use of music and sound; clearly cribbing its pacing from the darker end of the TV crime show spectrum.

Once the opening’s played out you’re free, more or less, to do what you want. Which in my case was trying as hard as I could to reach the mission that gives you A BEAR AS A FRIEND. Because BEAR AS A FRIEND. But it says plenty about how well Far Cry 5’s world appears to be structured that it took me quite some time to get there. Outposts, cougar attacks, the odd patrol run in, the occasional particularly interesting looking tree - this feels like one of the best blends the series has managed of its accidental missioning. ‘I’ll just take a quick look,’ I’d think as I skirted around a cultist base perimeter… 20 minutes later, there’s blood and bodies everywhere, things are on fire, and I’ve decided I’m the best person to ever use a bow. So many satisfyingly meaty, in-the-face headshots. 

20 minutes later, there’s blood and bodies everywhere, things are on fire... 

Because so much does feel familiar, it’s hard to pin down what it is that feels so good this time. The Montana setting is less tricky to navigate, while the combat has a satisfying solidity that means you always feel in control, even when things go south. It constantly reminded me of playing Far Cry 3, when you realised for the first time you could stealth-rush bases - picking off outliers near the edges and making dashing sprints through the buildings to pull off takedowns before guards could get a word out. 

There are other distractions. Like Evel Knievel stunt challenges on ATVs, or using wingsuits, tearing through tracks filled with fireworks and flame jets. There are hostages to rescue, random animal attacks, and side quests like tracking down and eliminating a VIP cultist called The Cook. He’s armed with a flamethrower and I’ll leave you to work out what’s on the menu. None of this ever feels like it’s getting in the way, and when I do eventually rescue the animal it’s worth every sidetracked second. Called Cheeseburger, he’s got a tragic backstory of being orphaned by poachers and growing up eating out of fast food bins, hence the name. Except now he’s got diabetes as a result and lives as a tamed tourist attraction. Tame, that is, until you use the D-pad to set him on someone. 

I do that so much. 

Once I had Cheeseburger it was all about finding things for him to attack - cougars, wolves, people, all were barrelled to the ground and savagely rattled to pieces. Attacking an outpost with Cheeseburger means tracking his position from the screaming and flying bodies. At one point I lost him completely until I saw legs being shaken over the top of a bush like some sort of weird, ankley puppet show. Good bear. You can keep the foot. 

While murder bears, fire and lethal face archery rule the moment to moment beats of what I played, the wider scope - full of doomsday preppers proved right, and cultists convinced they have the moral high ground - creates an interesting world, rich with promise. There are no megalomaniac despots here, no indigenous gang heavies who dived off sanity’s deep end years ago. Just a grim sheen of reality to a slice of Americana that, on the right forums, isn’t a fiction to some. All the talk of government and media conspiracies, societal collapse, sinners to punish and righteous causes, ring a lot truer than rebel factions and tribes. I’ve said before that Far Cry probably has one good run left in its current template, before it has to change to avoid sequel fatigue. Based on what I’ve played so far this one could be sending it out on a high.  

If you want to know more then check out Far Cry 5's weirdest mission yet

Leon Hurley
Managing editor for guides

I'm GamesRadar's Managing Editor for guides, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.