Every time I think about playing Far Cry 5 I think about the fishing: casting a line out, watching the shimmering water for telltale ripples, seeing the line snap as you get a bite. Okay, I also flew a plane on a bombing run, shot a bear in the face and fought a raging gun battle with US extremists in a small American town… But these are just the flash cuts between the real memories of idyllic streams, whipping hooks, and pulling a 15.69lb monster out of a lake.
Then there’s the dog, Boomer. During my playthrough I had lead Programmer Raphael Parent to guide me and introducing me to the ‘guns for hire’ I could use. These are support AI characters that add an almost class-like element to the gameplay depending on who you choose. Three have been revealed so far, including a pilot (bombing support), a sniper (long range takedowns) and Boomer the dog (scritches, looking really pleased to see you). “These are your Guns for…” introduces Raphael as I mash the dog button so hard someone turns around to see what the noise is.
Boomer is immediately the best video game dog. The goodest of good boys. He snuffles in the grass, barks at distant cows and, when you press the ‘pet’ button, jumps up into your face, basically licking the camera with excitement. I press the ‘pet’ button a lot. Sure, I’m meant to be rescuing the town from extremist cultists currently executing people with a baseball bat right now, but... priorities.
The other thing Boomer’s good at is tearing out throats, something I order him to do when I finally attack. As he creeps around a car to take down a periphery guard pointed out to him, I open fire from a flanking position when soldiers run in to investigate. It’s almost unfair - as the dog causes panic, one torn throat at a time, I bounce from truck yard to garden, vaulting picket fences and rattling gunfire off at the bad guys.
Boomer also tags enemies as he moves about, meaning I just follow his lead and in minutes it’s all over. There was a lot of discussion with other people, post hands on, about whether ‘it just felt like another Far Cry.’ It does, but it also nails what the series does so well: problem solving, reactionary gunfights that unfold as enemies and situations present themselves. I just sort of tumbled from one encounter to the next until it was over, loving every minute of it.
That combat feels like the best distillation of the series’ mechanics since Far Cry 3. Gunplay is so satisfying, especially thanks to some exceptionally good audio. It’s not the sexiest feature to bring up but with gunfire rattling off distant mountains, or the grass whispering around you in quieter moments, it really seats you in that world as you destroy it. You can hear the space around you, not just see it.
And it’s that world, with the new, very well-publicised USA setting, that shakes up what could otherwise feel familiar. Animal attacks, random patrol encounters, and more all feel very Far Cry, but vaulting a chainlink fence and slamming into cover behind a dumpster near a dive bar is quite an eye opener for the series. There’s no strange island or Nepalese mountains this time. Those more exotic locational twists are replaced by neon signs for domestic beer, grocery store fronts and rolling fields that conjure up images of a hardworking Joe in a plaid shirt taking off a baseball cap to wipe his brow. Every time you look around there’s something closer to home that stops you for a second when you realise.
You just don’t usually play games like this, in places like that. Not without an apocalypse. Or zombies. Or an invasion of comically evil Nazis. And you can feel it in every battle - even when you’re swinging a plane through the sky dropping bombs on fuels dumps or dogfighting enemies. The sight of a distant water tower, or a tractor in a field, reminds you that this is Far Cry. In America. How the usual themes and ideas play out - that little guy overthrowing a cruel regime - in Montana is going to be interesting. From a mechanical point of view however, this feel like a culmination of everything 3, 4 and Primal has been perfecting. And - most importantly of all - there's a dog, who is a very good boy indeed.