Far Cry is a franchise about villains. Sure there is someone who has to fix everything that the villain did, but that isn’t the focus. The whole crux of the game and its story comes down to the villain that shapes the world and the better the villain, the easier it is to get invested in the game. In Far Cry 5’s case, Joseph Seed is possibly the best villain yet. Scratch that, he is the best villain in Far Cry and a few franchises better take note.
In the name of the Father
At Far Cry 5’s heart we have a chilling tale about religion. Joseph Seed is a prophet, proselytising and energising those around him with fervour. His teachings, iconography and symbolism borrow heavily from Christianity, but he has written a new book for his people to read, The Word of Joseph. His followers and family are fiercely protective and loyal to the cause, his message of love and protection from a world on the brink brings many into the fold, before the flock starts employing… darker means of recruiting new believers. Joseph speaks of God’s plan, of hearing his voice and preparing a New Eden, borrowing on the idea of the seals in Revelations to show the coming of the end and your arrival in Montana at his church is the first seal. Well done, you just fulfilled a prophecy and started the coming of the end.
Joseph Seed is intense, intelligent and chilling to watch and Far Cry 5 makes sure you have a lot of time to get in his head, and for him to possibly get inside yours. From radio broadcasts to seeing him in the game or during sequences where he talks to you, you will get to know Joseph and the layers of his character all shine through, from derangement and sadness to anger and fervent faith. You will also get to know his family rather well, making the mission ahead rather… intimate. You aren’t chasing down a name in a list or a dossier: you are killing people who talk to you, challenge, mock or plead with you and it has a much stronger impact because of this.
Well done, you just fulfilled a prophecy and started the coming of the end.
Heralds of the Father
To get to Joseph Seed, you have to get through his family first. Each family member has a different section of Hope County under their control and oversee certain facets of cult life. John Seed is the baptist and teaches people about the power of yes, though some of the things he wants people to say yes to are questionable. He baptises and admonishes the sins of new cultists, and he is happy to kidnap, torture and break people to get them to join after they atone.
Faith is in charge of the most important tool and weapon in the cult’s arsenal: a hallucinogenic drug that makes the user susceptible to suggestions called Bliss. The plants are grown, harvested and converted into drugs under her watchful eye, and her story of being a broken outcast with nowhere to go until she discovered Joseph’s love and plan for her is used to galvanise the faithful. Jacob handles military training of the cultists and deals with the enemies of the cult, making use of techniques he learnt in the military and psychological conditioning, and his judge program turns animals into nightmarish beasts, ready to hunt the weak.
The Project at Eden’s Gate only values the life of its own members and the atrocities that the cult inflict on the people of the world makes it all too easy to pick up a gun and snuff them all out and you can see the ravages of their zeal everywhere you go. Far Cry 5 has some pretty intense environmental storytelling, showing you what happened before you arrived to help people. Corpses are strung up on crosses, strapped into grotesque contortions and left as warnings for those who don’t join at New Eden. Farm houses and businesses lie empty, hastily written letters saying goodbye or notes of preparations that were made. Signs of a scuffle and a trail of blood lead to a corpse nailed to the wall with Fresh Meat or Sinner scrawled above them.
The atrocities are a stark juxtaposition to the rural beauty of Montana. Large forests blanket the mountains, with waterfalls flowing into rivers that carve their way through the countryside. Large farmlands sit untended and the calm surface of the lake is broken intermittently by hungry fish. If it wasn’t for the whole crazy death cult, Hope County looks like it could be a beautiful place to live. The world is stunning and a joy to explore and this is definitely a game about exploration. Gone is the minimap and unlocking question marks by climbing radio towers. You can go wherever you want to go in Hope County and a good eye and lending an ear is all you need to find something to do. Interrupt a cultist who is trying to abduct someone and they might tell you about a nearby prepper stash or an individual who might need help. They might mention an outpost that needs to be destroyed or where there is good fishing. Road signs tell you of hunting spots and notes and voicemails will tell you about stashes and smaller properties of the cult that you can go turn into scrap metal. It feels good to just pick a direction, hike for a while and see what you find, using your binoculars from a vantage point to look out for signs of life or nearby buildings to go investigate. Moving your eyes away from a minimap to actually absorbing beautiful countryside and finding things for yourself is possibly the second best thing in this game, after the villain.
Moving your eyes away from a minimap to actually absorbing beautiful countryside and finding things for yourself is possibly the second best thing in this game, after the villain.
The game isn’t all heaviness and serious religious dogma and death. The dark themes are kept in check with funny characters and punny, self-aware item descriptions. Sometimes you will just stop to listen to your guns for hire talk about someone else in the world, or tell a story about where they come from, or just enjoy what happens in an open world game where things can get out of hand as all the moving parts jostle into each other. One example that stands out is meeting a character for a new quest and having to kill several judges, creatures drugged up on Bliss that are stronger and meaner than normal. I had Hurk Jr in my group (yes, that Hurk) and I asked him to kill a judge. A plane patrol noticed us on the rooftops and I asked Hurk to get rid of the plane because he has a handy heat seeking rocket launcher. So he takes out the rocket launcher and shoots the judge wolf that is right next to him, killing himself and ragdolling off a nearby cliff before the message pops up on screen that he isn’t available for a while. I had to call someone else to deal with the plane, but couldn’t help but laugh at the character being a complete idiot and using a rocket launcher at point-blank range.
The power of three
Sometimes in games it feels weird that everyone sits back and waits for you to solve their problems when they seem capable of handling a weapon. There you are, a single person up against a small army all alone. Having companions makes the whole adventure a lot less lonely and a bit more plausible that a small group could take down an outpost instead of just a lone hero doing it. You can have two guns for hire in your crew, from specialists that you meet in the world that join your cause, to people you save who want to take up arms to fight the new threat. This means that if you fall in combat, a friend might be able to revive you, unless you managed to get them killed too. Each specialist brings advantages to the mix: another toolbox to undo the work of the cult in a game with an already impressive toolbox: do you want a bear that mauls enemies and draws their fire, or a stealthy bow-wielding specialist. Or you could go in guns blazing with rocket launchers or armed air support. If you don’t revive a companion they just disappear for a few minutes and you can choose someone else to replace them until then. They are there to help you, not hinder you by needing to be looked after and it takes the pressure off of everyone shooting at you or trying to be ready for every single type of situation.
Speaking of toolbox, Far Cry has kept to its signature style of letting you pick how you want to handle outposts and enemy strongholds. Whether you sneak in and kill everyone like a shadow, or fly an attack helicopter over the base and light it up, the fun of choosing your own way sits at the heart of the experience and the cutscenes when you beat an outpost just make things so satisfying. As you destroy an outpost, resistance members move in and take over, cleaning out the horrors that the outpost was involved in. Piles of drugs get torched, prison cells get cleared out and supplies are repurposed to help the people of Hope County live their lives again. I smiled every time I saw people get to work to turn a brainwashing camp into an outpost for resistance use and that was just the extra icing on the cake after clearing out the bloodthirsty maniacs using the place.
Dodging one issue, into another
When we first saw Far Cry 5, it looked like it was tackling issues very close to home in the current political landscape of America. A group of white people with guns doing whatever they want. But in the opening moments, Joseph Seed is protected by a wall of people from multiple races, nixing the white supremacy theme that the game easily could have explored before it can start. What theme does bubble up to the surface, is the theme of broken individuals in a society that doesn’t offer any support.
As the game progresses we learn that the entire Seed family has been through hardship in one way or another and the experience has left them scarred and changed. Each one reacted differently to it, but it was all too easy for Joseph Seed to see it as God’s plan and God’s will and to make the rest of his family see that too. His conviction is what gives him magnetism, but it is his message of love, belonging and resting that is his true power. Seed turns his whole family into devoted guardians and his flock follows, pining for a place where their wounded bodies, minds and souls can be balmed. In a world without support for those dealing with trauma, Seed becomes a beacon and attracts damaged and hurting people from all over Hope County, turning their pain into anger and directing it outwards at enemies instead of inward in self-harming ways and it speaks volumes about society in general where so many are left to feel like outcasts and pariahs that they are pulled to Joseph. The parallels with the current issues in America – a land where everyone can get a gun and more is spent on viagra for troops than mental health care – are rather chilling and there is a definite sense of realism as you wonder if that could actually happen, if one of the cult movements that we have seen happen before, could reach a critical mass somewhere.
Co-op and arcade and events
Playing with another human lets you do all manner of even crazier stunts. While the AI will try to help you out it is difficult to explain to AI that you want to grapple to the underside of an attack helicopter and shoot an RPG as you parachute down while the helicopter rains down death. You can also plan your shots better with a co-op buddy, taking down enemies with silenced weapons and getting some extra cash for defeating an outpost without being detected. Or you know, you could just drive down the road with someone manning the mounted LMG and go looking for trouble. It isn’t a required addition but some people enjoy games they can share and it also helps for some of the more difficult sections to know you have someone real there to cover your back. Sorry Boomer, you are a good boy but you are still just AI. The only thing that doesn’t sit well is how only the host has world progress saved, meaning you will go back to your single-player game and have to clear out that outpost again.
Also if all that isn’t enough for you, the game has an arcade mode that lets you play user designed content, levels from Ubisoft and a whole range of challenges to get a few more perk points and cash. It is a nice break from the story if you need a breather, leaving you to just enjoy assaulting a facility or replaying your favourite recruitment mission with a twist. I am hoping to see some spectacular UGC in future and with Far Cry 5 going for events in April, probably similar to those in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, there is a lot to be done in Hope County. A whole lot.
It has been a long time since I hit the end of a game and just stared at my screen. Far Cry 5 is a gem in the collection, ending before things become too formulaic or long in the tooth, but long enough and large enough to keep you busy for many hours. Joseph Seed and his family will be in my mind for a long time, the same way that Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk still stands as the hallmark of what a villain should be: layered and believable.