'Far Cry 5' preview: Exploring cults and terror in the American West

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The residents of Hope County are certainly an interesting lot.
The residents of Hope County are certainly an interesting lot.

“Far Cry 5” creative director Dan Hay didn’t think the game he and his team were making about a doomsday cult could ever become reality in America when it was first pitched three years ago. But that was before people who marched side-by-side with Nazis and white supremacists were deemed to be “fine people.”

Today, Hay says if he pitched “Far Cry 5” and its plot revolving around a Montana-based religious cult everyone would respond with, “OK, I can see that.” 

“It’s weird,” Hays explained while discussing the creative process Ubisoft (UBI.PA) Montreal followed in creating the upcoming game’s world.

Available March 27, “Far Cry 5” sees you take on the role of a still-green sheriff’s deputy in Hope County, Montana as you try to escape from the cult. And after playing a preview of the title, it’s clear that this is no western adventure for the faint of heart.

Say, “Hello,” to the Seeds

For the past 15 years, the Seed family, led by the charismatic and deranged Joseph Seed, also known as The Father, have been slowly taking over this small section of the country, buying up everything from the land to the police, and becoming its de facto government. The Seeds, which include Joseph’s brothers John and Jacob, and sister Faith, lead their group known as The Project at Eden’s Gate.

The cult believes the world will soon end, and that The Father is the only one who knows how to save them.

Joseph Seed is the charismatic leader of the Eden’s Gate cult.
Joseph Seed is the charismatic leader of the Eden’s Gate cult.

“Far Cry 5’s” opening scenes are set up as a documentary about the cult and its impact on Hope County. Individuals who witness the group’s rise recall their experiences as the camera flashes with images of the changes The Father and his followers made to the region.

All of this builds up to your first encounter with The Father, which proves to be every bit as intimidating and intense as you could’ve imagined.

“We want the beginning of the game to be tense,” Hay said. “We want your heart to be in your throat.”

The first time you meet The Father, you and a handful of other law enforcement officers are flying into the cult’s compound to serve the leader a warrant and take him into custody. Seed, a gangly man whose body is covered in tattoos and scarred with words like “Greed” and “Lust,” carved into his skin, exudes an air of barely-contained ferocity.

You cuff him and lead him to the chopper, but from there things quickly go sideways, and you find yourself running for your life from the cult through the Montana wilderness.

Cult of personality

Ubisoft’s “Far Cry” games have scored in recent outings with some of the most impressive antagonists ever written for games. They’re driven by specific needs, have dynamic personalities and take delight in toying with you, the protagonist.

A typical church ceremony in Hope County, Montana.
A typical church ceremony in Hope County, Montana.

With Joseph Seed, Ubisoft seems to have scored again, crafting an enemy who genuinely believes he’s not only the good guy, but that he has a mission he needs to accomplish at all cost. What’s more, while previous “Far Cry” games had faceless henchmen you’d blast through to progress through the game, “Far Cry 5” offers cult members that seem to come to life with their idle conversations about Eden’s Gate.

Much of the character and world building that went into “Far Cry 5,” Hay explained, was influenced by the developers’ decision to seek out a true cult expert to enlighten them as to how such individuals think and why.

Mia Donovan has been interviewing former and active cult members since 2012, and explained how she tried to impress upon the team how seemingly normal people can become so overtaken by cult leaders like The Father.

“I’ve met people who believe that they’ve met the second coming of Christ and they will do anything that that person says because anything else is second to that,” Donovan said, explaining why characters in the game would go to such lengths as throwing themselves into helicopter blades to save their leader.

Fighting the good fight

Homicidal cultists aren’t your only enemies in ‘Far Cry 5.’
Homicidal cultists aren’t your only enemies in ‘Far Cry 5.’

Of course, “Far Cry 5” isn’t just about The Father. Like prior “Far Cry” titles, you’ll have to capture enemy outposts using either your wits or overwhelming firepower to free areas of the map from the cult’s control. To do that, you can either run-and-fun your way through a camp, or use bait to attract a bear or wolf that will attack your enemies.

This time around you also get “Guns for Hire,” who help you on your missions. Guns for Hire can be side characters or people you happen to save while liberating enemy outposts. Add them to your party and they’ll give you an extra pair of hands to help take down Eden’s Gate.

Many of the classic “Far Cry” game mechanics return for the latest outing. You’ll still use binoculars to locate and tag enemies in order for you to keep track of them, and you’ll still need to hunt animals for their pelts. You won’t, though, have to climb any towers to open up areas of the game map. Instead, Hay explained, you’ll find new sections of the map by talking to Hope County locals, who will tell you about different regions to explore.

Don’t feel like getting shot at? Why not spend a few hours fishing?
Don’t feel like getting shot at? Why not spend a few hours fishing?

You can also decide to simply go fishing for six hours if you’d rather spend your time in the great outdoors with your own thoughts. Or, if you’re itching for a little more excitement, you can strap into a sports car and go screaming across the open expanses, this open-world game allots you.

It doesn’t hurt that “Far Cry 5” is absolutely gorgeous. I played a preview on Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4 Pro (it’s also coming to Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox One and PC) and the atmosphere, sound and look of the game made me feel like I was truly trekking through the forests of the American West.

I only played about three hours of “Far Cry 5,” so it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about how the final product will play, but from what I’ve seen already, it’s certainly promising.

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