Far Cry 5 is My favorite game of the Year so Far
That was pretty damned quick. Far Cry 5 is my favorite game of the year so far. I don’t want to take anything away from the game for earning those accolades. It's a damned fine game. But pickings have been pretty slim in 2018, and this statement is just not the same as if I would have said it last year. By this point in 2017, I was playing Resident Evil 7, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But just as Breath of the Wild taught me that a Zelda game could be good, and that I could actually enjoy one, Far Cry 5 has taught me that it is safe for me to go back to the franchise, despite having been away from it since the first iteration with Jack Carver.
Although only a bit into the title, I can safely say that it has captured my attention more so than any other release so far this year, because quite frankly, nothing else has caught my attention this year. Last holiday season's Assassin's Creed: Origins set a very high bar for me in terms of open-world design games. I have often knocked Ubisoft for publishing games that are all kind of palette swaps of each other. Every Ubi game kind of looks, smells, walks, and talks the same. This is one of the first times that I am ok with that. Say what you will (I certainly have), but Ubisoft has certainly nailed mastering the right amount of variation in mission design, difficulty, and NPC placement to keep the Open World formula from getting staid. Historically, this style of game design has been hampered by too many "go-fetch" nuisance missions to keep me entertained. Coupled with overly long missions that seem to never end, and merciless reset points when you die, this sub-genre has been a waste-pool I have tried to avoid. But Far Cry 5 reinvigorates this style of gameplay for me. Background visuals are sharp and beautiful, representing more nature and wide open spaces the likes of which I have not tread in a very long time. Vehicles nicely change up the mix with a control scheme that is a bit tricky and confusing at first, but also decidedly non-cumbersome, once you get your head out of the paradigms that you might be accustomed to.
This all being said, I do not think that Far Cry 5 is GoTY material for 2018. And the reason why says something about the industry trend more so than being a knock against Ubisoft Montreal and Toronto. There are very few games that nail both great combat and environmental mayhem and ALSO nail great story. In fact, maybe it's that games as a story-telling medium have crested to a point where most of us are satisfied, leaving very few instances where devs are really reaching for the heavens in their depth of story-telling. Gamers have also become a bit jaded as to what constitutes a passable story versus a great one; maybe not jaded but let's just say that expectations are higher these days. A decade ago, the storylines in Shadow of Mordor and Destiny would have been completely acceptable to the majority of the gamer population, but today those games get thrown shade for not living up to the new world standard. Some gamers even decry that Uncharted's story quality fell off as the series' Nathan Drake storyline drew to a close. I love a good story, so I won't rail against these notions as being unreasonable, yet they are a sign of changing times.
I guess the modifier for me is that have I room in my consideration to appreciate games that are mechanically great and just feel good playing, even if all of the story-based putty that is supposed to seal up the gaps and crevices between the action are not perfect. I can easily sink tons of time into Destiny and Destiny 2 because I love the physics and mechanics enough that I am more forgiving of the story. Ditto for Shadow of Mordor, even though the timing aspects of the combat sometimes drive me batty. Far Cry 5 maybe more than anything is a destruction simulator similar to Just Cause 3; a game that runs an amazing calamity engine alongside an arguably bankrupt storyline. But that's ok, because blowing stuff up and seeing how the AI reacts is fun. Especially when it is more nuanced than the frat-boy feedback design of Grand Theft Auto. Far Cry 5 improves on the Just Cause 3 design by granting just enough more quiet-time buffer and allowance for tactical planning before you start banging the timpani drum.
I won't be going head down on Far Cry 5 for a month like I did for Destiny and Destiny 2. The game is good, but it does not hook me the way those two games did because the shooting mechanics and weapons variety are not as structured for the wonder of discovery as Bungie's games are. But I can definitely see returning to this over the summer, when having a large swath of hours to just create wonton chaos amongst the backwaters cult just feels like such a great activity on a summer afternoon.