The opening sequence of Far Cry 5 sets up the tone of the entire single-player campaign in a way that few games are capable of doing. There's huge potential, you're ready and itching to get at it, and then... while there's explosions, gunfire, chaos and the edges of an engaging story, it never adds up to the full experience that it sold itself as.
Let's recap - Far Cry, as a franchise, has been far bolder than the likes of Call Of Duty in terms of how it tries to reinvent itself. Far Cry: Primal made for an inventive take on first-person sandbox games, but didn't have the longevity to keep itself out there as an experience. Instead, it became a sort of ho-hum thing with a unique setting that was ultimately overtaken by, say, Horizon: Zero Dawn. It worked, up until it didn't. With Far Cry 5, the setting is present-day and has you play as a lowly sheriff who's witnessed an encroaching presence from cultists led by a crazed and charismatic leader. When the federal government tries to apprehend him, all hell breaks loose and then it's up to you to try and restore order in Hope County by gunning your way across the map.
Broadly speaking, Far Cry 5 has refined its schtick into a far more workable context than before. It makes sense that you're fighting your way across an area, that there's no communication with the outside world, and that you need to liberate areas in order to proceed onwards. Likewise, when you team up with NPCs or find supply drops, the fact that you're deep in gun-toting America means it makes sense that people would have shotguns and first-aid kits lying around everywhere. The gameplay rewards both a stealthy and a full-on approach and, likewise, it's big enough to accommodate both styles easily.
Where Far Cry 5 falters is that there's so much promise with the storyline for a sharp, incisive look at America's obsession with gun culture, the role of government and religion, and the nature of violence against your fellow neighbour - and instead, it goes out the window the minute bad guys turn up with rocket launchers who are gunning for you and only you. It's clear that Ubisoft's creative team intended the storyline to more potent and controversial, but you get the feeling they had some of the moments neutered by way of marketability.
That said, the game hits it pretty much on the nose for certain aspects. There's a corrupt politician who wants to make Hope County - the fictional area the game is set in - "great again," and there's even a side-quest that sees you trying to retrieve a videotape of the US President caught in an indecent act. Think that's not on-the-nose enough? The video comes from Kremlandia - Russia, obviously - and the codephrase, "The bed has been wet!" even gets uttered.
Like we said, it's on-the-nose - but it never goes beyond glancing nods and references. Maybe that's asking too much from a video game, to try and tackle the deep social issues of the day, but when a game like this tries to co-opt them into the story, you'd expect more. Where Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was so brazen in its attempts to rile up right-wing anger, Far Cry 5 merely toys with the idea to a point and then abandons it entirely.
Leaving aside all this, the game looks great and has a wicked sense of fun - especially when you're roaring through the wilds of Montana on a scrambler while you're being chased by huge bears or gun-toting religious freaks. None of the side-quests feel inconsequential or pointless, and there's a real feeling that each of them folds naturally in with the main storyline. Even if you just happen to be wandering through the countryside, a roving pack of enemies can appear on the horizon that you'll have to fight off - meaning that the action never ceases for very long. This, in turn, means that perk progression happens relatively naturally and you're never short on ammo unless you spray bullets everywhere.
For the most part, Far Cry 5 works as an able attempt at blending open-world mechanics with first-person shooter action in a way that few other franchises have done so effectively. There's a sense that real care and attention has been put into the game and while the storyline itself may not be half as smart as it thinks it is, it's never boring.