Let's get the most obvious question out of the way: No, Far Cry 5 does not make a political statement on the current state of the USA. Nor does it try to, according to the game's reviews.
Instead, Ubisoft's newest blockbuster attempts to build on a series that has gradually shifted from the gritty, gun-jamming tension of Far Cry 2 to the action-packed, elephant-riding escapades of Far Cry 4. The fifth main entry in the franchise is definitely geared towards the latter, although this juxtaposes awkwardly with the game's narrative.
Far Cry 5 is set in the fictional Hope County of Montana and tasks players with bringing down an extremist religious cult led by the Seed family. Originally perceived to be a commentary on real-life religious extremists and other issues in President Trump's America, Ubisoft has since distanced itself from this notion and this certainly appears to be the case in the final product.
In his Eurogamer review, Edwin Evans-Thirwell describes a story that is "utterly at odds with itself."
"It wants to say something about our world, evangelical ecstasy, gun advocacy and nihilism... but all of that plays second fiddle to the real core: a fantasy of conquest"
Edwin Evans-Thirwell, Eurogamer
"It wants to say something about our world, about evangelical ecstasy, gun advocacy and nihilism in America's heartlands, but all of that plays second fiddle to the real core of any Far Cry game: a fantasy of conquest that imposes its own criteria on the writing - casts split neatly between identikit footsoldiers and larger-than-life lieutenants, a struggle for survival that can only ever involve the gradual flipping of nodes on a map.
"It wants to dissect anxieties about nuclear war and the rise of 'patriot' movements in the US, but it also wants to be an 'anecdote factory', in creative director Dan Hay's words - a game that teaches its player to think of the setting as a cauldron of apolitical 'gameplay' props, waiting to be jostled about until something explodes."
He goes on to say that, despite Ubisoft's extensive research into how real-world cults operate and recruit, the Eden's Gate cultists are "just another army of expendable, dehumanised grunts, irredeemable from the get-go". Like many reviewers, he also notes that the fact the cult's soldiers are a mix of races and genders "feels like a careful sanitising of the subject matter."
Several reviewers note that the game's tone jumps wildly between the super-serious and the over-the-top, almost cartoonish attitude more recent Far Cry entries are known for.
In reviewing the final product, it has emerged that the game features several semi-subtle references to America's divisive president - including a mission built around retrieving a compromising tape that's an obvious nod to Trump's alleged request for Russian prostitutes to urinate on a hotel bed once used by the Obamas. However, The Guardian's Keza MacDonald observes this is "played for laughs rather than political commentary".
"[Far Cry 5] comes close to trying to say something, but never actually does - and it's far more comfortable when it's being silly than serious, making you wish that it had committed wholeheartedly to playful satire rather than spreading its bets," she writes in her 3-out-of-5 review.
MacDonald offers the futher example of the story missions, which are "disquieting and extremely violent, with pretty graphic scenes of torture, indoctrination and religious frenzy". This, she reports, becomes wearing as the game progresses.
"It's emotionally confusing to be buffeted constantly between tense sadism and tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery," she writes. "Far Cry 5 doesn't succeed in reconciling these two sides of its personality, but then it doesn't really try. This is a game in which you will be listening to lurid descriptions of cannibalism and torture on one mission, then tearing down a highway in a monster truck with mounted machine guns the next. To enjoy it, you have to inoculate yourself against these sudden changes in mood."
"[Far Cry 5] comes close to trying to say something, but never actually does - and it's far more comfortable when it's being silly than serious"
Keza MacDonald, The Guardian
In his VG247 review, Kirk McKeand says there are "some surprising bits of social commentary" buried within the stereotypes, and wishes there was more of it: "Tonally, Far Cry 5 is a strange game. There is no getting away from the real world climate it released in. Here you are, saving the northwestern US from a cult of Christian extremists, diplomacy fails within the first five minutes, and the only answer to all of your problems is a gun.
"In the lead up to release, Ubisoft made it clear that Far Cry 5 had no political statement to make, but there is no escaping the context it released in. Despite those apolitical claims, some of the dialogue is overtly political, too, though probably not in the way you might expect.
"At one point, one of the cult leaders breaks into a monologue about their motives, asking you if you've seen the way the world is, if you've seen who is in charge, if you've seen the wars, if you have seen the walls being erected. Far Cry 5 does have a message, and that message appears to be: the world has gone to shit, and people act desperate when pushed, particularly if they have embedded belief systems."
IGN's Daemon Hatfield adds: "The vibe is more like an '80s action movie that happens to be set in a conservative state. Rural America isn't being ridiculed or laughed at here. Instead of leaning on stereotypes, the people you encounter are well-written, and most are charismatic and funny."
There is praise across the board for Far Cry 5's progress system, which only triggers the next story mission once players have caused enough chaos (however they see fit). Hatfield's review-in-progress, preliminarily scoring the game as 8.9 out of 10 prior to multiplayer testing, describes this as "a fun progression system that gives you a constant visual cue of the progress you're making as you watch that resistance meter slowly fill."
"There is no getting away from the real world climate. Here you are, saving the northwestern US from a cult of Christian extremists, diplomacy fails within minutes, and the only answer to all problems is a gun"
Kirk McKeand, VG247
McKeand adds: "Far Cry 5 is still as stuffed with things to do as other Ubisoft games, but it never feels overwhelming because of the way it unfurls. There are no progress gates, and you can spread your time between the three regions as you wish. Everything you do all feeds into a progress bar for the antagonist of that region.
"When I played Far Cry 5 at preview, I wasn't sold on this structure. It felt confusing and I ended up doing a lot of the filler missions instead of getting to the meat during my short playtime. In the context of the full game, however, it works - even if it can be a bit grindy as you slowly plug away at filling the final third of each bar."
GamesRadar's Leon Hurley is also a fan of the new system, adding: "Missions and information feel more meaningful when you have to earn them and it doesn't take long before you've plenty of things to choose from.
"It all helps build on the idea that you're just the little guy in someone else's world. You're the flea on the dog's back, not the dog. Even key story missions are out of your control - triggered by progress, meetings with bad guy leaders become unpredictable interjections as you're snatched when they feel like it, not when you decide to see them."
Far Cry 5's heavily marketed Guns For Hire system also pleased critics. The ability to unlock and recruit followers of differing skills and weapon sets creates a myriad of possibilities when it comes to taking down enemy outposts, encouraging player experimentation even more than previous Far Cry titles have.
In his 7.5 out of 10 review, Game Informer's Jeff Cork writes: "The Guns for Hire add some much-needed variety to the game... It makes playing solo feel less lonely, and I got a kick out of experimenting with different pairings. The best pairing is with another player, however, and that's where the game shines."
"You're the flea on the dog's back, not the dog. Even key story missions are triggered by progress... as you're snatched when [bad guys] feel like it, not when you decide to see them"
Leon Hurley, GamesRadar
Hatfield agrees, adding: "While Far Cry has always been - and still is - primarily about playing as a one-man (or woman) army, here you spend less time alone than in previous games."
Beyond this, it appears Far Cry 5 is very much a by-the-numbers experience for those who have played the previous outings - although most critics say this is no bad thing. Cork is one of the harshest on this matter, saying that once the new setting and co-op gameplay have worn thin, the experience feels "familiar to a fault."
Hurley disagrees, declaring the latest Far Cry "cuts away the fat of previous games, just leaving the meat of what makes the series good."
"The initial impression is that this is more of the same - liberating bases in an open world crammed with chaos and random animal attacks," he writes. "That's by no means a bad thing. This is full of spur of the moment combat as you adapt and invent tactics on the fly; always rewarding and fun, with a chaotic push and pull that can kill hours and finish up with you realising you never even got near the thing you originally set out to do. It will eat your weekends and snack on the evenings."
McKeand observes that Far Cry 5 "hasn't done much to improve the series" - beyond unlocking the entire single-player campaign to co-op players - but "watching your plans unfold as you become the AI puppetmaster is as intoxicating as ever."
While plenty of reviewers discuss - or even open with - the various unique anecdotes that are made possible by all the game's chaotic systems, Evans-Thirwell notes that "the game which unfolds around these interludes isn't half as enjoyable."
He continues: "Far Cry at its least engrossing, clumsiest and most basic... Its attempts to address the fractious state of US society through the lens of a game that is essentially about dominating an Orientalised world are a predictable blend of half-baked and callous. The mechanics of exploration, combat and conquest, meanwhile, lack charisma and substance for all the longer development time, with few new tools or challenges to speak of. Save for its campaign co-op, jaunty Arcade level editor and bland 6v6 multiplayer, it very much feels like the filler episode Far Cry: Primal was supposed to be." There also seems to be disappointment that Joseph Seed and his siblings don't create as memorable impression as past villains such as Vaas and Pagan Min, and that the decision to move Far Cry to the USA makes for a far less exotic setting.
"The Guns for Hire add some much-needed variety to the game... It makes playing solo feel less lonely, and I got a kick out of experimenting with different pairings"
Jeff Cork, Game Informer
"With all of that scenery and action, Far Cry 5 is a nice-looking game, but it isn't on the same level as, say, Horizon: Zero Dawn," Hatfield observes. "Even comparing it to another recent open-world Ubisoft game, it's not quite as attractive as Assassin's Creed Origins. It's generally good enough, but I was sometimes distracted by the pop-in caused by the density of the landscape. Even on the PS4 Pro, it's hard not to notice all the magically appearing trees. In fact, other than the resolution on a 4K TV, there isn't a stark difference between the PS4 and the Pro at all."
MacDonald adds: "Although beautiful - even breathtaking, especially at sunrise and from the air - rural Montana isn't as fun to fool around in as Far Cry 3's tropical island, or 4's Himalayan mountains. You won't be busting out a wingsuit and jumping off a mountain very often. This is a more militaristic interpretation of the series' survival theme: instead of hunting bears and trying to tame the wilds, you're constantly fighting off fanatics trying to kill or capture you."
There is praise for the new co-op functionality, which allows a second player to join in the single-player, but many reviews have held off issuing a final score until the critic has poured a reasonable amount of time into the multiplayer and Arcade mode. The latter, with its opportunity to create new maps and scenarios out of assets from previous Ubisoft titles, is most intriguing, although for Evans-Thirwell, it's a glance behind the curtain that's a little too revealing.
"It exposes how Ubisoft's open world games have become slaves to a formula," he says. "In letting you mingle pieces from several franchises - the skyscrapers of San Francisco towering over the ruins of a daydream Tibet, the cannons of revolutionary France lifting rusted muzzles amid the splintered daylight of backwoods America - the editor reveals their basic interchangeability, the way all of these series default to the same broad framework of killing, conquering and unlocking.
"This is the core truth of Far Cry, a series that still has a lot going for it, but remains in serious need of a revamp. It is a moribund apparatus of conquest that is unable to tell any story other than the rise to power of a well-armed outsider over a lushly imagined, exoticised realm, however urgently it might try."
Overall, the scores and impressions for Far Cry 5 seem to be positive, if a little disappointed that Ubisoft didn't capitalise on the opportunity to more directly satirise and comment upon the real-world events that instantly spring to mind when discussing the game.
Cork concludes: "Far Cry 5's world is meticulously constructed, and it's a remarkable facsimile of Big Sky Country. Unfortunately, too much of the action in it is uninspired. It's a beautiful but bland recitation of what's come before, from both the series and Ubisoft's open-world playbook. It's never bad, but considering how great the past games have been, its overall predictability is disappointing."