While developer Ubisoft has been criticized at times for remaining complacent in the way it goes about creating sequels to its most famous franchises, the company’s lineup for the rest of this year and early 2018 seems to indicate a tectonic shift in philosophy. Ubisoft demonstrated this change at E3 2017, where it revealed unique games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle while also announcing its intent to innovate two of its most consistently popular series in Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.

The result, at least in the case of Far Cry 5, has been a dramatic departure from the usual trappings that have become familiar to fans. Ubisoft has gone deep into detail about Far Cry 5′s cult and the rural American nightmare that will make up the bulk of the game’s narrative, and while comparisons of this game’s family of villains to Far Cry 3 favorite Vaas will likely be unavoidable, there are many more differences than similarities – something that might have helped Far Cry 4′s Pagan Min separate himself from the long shadow cast by Vaas. Likewise, in Far Cry Primal, no one character felt particularly developed enough to stand out as larger-than-life in the way that helps push the series further.

After a hands-on with Far Cry 5 at a Pre-Gamescom event, however, we’re comfortable saying that the cult problem in Hope County represents a significant, and positive, change for the series. It’s immediately noticeable even as we first set foot in the demo section we were allowed to play through, as unknowning cultists wander around spouting doomsday rhetoric while the protagonist and our Gun for Hire – in this case the smart, stealthy sniper Grace Armstrong – get into position. Yet even as our heroes mow down countless cultists in a frantic firefight, it becomes abundantly clear that their existence is much more troubling than those of the pirates or rival tribes in previous Far Cry games. These men and women are us, or at least could be us, had we lost our way and been charmed by a snake-tongued cult leader.

It’s unsettling in all the best ways, and Far Cry 5 is intelligently designed and ready to prey off that unease. The whole demo showcases snippets of cult activity, from the radio station that alternates between religious hymns and cult propaganda to the conversations between fanatics when they think they’re alone. Far Cry has always done tension and stealth well, but Far Cry 5 represents this on an entirely new level – it’s almost as though the protagonist would rather be in a battle, guns blazing, then to remain quiet and contemplative of the horrors Hope County’s cult has wrought upon the town.

Part of what makes Far Cry 5 compelling during its short demo is the sense that this kind of insane situation could genuinely happen in places like Hope County, Montana. Interspersed with attempting to suppress cult activity and liberating people who have been hurt, physically and psychologically, by the religious fanatics, is a strange country calm. In between shootouts, the player can pursue traditionally rural activities like hunting and fishing, and there are those in Hope County who will do the same, either oblivious to the influences of the cult or simply unaffected by them and unwilling to care. The player, too, must decide how much of their time they are willing to dedicate to their own pursuits when weighed against stopping a doomsday cult and liberating a town – a choice that, despite sounding relatively straightforward, can be difficult thanks to the simple joy of Far Cry 5‘s open world roaming.

That’s really the point, too. For us to believe something like this could genuinely happen in a place like Hope County, we have to be able to believe that people can be distracted by their own pursuits long enough to let an objectively menacing cult infiltrate the hearts of a population. That the player can simulate this, however small that metaphor might be, is a huge win for Far Cry 5′s writing and environmental design, and immediately submerses gamers in a world gone mad – but believably mad, the kind of madness we see in our own lives from time to time and might wilfully ignore.

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There’s plenty of room for error in Far Cry 5, and we’ve admittedly only seen a small portion of what will no doubt be a huge game, but all the early indications are good. Far Cry 5 has the kind of stylistically fun and exciting gameplay that has characterized its predecessors, but it also has something new, a darker spin on the familiar rather than an exotic look into far away possibility. The result is a game that is both fresh and frightening, equal parts smart and crazy, and a potentially massive leap forward for Far Cry as a franchise should the final product hit home with the same kind of accuracy its Pre-Gamescom build does.

Far Cry 5 releases for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on February 27, 2018.

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