Few video game franchises can match the conveyor belt of exotic locations you'll find in Far Cry. Whether it's having players lead a social rebellion in Nepal or pitting them against dangerous war lords in Africa, Ubisoft has slowly built a mega-selling series by continuously introducing western gamers to gorgeous parts of the world - and then asking them to blow them to bits.
It says a lot about the current climate then, that for the franchise's fifth installment Ubisoft has opted to set this year's politically-charged adventure much closer to home.
After the prehistoric action of last year's Far Cry Primal, 2017's entry drags players back into the present, once again giving them a slew of guns and a war-torn country to save. This time, however, that country is America.
In a daring move, Ubisoft has ditched its usual winning combination of dictators and foreign lands, and instead made a point about far-right extremism and religious fanaticism in the "Land of the Free".
Swapping Far Cry 4's snowy mountain's for Montana's lush forests, Far Cry 5's fictional Hope County has been overrun by a violent Christian cult known as The Project at Eden's Gate. These far-right zealots believe that the world is coming to an end, and in typically twisted fashion they set out on a mission to rid the county of all its sinners.
As you'd expect, their definition of a sinner is pretty much everyone who isn't them, and the sermon-spewing cult soon manages to drive out the county's police and slaughter most of its residents – ruling over the region with a bloody grip.
Before I can dive in and kick some cultist caboose, however, I'm presented with a choice – which ally do I want defending my back? In Far Cry 5, players can enlist the help of one of three 'guns for hire': either air-bound bomber Nick Rye, skilled marksman Grace, or a resourceful little dog named Boomer.
Unflinchingly, I make my choice and spawn into the lush Montana countryside and am greeted by a tail-wagging Boomer who looks up at me adoringly. As I wander through the clearing and past a nearby water tower, however, the atmosphere suddenly becomes less light-hearted. Perched on a hilltop overlooking a small town, I witness the cult's purging first hand.
Only a few feet below me, heavily armed 'rednecks' have their guns trained on the innocent townsfolk, herding the terrified citizens into a neat row and viciously beating any that dare to protest. As I spot enemy scouts driving furiously around the town's perimeter, it soon becomes apparent that this is going to be a pretty tough battle to fight alone.
Thank God for Boomer then. As well as looking cute and scrappy fighting skills, Boomer also acts as the player's eyes and ears. With a tap of the D-Pad, I send him bounding down into the chaos below. As I change his path, he obeys attentively, trotting around the town and instantly marking every unsuspecting enemy that he passes on his travels. Satisfied, I call him back, and Boomer soon returns with a wagging tail and a fully loaded pistol wedged in between his jowls.
Armed with a bat and a slightly soggy pistol, I opt to explore my surroundings - starting with the nearby water tower. As I reach the top, it appears that my curiosity has paid off. Picking up the pristine looking sniper rifle waiting for me, I aim down the rifle's sights and see more zealots emerging from bullet-ridden buildings.
Normally in Far Cry games, the AI you find stationed at outposts exhibit behavior that isn't entirely convincing, strolling back and forth like the uninterested robots that they are. Yet, here, taking the time to observe my enemy revealed a far more interesting tableaux. As the main troops continue to round up the townsfolk, their grinning companions proceed to drag fresh corpses across the main road.
Ready for battle, I command Boomer to take a chunk out of the nearest cultist. While he silently dispatches his prey, a mistimed sniper shot sees my bullet whiz past its target, alerting the enemies to my presence. With the jig up, I make my way down the hillside and proceed to take on the entire town single-handedly. With bullets raining down from the sky and crazed cultists attempting to run me over in battered vehicles, it's an intense few minutes to say the least, but I emerge victorious after a few strategic retreats and emptied clips.
Once a town's been reclaimed in Far Cry 5, players then have the ability to explore it as they see fit. With most games highly restricting where players can and cannot go, I came away impressed by just how many of the local buildings I could actually enter. Once again, it was the little details that sold me on the game's unique verisimilitude, with each home I wandered into littered with hastily abandoned household items and small personal touches that made them feel lived in.
After a few minutes talking to the locals, my remaining demo time showed me a brief glimpse of Far Cry 5's open world. Hopping in a truck, I was free to explore the lush greenery of middle America, sabotaging a few cultist conveys before indulging in a nice spot of fishing at a nearby lake.
Yet, while this digital depiction of an imploding rural America felt fairly convincing, it was how I was able to explore it that left me grinning. For the first time in the franchise, players can make their way across a vast Far Cry map in a smooth-handling biplane. The game's richly rendered environments took on a new lease of life from above, until I unloaded my plane's bombs on them that is.
From what I've seen so far, Far Cry 5 looks to refine the franchise's core gameplay loops, rather than reinvent them. For many, that news will likely disappoint, as the series' outpost clearing blueprint has lost a bit of its sheen.
Yet, despite its adherence to the same template, the series' new setting feels just refreshing enough to make the whole exercise seem engaging rather than repetitive. If Ubisoft can continue to focus on its world-building and provide a map filled with the attention to detail that the series has been lacking, Far Cry 5 could well be the kind of immersive open world shooter that gamers have been crying out for.
Far Cry 5 releases worldwide on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on 27 February, 2018.