Far Cry 5 – Mixed Messaging, Missed Opportunity
Religious fanaticism, far-right political agendas and gun violence have been *unfortunately* all too regularly discussed in the last few years, and while the gaming industry isn’t particularly renowned for making strong political statements, it seemed, back in May 2017, when Far Cry 5 was announced that it might just be on the verge of delivering a powerful message. Message board were alight with fans and media wanting to discuss the game and the messages that they may be attempting to convey. Others looked to douse flames on the fires, rightly stating that development of the game would’ve begun well before the Trump era, and well before the many reported issues in the U.S of recent times. Now that Far Cry 5 has arrived though, it’s time to stand back and reflect upon the story, the opening and all that follows it – Does Far Cry 5 have anything to say? Does it have to? Could it have done something different altogether?
I’m no artist, but let me paint a picture for you. It’s dark, the air is pierced by the blades of a helicopter, it’s the Sheriff accompanied by a Federal Marshall and several other government authorities. You watch as they land in some empty space, and approach the church where your leader is conducting a sermon. Tempers are beginning to flare and minutes later your leader, Joseph Seed is marched out in handcuffs. Pandamonium. Joseph is calm and walking out with the authorities, but your friends are frenzied. Gunfire, abuse, bloodshed. Things are getting ugly and as the Marshall, the Sheriff, their colleagues and Joseph are climbing into the helicopter to leave, things spill over. Suddenly people are throwing themselves at the helicopter to rescue Joseph, the helicopter leaves the ground, some people are hanging off it. Suddenly, someone gets tangled in the blades of the helicopter and it goes down. The Sheriff and his accomplices remain trapped, Joseph escapes, but as the authorities begin to regain consciousness and attempt to escape themselves, the chase begins.
You are in fact one of those being pursued, the rookie of the team, and to this point, you (the player) have likely been quite intimidated and quite shaken by what you’ve experienced to this point. This religious cult is taking no prisoners and the introduction ominous tone is set for the remainder of the game – but unfortunately, that feverish intensity and a borderline horrific feeling isn’t felt through the majority of the Far Cry 5 experience. Once you overcome this somewhat traumatic introduction, the tried and true Far Cry formula kicks in, and the feeling quickly subsides.
From this point onwards it’s the typical Far Cry story – Drugs, crazies toting excessive numbers of guns and plenty of insanity. I’m not opposed to this concept, it’s one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed through many iterations of the Far Cry franchise, however, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by this turn of events. The game teases a return to this level of tension and trauma on a few occasions throughout the game, typically as you’re having an encounter with Joseph Seed and/or one of his core disciples. Unfortunately, these instances are too few and far between, resulting me experiencing an ongoing disconnectedness to the narrative, something that wouldn’t have happened had the tone of the narrative continued to flow somewhat into the gameplay experience.
Would this require the gameplay to be thrown out the window? Certainly not, in fact, I would like to think that the core tenants of the Far Cry playing experience would remain intact, however less over-the-top adrenaline (or drug) fuelled enthusiasm, and more brooding, intimidating encounters with one-eyed cultists could have made the playing experience all the more immersive.
Forget the potential for political statements; Ubisoft, or any other developer in the world for that matter, isn’t compelled to make a statement one way, or another, on social issues, but in terms of a playing experience, they have missed an enormous opportunity with Far Cry 5. Far Cry has, for a long time now, lingered on the brink of true greatness in this space, greatness that would see Survival Horror tendencies creep into a sandbox setting. They didn’t have to make a political statement, but the statement they could have made for the direction of gaming is one that’s been passed on as well. I can only hope that when the eventual Far Cry 6 comes along that we’ll see the franchise take another step closer to greatness. As off right now though, Far Cry 5 is an excellent game that misses a golden opportunity to be even more.