Let's Talk About Far Cry 5 Part 1

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Okay folks, I'm going to break a one of my usual rules here. We will be talking about Far Cry 5 and I don't feel like I can get in depth with it without discussing at some length, the ending. If you are still playing or have yet to play, I invite you to return after you have. If you aren't concerned about spoilers then by all means, read on.

I need to start this off by saying that I am unashamedly a huge fan of the Far Cry series in general. the chaotic, open nature of the game, the strange and often charismatic villains, the gunplay- I love it all. I bought Far Cry 5 without hesitation. I'd played it at PAX on two separate occasions and was pretty confident about what I was getting into. Far Cry 5 still managed to surprise me quite a bit, and I still haven't decided if that surprise was good or bad.

When  I first learned that the next Far Cry game was going to be set in Montana and deal with religious extremism and the allure of cult beliefs, I was understandably curious. I live in the inland northwest, just a stone's throw from Montana and in the town I grew up in, we have dealt with more than our fair share of extremism.

Once in the game, it was unsettling to see how much the rhetoric of the Seed family resembled that of the groups that used to call this area home. I know that many have criticized the game for straying from specifically naming the ideologies that are referenced, as well as generally straying from making the antagonists really embody the full reality of american extremist organizations.

I think to some extent, that criticism is fair. I would have really liked Far Cry 5 to have been more confrontational in its portrayal of religious extremism, gun culture and racism. However, I think it is unfair to say that the designers actively worked to avoid saying anything.

I've seen people point to numerous elements of Far Cry 5 as part of their argument about why it doesn't say anything when it should or that it unwittingly embraces the very ideals that it was thought to confront. Most of it is the typical over-reading of gameplay moments and design elements that you see in your average click-baity sort of article or video. Notably, some have pointed again to Far Cry 2 as the shining example to hold Far Cry 5 up against.

Far Cry 2 is may absolute favorite of the franchise, but I do not think that the arguments and comparisons being made in this instance are fair or really serve to make any argument against the narrative of Far Cry 5 stronger. At best, many of the authors of these arguments lack the context of the design environment and at worst, they are simply trying to create an argument to draw further clicks to their video. Pointing to environmental features that were present in Far Cry 2 but absent in 5 (such as high fire propagation, more destructible parts of the environment, degrading weapons, the ability to fire through some objects) as an example of lazy design doesn't hold water when you consider how costly those elements are in addition to the high graphical fidelity, weapon customization systems, perks, and the number of side missions available in the game. All of those elements chew up processing and take up space. With all of the various quality of life improvements that the franchise has made, it likely left no room for those other additions, as welcome as they would have been.

What is more ludicrous is to point to those differences as deliberate choices to make the narrative more monotone or to specifically serve some greater purpose. It is an argument that shows little insight into what it takes to make a game and little understanding of how narrative choices and mechanical elements interact in AAA games. The lack of those excellent immersive elements in in Far Cry 5 boils down more to hardware and size limitations than functional design choices. You cannot ignore the massive additions to the game while simultaneously criticizing it for things that it lacks.

With that in mind, lets talk about the ending. Of the two at the end, neither is a happy resolution. The player can walk away, taking his or her friends with them only to end up being controlled by a conditioned trigger and presumably killing everyone after the game fades to red. On the other hand, the player can persist and fight Joseph Seed only to see the first of several nuclear bombs detonate in the distance as they attempt to arrest him, followed by a race through the burning countryside to Dutch's bunker, where everyone is killed except for the player and Joseph, who drags the player into the bunker and tells him or her that they will be there for a long time.

The ending of Far Cry 5 is arguably the most controversial point in the game, cited by many as being out of the blue or attempting to pin the blame on the player rather than the fanatical cult and its lunatic leaders. I got the nuclear ending and was rather upset about the result of it. After investing so much time trying to save Hope County, to see it all turned to rubble in the end stung. All of my achievements, the guns I had rigorously acquired, the outposts I had liberated, the buddies I had helped were all seemingly for nothing.

But the more I've thought about the ending and tried to separate my personal player attachment from it, the more I've begun to question whether the ending was really bad or if I just didn't like it. I think this is an important distinction to make. I tend to agree with the idea that the quality of a game is really dependent upon the experience of the players. There is some meat on the argument that the player simply wasn't paying attention to the greater issues happening outside of the events in Hope County. There are several radio broadcasts that come on while driving or flying that mention rapidly spiraling events outside of the area. Other than that however, there are no other signs of the impending nuclear holocaust, which thins the impact of that narrative angle.

Overall, I don't know what to make of Far Cry 5. I have enjoyed the time I have spent in its world and the story that played out among its characters. I would like Far Cry 5 to take a stand and make bolder statements about the serious issues presented within it, but I'm left wondering if we're all missing the point. Could it be that Far Cry 5 deliberately kept its opinion out of the game not to avoid upsetting the left or the right, but instead to provide a platform for players to examine for themselves the implications of the game.

We'll talk more about that next time.