Far Cry 5 is coming, and it’s no longer set in some far-off, exotic locale. Instead, it’s set right here in America, specifically in Hope County, Montana. Rather than Far Cry’s trademark Eurasian warlord or South American drug-runners, what we’re looking at here appears to be some kind of rural, white religious or political cult. The key art reveals a group of men, largely bearded and dressed as stereotypically as their foreign counterparts. An American flag is draped across the center of the table, and the sole woman appears to be wearing a wedding dress. A faceless, shirtless victim kneels in the corner, “SINNER” scraped into his skin of his back. Far Cry 5 promises to be controversial, this time seemingly on purpose.
When I look at the image, I immediately think of the Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, when Ammon Bundy and his group of militiamen and other rural dissidents took over a federal building in Oregon. Violence would eventually break out and at least one member of the group was killed by police in the end. There's that and a touch of the more cartoonish depiction of rural sterotypes in the likes of Resident Evil VII or the Westboro Baptist Church. The intent is clear, a mixture of political and social commentary pointed at lower-class, conservative, rural America.
In recent years, Far Cry’s reputation struggled with criticisms of exoticism, orientalism, racism, so on and so forth. I think Ubisoft was receptive of that, but struggles to come to a solution while still retaining its location-centric core. Far Cry is all about exploring large, wide-open spaces with distinct identities and shooting lots of bullets in them. Taking advantage of unexplored locations and cultural stereotypes is an easy and time-honored tradition of capturing that primal, human fear of isolation and otherness. But it’s a tough road to travel today without also making light of real people and cultures in the world.
With Far Cry 4, Ubisoft’s team attempted to alleviate the issue by making the protagonist also a part of the local culture and geography, rather than a displaced white man. It seemed to temper the heat a little, but while the game’s primary conceit remained largely the same, many critics were unafraid to point out as much. The series still assumes who is playing the game, and the experience proceeds accordingly.
Far Cry 5, on a surface level, could very well be an attempt to turn inwards and cast the same doubts at fears at the homeland. America is far from innocent compared to these Heart of Darkness-like, strange lands, and perhaps this is the prime opportunity to explore that. What with, you know, the current American political and social climate and all. But, I see cracks in the armor already set to burst under scrutiny.
An evil, rural cult-like presence is not a new, nor is it a productive or daring concept. It once again assumes the player is likely a privileged, educated white male with a very specific set of fears and effective antagonistic stereotypes. Of course rural America is the bad guy here. Where else can one find problems in this society, if not in the uneducated, bigoted and impoverished South and/or Midwest? Of course the fancy, live-action teaser trailer sees a man murdered in the middle of a wide-open field, of course “SINNER” is carved into the back of the victim and of course there’s only one woman, and she’s wearing a white dress. It’s pedestrian at best, in the way it puffs its chest out and dares you to call it racist this time. Looking down on people isn’t a good look, any way you slice it!
That said, we yet to have a full announcement, as details continue to trickle in ahead of E3. Far Cry 5 could surprise us all with hidden nuance and depths, betrayed by the low-hanging fruit in this initial imagery. Or perhaps this is a response to games like Outlast and Resident Evil VII doing very well with similar themes, and perhaps the Far Cry 5 team can squeeze something out of it on an entertainment level. Or I’m looking way too far into it, and it’s going to be a layer of basic window-dressing slathered all over a bunch of tower-climbing, open-world shootybang. We’ll find out soon.