Far Cry 5 is coming out soon, and there’s a lot of momentum pushing it into the spotlight. A big part of that momentum is its controversial set-dressings, which have the game set in rural America – a big departure from the series’ usual exotic travel motif. The release of Far Cry 5 has been serendipitous because of this setting, landing right in the middle of an explosion in far-right populism in real life. The initial key art released for the game invoked hyperbolic images of stuff that is really happening in America, rather than fictitious death cult cheese that Ubisoft seems to be suggesting. With that in mind, with Ubisoft remaining coy about its intent with Far Cry 5, we may find it hitting the community and getting a response, but perhaps not the one Ubisoft wants. By borrowing currently relevant imagery but not ultimately having anything relevant to say, is Far Cry 5 going to be rejected by people hoping it will be… more?
Far Cry 5 is controversial because it, on a surface level, points its lens inward for the first time. As a whole, the series has been about the player being stranded or involved in machinations well away from home, in “exotic” locations in Asia, South America, and more. In the case of Far Cry 3, for example, what starts as a happy-go-lucky vacation turns into a nightmare as the initial cast of characters runs afoul of a drug cartel. These are safe settings, much like Hollywood action movies in which the bad guys are from Russia or some other place that’s easy to produce propagandist villains without pushback from the audience. But now it’s the reverse, and the enemies are Americans – creepy fundamentalist cult Americans, but Americans nonetheless. This doesn’t happen often, especially when the enemies are non-military.
But is Ubisoft making some kind of commentary on the current socio-political state of America, or exploiting convenient imagery to get eyeballs? This very well could be another situation like the one that brought bad publicity to Square Enix’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, in which marketing materials borrowed language used in the very real, very current, Black Lives Matter movement. Indeed, a report from Polygon’s Colin Campbell seems to suggest as much. During a preview event at Ubisoft, Campbell claimed to ask PR reps questions about Far Cry 5’s authorial intent, only to get canned responses in return. Ubisoft seems to be suggesting that the imagery is all coincidental, and that the game errs on the side of “fictitious death cult” rather than “violent white supremacists.”
Another blow against the game’s potential is its Season Pass DLC. It seems to exist as if to remind the Far Cry fanbase that it’s still a Far Cry game. By that I mean the DLC is expanding the game’s content in a safe way, the does not double down on the American setting and enemies. In the DLC, you fight zombies and aliens. More troubling, the third piece brings players to Vietnam for some reason, where they do battle against a n eye-rollingly easy enemy, the Viet Cong. As if to add a cherry on top, a free remaster of Far Cry 3 comes with the Season Pass, as if to say, “look, it’s okay, it’s still safe here,” to anyone who may have added their signature to a certain online survey aimed at Far Cry 5 and its setting.
So, what? Well, I would say that despite its blatant self-positioning as something poignant and relevant when first announced, Ubisoft appears to be backing away as further marketing and interviews have come out. What that means in comparison to the actual content of the game is debatable; Wolfenstein II for example had similar wishy-washy PR speak leading up to its release, although Bethesda eventually reversed trajectory and started trolling angry alt-righters online.
Could Far Cry 5 see a similar path, where, after pre-order period is over, the creators speak more frankly to their creative process? Perhaps. But Ubisoft is a huge company beholden to huge money numbers, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for bravery to that level to come out anytime soon. We’ll see what happens, but I do remain curious to see how it all shakes out for myself.