I gotta admit: I was already exhausted by the baggage of Far Cry 6 before I even picked up the controller to review it.
Having played every game in the franchise to date —while following the near decade-long discourse critiquing its flawed politics, ideological cowardice, and colonialist mindset — I admittedly came in with some assumptions about what to expect.
I expected Far Cry 6 to be (like nearly every other recent title in the franchise) dumb, mindless, well-polished AAA fun, with a vapid story that uses the aesthetics of real-world issues to overinflate its own sense of self-importance. Yet to my utter shock, Far Cry 6 flipped nearly every one of those expectations on its head — at times to its benefit but more often to its detriment.
I’m not prepared to call Far Cry 6 a great game by any means. As far as gameplay, it’s actually one of the least polished Ubisoft titles I’ve played in a while. Yet unlike the franchise’s recent predecessors, Far Cry 6‘s story at the very least has a pulse. Hell, it even offers some nuanced takes on the lose-lose nature of revolutions, as guerilla warrior Dani (or Danny, depending on gender preference) grapples with the inherent ugliness, corruption, and impossibility of saving your country from the perceived comforts of authoritarianism.
But before diving into why it’s still #complicated with Far Cry 6, let’s recap how this franchise became such a battleground for the contentious, never-ending debate over politics in video games.
To grossly oversimplify: Over the years Ubisoft has placated the “keep politics out of games” camp of fans by insisting that its titles explicitly inspired by real-world political conflicts don’t actually make any political statements. The publisher has also simultaneously tried to appease critics of this mealy-mouthed excuse by claiming that while its games weren’t “political” per se, they still weren’t wholly “apolitical” either, even admitting in 2019 to a desire to do better next time.
But when “next time” came in the lead-up to Far Cry 6‘s release, Ubisoft reverted to the same old tired doublespeak. First, the publisher assured fans that the game makes no political statements about Cuba (the country its fictional setting is inspired by) or the recent civilian uprisings that are heavily mirrored in the game’s story. Then, just days later, narrative director Navid Khavari finally admitted that OK, yes, it is obviously a political game.
Despite its myriad flaws, ‘Far Cry 6’ breathes life back into a franchise many were ready to dismiss as dead on arrival.
Are you exhausted yet?
After sighing through half of Far Cry 6‘s familiarly uninspired formula, I suddenly found myself getting won over by the game as at least a step in the right direction. Despite its myriad flaws, Far Cry 6 breathes life back into a franchise many like myself were ready to dismiss as dead on arrival.
For starters, it’s the first Far Cry game to feature a protagonist who’s native to the “exotic” country’s conflict (unless you count Far Cry 5‘s version of Montana as “exotic” or white American settlers as “native” — which you should not). That is obscenely overdue progress for the franchise, and so is finally being able to play as a woman who actually says stuff. My heart still can’t help but root for those steps toward a better Far Cry (and for lady Dani, truly one of the best protagonists in the series’).
Sure, the game very strategically evades naming exactly which political ideology Yara’s fascist dictator, Anton Castillo (played by Giancarlo Esposito, Hollywood’s favorite Black Danish-Italian American actor cast in every Afro-Latino role) ascribes to. There are at best only hints of Fidel Castro’s communism to be gleaned from reading between the lines of Castillo’s propagandist speeches about building a Yaran “paradise” together, or by squinting hard enough at the billboards with glorified scenes of harsh manual labor.
But these characters are not the usual pan-Latin stereotypes I’m accustomed to seeing in AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077, kept on the sidelines of a protagonist’s story just to shout the occasional colorful Spanish expletive. I’m not Cuban, nor Hispanic, so I very much cannot speak to the “authenticity” of the country’s portrayal. But I am Brazilian, and felt at home in the beautiful chaos of the different guerilla groups, each with its own fired-up leader espousing her own unique vision for saving this country they shit-talk as much as they adore.
I’ll fight whatever she’s fighting, tbh.
Far Cry 6 certainly perpetuates the franchise’s masterful avoidance of saying literally anything about any specific political ideology, and that’s a huge problem. But through the story’s focus on human conflicts between the guerillas, it does make a different but equally important statement: The personal is always political.
Politics isn’t something that happens between governmental leaders alone. Politics play out among the people, through the everyday lives of folks trying to live under said ideologies. A central queer relationship in the game highlights this well, when it’s rocked by the unavoidable reality that the trans partner faces far greater risks if he stays in Yara. (Content warning note: That trans character does get misgendered by a villain at one point, though there is no deadnaming like in Last of Us 2.)
Far Cry 6 even wrestles with the inherent traumas of the Latin-American diaspora.
In the beginning, Dani is attempting to escape the island to pursue the “dream” of low-wage employment in the U.S. But as Clara (leader of Libertad, the main revolutionist group) helps her realize, “The American dream doesn’t come in my color.” Even if it did, Far Cry 6 makes you sit with the impossible choice many would-be immigrants face: Is it better to let little pieces of yourself die every day for security in a hostile foreign country, or to die fighting for the survival of the hostile country where you were born?
Political threads in ‘Far Cry 6’ still leave *plenty* to be desired.
Unlike most other Far Cry games, many missions don’t end in success here. You fail as much as you win, since victory too often comes with the loss of those all-too-human characters you grow to love. The game map even reflects this zero-sum game, with snapshots of each fascist leader you kill and celebratory captions about their deaths — next to the far greater number of Polaroids of your fallen guerrilla friends, captioned only with a solemn “descanse en paz” (rest in peace).
Don’t get me wrong: Far Cry 6‘s political threads still leave plenty to be desired.
Slavery is mentioned often and even brutally depicted on missions where you free citizens from labor camps. But their pain is only used as gruesome backdrop to emphasize Castillo’s evil, with the story never bothering to give a voice to the nameless enslaved people.
The issue of imperializing foreign governments interfering with the island’s politics is also a central theme of one villain’s plotline, but the writing strategically does not blame America for its real-world actions. Instead, it casts the corporate politician in question as Canadian for some reason. (I mean, come on Ubisoft!)
Even when its politics are present and poignant, there’s always that inherent catch-22 of Far Cry’s high-minded aspirations clashing with its nonsense. Khavari described it in his blog post as the brand’s DNA of “mature, complex themes balanced with levity and humor. One doesn’t exist without the other, and we have attempted to achieve this balance with care.”
But the reality of those wildly conflicting tones creates the exact opposite effect, if you ask me.
There’s no way of getting around the deeply unsettling friction between Far Cry 6‘s serious political commentary being undercut by its silly, compulsory Far Cry-ness. I mean, how am I supposed to feel about taking my varsity sweater-wearing, gold-toothed crocodile companion named Guapo to attack soldiers — who just so happen to be beating enslaved people in a labor camp to a pulp?
Chorizo, the paraplegic wiener dog, is another animal companion you can bring along.
Well let me tell ya, I don’t feel good about it, and not in the productive “I’ve learned something uncomfortable but necessary” kind of way. Unlike the balance struck in a title like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, the famed 2010 game’s beloved zombie DLC, the ridiculous, hyper-reality comedy doesn’t serve as telling satire. In Far Cry, it’s instead deployed as sugarcoating to make the medicine go down easier, but it doesn’t even do that either
To the credit of those who clearly worked hard to write a Far Cry story that actually counts for something, balancing those tones in a franchise like this one feels like an impossible task. Despite impressive moments of actually pulling off that tonal dissonance, the end result is still an experience that doesn’t do service to either side of the equation, the disparate strands of the series’ DNA detracting rather than contributing to one another.
The game wants to be everything at the same time, throwing whatever it can at a wall and only then slapping good stories onto that mess. Rather than achieve the aspiration of being everything at once, it winds up feeling like a whole load of nothing overall. Guapo the crocodile (bless his heart) is not in the same game as the enslaved people in Yara’s labor camps. Unlike the hopes of its narrative designers, the two coming together doesn’t make for a well-rounded experience. Instead, it comes off as several different games happening simultaneously, thrown into the same stew for no discernable reason.
The risk of the attempt is far more exhilarating than getting just one more perfectly boring game.
Far Cry 6‘s story is still too cowardly, in the ways one might expect of a AAA game caught in the crosshairs of hostile, toxic fandom. But it also does lots of interesting, surprising things. too. Many of those surprises aren’t necessarily successful, or as impactful as they could be. But the risk of the attempt is far more exhilarating than getting just one more perfectly boring game.
Yet another part of me wonders — or rather, worries — if some of this disconnect between the story versus the “fun” aspects doesn’t speak to a more harsh, fundamental truth about the politics-in-games debate: What if you really can’t have both? What if the trolls were kind of right, and mindless fun needs to be separated from explorations of serious political issues?
Now, in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe this to be true. Games like Papers, Please showed how it can be done on a micro indie scale, and The Last of Us showed it on a blockbuster scale. But when it comes to the kind of smooth-brain, no thoughts, frictionless bigness of Ubisoft’s approach to fun in games, I think we’re gonna need more halfway successes like Far Cry 6 before we figure it out comfortably.
What Far Cry 6 is trying to do is new. One might say Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series also tried to marry mindless video game fun with politics, too. But what sets Far Cry 6 apart from other games is just how sincere its attempt at politics feels. This isn’t Watch Dogs, where the “politics” reads more like trying to pretend you’re “with the times” because it’s bad press to be otherwise.
But the marriage remains an estranged one, and I do not envy the people who are presumably building Far Cry 7 even now the monumentally difficult challenge of making it a whole, tonally cohesive experience.
Many times throughout Far Cry 6, characters describe guerilla warfare as “fun.” It’s portrayed as a game. A game with high stakes and real consequences, sure. But it’s still a game. Every time that language was used, I’d think back to the horrifying protest videos I saw on social media back in July 2021 under the #FreeCuba hashtag. My stomach turned at the notion of characterizing even fictionalized, Cuban-inspired people in a desperate fight for their survival, for enough food to eat, for freedom from labor camps, and to express dissent without getting kidnapped, as “fun.”
Neither I nor Far Cry 6 have the answer to the conundrum of what role politics should play in video games. But at the very least, it’s a game that makes the never-ending fight to figure it out feel worthwhile.
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