When Far Cry 5 was first revealed earlier this year, things sure looked grim. We saw the state of Montana overrun by a militant cult, not unlike the militants that took hold of a wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016. We saw guns, guns, and more guns; religious signs decked out in graffiti bidding "Sinner;" the villains at their own Last Supper-like meal; and the American flag obscured with crosses instead of stars. The imagery of Far Cry 5 evokes something familiar and unsettling by its very nature. It's loaded.
Back when Kat Bailey, our Editor-in-Chief, spoke with creative director Dan Hay at an early event for the game around its announcement, he urged that the game was about "taking America back." He shied away from comparing it to any of the political discourse permeating our everyday reality. The comparisons were inevitable though, of course.
Then the messaging behind the game seemed to shift. Gone was its grimmer imagery, and things got sillier. Cooperative play, which is playable through the entire campaign, was announced with full hijinks in tow. For anyone following Far Cry 5 prior to its upcoming launch in March 2018, things seemed a little bit hazy. Like the game was undergoing course correction or something of that sort. Earlier this week at an event where Ubisoft had Far Cry 5's co-op playable for the first time, I had a chance to sit down with Hay to talk about the shift. Or rather, what he notes is a lack of one.
"I think it's not so much an evolution in what we are intending for people to see or think, it's much more of people's opinions about all the different things [they see first, like a trailer]," Hay tells me. "I think what we're seeing as games get bigger is that you can build a game on multiple tones and you can give those moments to the player. So maybe the first blush that somebody has, they look at it and they go 'Wow, this image, that's powerful.' [...] And then they have a moment of gameplay and they have something that's going to be silly or wacky or fun. And those two things, or three things, or five things can live together."
Hay tells me that the team at Ubisoft are trying to make Far Cry 5 feel more "organic" than any of the games in the series before it, which relied on "prescriptive" storytelling, as he describes it. In order to make a natural, organic method of storytelling, tones inevitably get a little messier. In one moment, players can skip off to the Testicle Festival and "have a crazy time," or alternatively, they can aid a more serious-minded character like Father Jerome in saving neighbors. In Far Cry 5, Hay hopes all those sorts of experiences can find a home.
"Life is organic. It's beautiful. It's wonderful. It can be dirty, it can be difficult, and I think that as we paint our world [of Far Cry 5], we have to understand that they're not painted with one color," says Hay. "They're not painted with one brush. They are all about discovery and allowing the player to be able to see how they can author their own story."
Earlier this year, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus balanced two tones swimmingly—both the lighter side of humanity, like getting drunk at a party, to the bleaker side, such as wrestling with one's own mortality. It did it so incredibly well, and it had the conviction to be analytical of the typical white American identity. I guess we'll see on March 27th, 2018 if Far Cry 5 too can master the tough balancing act of tones, and the loaded imagery it wields.