Mood is an aesthetic choice in storytelling. It's not the frame or walls of the story, that's in the plot and themes of the work. Mood is the paint on the walls, it's the feeling of a story. You can think of it as the context of game, movie or television show. You can play out the same situation as a serious tragedy or a light comedy depending on how you establish the mood. It's a matter of what the creator is trying to accomplish with their story.
You'll hear this wrapped up in the concept of tone (as I did in the headline), but mood and tone are actually two different ideas. Tone is how the narrator feels about the story being presented, mood is how the reader feels about it. To use an example from an outside source:
"Let's say you have an unreliable narrator who happens to be a serial killer. He or she may use a matter-of-fact, or even humorous tone when depicting events. As the reader, the tone may make you feel uncomfortable, unsettled, or weirded out– that's the mood! And that's also an extreme example. Generally, if the narrator can be trusted, the mood and the tone will be similar," says NY Book Editors.
In games, the narrator is generally trusted because what you see is what you get. Mood and tone are frequently the same, hence we tend to talk in terms of tone.
Far Cry 5 is a game of wildly different tones, changing between comical and deadly serious. In one moment, you can be helping the director the action film Blood Dragon 3 keep his set quiet. In the next, you're hearing a psychopath discuss sin and the power of moving through your pain via self-mutilation, after seeing the evidence of his torture. The time between pulling off an Evel Knievel-style daredevil stunt and listening to a long tale of cannibalism involving small children can potentially be a few minutes at best.
There's nothing wrong with this. Games, films, and comics can absolutely have shifting moods over the course of telling their stories. Earthbound is a well-loved role-playing game that lives on the harsh shift from light-hearted comedy to crushing psychological horror. Persona 4 is a wonderful high school drama and chilling murder mystery. There's nothing wrong with a game shifting back and forth.
As I said in my review, Far Cry 5's opening and several of the primary story missions are full of unrelenting darkness. The opening almost plays out like Resident Evil 7 or Outlast 2, with the protagonist trapped in a horrible situation. The direct confrontations with the Seed clan are all explorations of their specific moralities within the overarching Project at Eden's Gate. Faith wants to free the world from its pain with her drug-induced euphoria, while Jacob feels that humanity has been made weak by attempting to protect the weakest among us. This all plays out in heavy shadows, blinding lights, self-serious moralizing, and not a little torture and brainwashing.
The rest of game is a romp through Hope County, doing as you please. It's meant to be fun. You'll shoot bulls having sex to the tune of Sexual Healing so you can collect their meaty bits for the local Testicle Festival. In one mission, the player is forced to hunt through piles of dog poop for a missing key card. Every Clutch Nixon side mission has you racing through the fire and flames in a mad time trial backed by Nixon's special theme song. There's an entire questline backed by local scientist Larry Parker's obsession with local crop circles and lost alien technology. There's also a whole host of notes and plaques that are just there for a laugh.
Both parts work for me, but the problem with Far Cry 5 is they never meet. There's little acknowledgement that this is all taking place in the same world, so most of the time, it doesn't feel like it is.
Another game I recently reviewed, Yakuza 6, is a savant when it comes not only establishing several different moods, but in making them all feel like they exist in the same world. Kazuma Kiryu's stomping grounds of Kamurocho have him dealing with the attempted murder of his foster daughter, phone apps becoming sentient, the takeover by Chinese Triads, and a cat cafe without cats.
The magic of Yakuza is Kiryu himself, who acts as the sounding board to everything: a moral center for the serious parts, and a straight man for the comedy. Kiryu's own commentary is what makes everything fit together into what I like to call "hyper-reality". It's not real, but it's believable and consistent because Kiryu keeps everything together.
In Far Cry 5 the glue is theoretically the player character, but the Rookie is silent throughout the whole game. The only commentary is you talking to yourself out loud. There's nothing established within the world that brings both halves together. There's little acknowledgement of one side in the other.
The cult missions generally have you interacting with the Seed family one-on-one. In some cases they spill out into the open-world, but they generally only interact with supporting characters that share the same tone. Serious characters for serious situations. Worse, the set up for these missions generally has you being taken or knocked out, essentially teleported from one world to the other.
Zany characters Hurk Jr., his cousin Sharky, Larry Parker, or film director Guy Marvel aren't really touched by the horror of what's happening in Hope County. They're inconvenience by it at most. You never see Hurk really have to interact with Jacob, the Seed who controls his homeland, or vice-versa. One never really comments on the other and neither does the protagonist.
So there's no connective tissue. It's not "normal" and "crazy", it's two different types of "normal". Far Cry 5 never really comes together as anything resembling a cohesive whole. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed both parts, though the "fun romp" won out over the main narrative for me. One excelled, while the other falters a bit when it comes to sticking the landing. But I can't talk about that without getting into endgame spoilers, so more on that next week.