Far Cry 6 is still over a month out from release and while there remains plenty we don’t yet know, a massive batch of hands-on previews dropped this week across various gaming outlets and influencer videos, shedding more light on the game. The problem is what they illuminate, and what they don’t. They paint Far Cry 6 as the latest predictable blockbuster, albeit one with aspirations of saying something meaningful about revolution and the oppression that spurs it. Sound familiar?
The previews seem to just be there to tell us whether the shooting is any good and what novel ways Ubisoft has found to dress up its to-do list icon-filled maps rather than to interrogate why we should expect anything more from Far Cry this time around. In some ways it feels like we’ve learned nothing at all.
“Not your grandad’s revolución,” quipped IGN. “Far Cry 6 is a huge game in every sense,” announced VG247. It “looks to be a big, beautiful game,” concluded VentureBeat. Even the previews that acknowledged the series’ troubled thematic past remained optimistic it might not get in the way this time around. “Hopefully, the enjoyment we get from flying around in our wingsuits, firing over-the-top weapons, and fighting alongside a cute wiener dog named Chorizo doesn’t contrast too harshly with the story of an island in political peril,” wrote Game Informer.
What I’ve learned from previews like these and others (Kotaku was not invited to these demos) is that Far Cry 6 will let you force helicopters to land so you can steal them rather than just blowing them up. The series’ skill tree has been replaced with a loot-based system where stats and abilities are activated by equipping new guns and armour. Chickens, alligators, and other murderous “Amigos” will even fight by your side while you’re torching island compounds with DIY flamethrowers.
What I’ve heard much less about, if anything at all, is what Far Cry 6 does to prevent itself from feeling like another gory vacation to an exoticized country created by Canadian studios under the umbrella of a French company. Maybe that’s by design. Narrative payoffs are an easy thing to hide from preview demos under the auspices of not spoiling anything. Maybe it’s because at its core, Far Cry 6 remains fundamentally a game about finding cool and chaotic new ways to blow shit up. These underlying tensions should be at the heart of deciding what Far Cry 6 might be and whether it will be worth engaging with. But somehow, in the year of our lord 2021, such concerns are still mostly relegated to the written equivalent of a grimace emoji buried a few paragraphs from the end.
Far Cry 6 made waves back in May when narrative director Navid Khavari said the game was not intended to make a political statement about Cuba, despite being a game about revolutionary guerilla fighters in an island nation in the Caribbean where you apparently heal yourself by smoking a cigar. Khavari elaborated days later in a statement on Ubisoft’s website that Far Cry 6’s story was political. “A story about a modern revolution must be,” he wrote. Still, though, it was not to be taken as a “binary political statement specifically on the current political climate in Cuba,” despite the development team explicitly visiting Cuba for inspiration.
Khavari also wrote, “Far Cry is a brand that in its DNA seeks to have mature, complex themes balanced with levity and humour. One doesn’t exist without the other, and we have attempted to achieve this balance with care.” Whether it can actually navigate that balance is one of the central questions facing the game and only a few previews I’ve come across actually grappled with it.
Meanwhile, some writers who might have been able to provide alternative perspectives were shut out of the process. “I was kindly invited to cover that build for an outlet to offer a latinx perspective and Ubisoft declined it since I’m not based in the US,” wrote Into The Spine editor Diego Nicolás Argüello on Twitter. According to what an Ubisoft rep told Argüello, that was because of concerns over server ping times since the Far Cry 6 demo would be run over Parsec. Bad ping would mean a laggy demo experience. The feel of the gameplay was the priority, it seems, rather than the story and its political trappings.
Most previews haven’t grappled with the company behind the game either. Some sites currently boycotting Activision Blizzard coverage wrote about Far Cry 6 without even a mention of the fact that hundreds of current and former Ubisoft employees recently petitioned the company for new processes and rules for dealing with workplace abuse. The company might be willing to turn the page on the news cycle and move on, but employees aren’t. One of the Ubisoft studios racked by allegations of employee mistreatment was Toronto, which is currently leading development on Far Cry 6. While Sledgehammer Games acknowledged recent allegations during a preview for Call of Duty: Vanguard, the obligation to ask Ubisoft about them seems to have expired.
There’s a thing that happens a lot in games where something hasn’t come out yet, and despite every piece of available information and every bone in your body telling you it will be X, there still remains a shred of hope it might turn out to be Y. Far Cry 6’s tale of revolutionary politics in the face of post-colonial exploitation seems ill-suited to the incentives, constraints, and bloodlust of a first-person shooter, and an even worse fit for a company like Ubisoft with a long track record of trying to sanitize its products for mass consumption.
I got a lot of bad-faith criticism back in July for proposing that we were only a few months away from a “shitstorm of discourse” around Far Cry 6. I hadn’t played the game yet! How could I know? Clearly I was pre-judging Far Cry 6 based on my existing biases. But I think of it more like looking up a weather forecast. It’s unpredictable. Things can change. The stormiest day can turn out to be a lovely one instead. I acknowledge the possibility, but I’ll believe it’s actually happening when I see it. In the meantime? I’ll plan accordingly.