Which is the worse sin: Creating a cockfighting simulator? Or creating a cockfighting simulator so boring that no one would even want to play it?
This question is, somehow, at the heart of Far Cry 6, the latest big-budget instalment in a video game franchise that often feels like it’s aspiring to be the playable version of that “Change My Mind” meme, the one with the smug guy sitting behind the table and demanding to be debated by people who couldn’t actually be bothered.
It’s a question central to a game that desperately wants to be denounced for its provocative, edgy stances, and the seduction of its mass violence — but which never actually makes its violence all that seductive, or its stances solid enough to merit any kind of strong response.
We’re not talking theoretical cockfighting here, by the way: Said bloodsport is one of Far Cry 6’s premiere minigames, complete with collectible roosters scattered around the islands of its made-up Caribbean nation of Yara, and cheesy, Street Fighter-esque graphics splashed on the screen before each bloody match. Cockfighting in Far Cry 6 promises a subversive good time — and then follows it with rote gameplay, buggy implementation, and a thin spackle of enthusiasm to try to convince you that you’re having fun. It’s a remarkably solid metaphor for the game itself.
Far Cry 6
Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
One caveat, before we dig in deeper here: This review was written after 15 hours with a pre-release build of Far Cry 6, i.e., enough time to complete one of the title’s three major gameplay areas. It’s entirely possible that patches will shore up some of the technical weirdness we experienced, and that some of the writing, hidden in one of the two other major gameplay sections, might transcend what we experienced during our time with the game.
But for Far Cry 6 to fully make up for these early woes would require it to become much more than the sum of some extremely shoddy parts, to an extent that would border on the miraculous. This is a game that manages to make Giancarlo Esposito profoundly boring to spend time with, and that’s one hell of a perverse accomplishment.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though: Far Cry 6 puts you in the guerrilla boots of Dani Rojas, a young man or woman (your pick) who finds themselves throwing in with the rebels of Libertad, an underground group hoping to unseat brutal strongman Antón Castillo (Esposito) from his throne atop the nation of Yara.
Yara is, per series tradition, fake, but plagiaristically so: Imagine a blend of Caribbean history (Haiti and Cuba, especially) that has been frothed up in such a way as to listlessly prevent people from being able to yell at Ubisoft for directly appropriating any one people’s histories. (A French corporation using elements of the history of Haiti — a country founded by revolutionaries who overthrew the French who had enslaved them — for one of its violence-heavy playground romps is just one portion of the game’s many colonial indulgences.)
Yara is thus, like Hope County, Kyrat, and the Rook Islands before it, a theme park version of multiple real places, dotted with guerrilla paths and violent distractions to fill out its lush, mountainous roads. (Amazingly, you do not fill your map here by climbing ubiquitous towers and “syncing up” with random gadgets; instead, people hand you assignments on iPads, flagging you down with a persistence normally associated with people trying to get you to sign a petition outside a grocery store.) It’s abstractly beautiful and totally unreal, feeling exactly like the assemblage of reference photos that obviously lurk front and centre in its DNA.
The characters who populate the islands are no less Mickey Mouse, meanwhile, and it’s here that the poisonously consistent “Far Cry tone” does the most damage to this latest instalment. Dating back to the disastrously successful Far Cry 3, this franchise has always aspired to be about deeply meaningful real-world violence… and goofy, wacky, meme-y bullshit. (This is, after all, the franchise that paired its harrowing entry on cult brainwashing with a beef-loving bear named Cheeseburger.)
The narrative of 6 veers wildly as ever between its somber meditations on the perils of dictatorship, radicalisation, and the way violence begets violence — while constantly screaming at you about how much fun you’re having building a rocket launcher out of a bunch of strapped-together packs of fireworks, or introducing you to another cheerful weirdo whose quirks are meant to paper over the game’s endlessly thin characterisations.
And if Far Cry 6 actually was fun — if it genuinely provided the giddy, explosively improvisational thrillride that it constantly screams at you that you’re already having — then there might be some real artistic merit to this juxtaposition of death and joy. As it is, though, it’s a game hard to recommend even as a fresh dose of nihilistic escapism.
The shooting is at least more solid than the frequently loose and unsatisfying driving, and the basic unit of Far Cry gameplay — sneaking into a base, either stealthily, or with flamethrowers and friendly alligators akimbo — retains a simple satisfaction. But the new emphasis on crafting and customising weapons feels fairly hollow, while the majority of firefights are reduced to little more strategy than “point cursor toward where the facemeat is, then pull trigger until problem stops.”
Add in the brutal quickness with which damage accrues, the occasional glitches, and the stinginess of checkpoints, and you have a game that’s often more chore than chaos. Your Libertad comrades constantly crow about the fun of revolution — at least, when they’re not somberly reflecting on the brutal cruelty of revolution. To the game’s credit, the player experience is less split: Being bored one way isn’t noticeably different from being bored another way.
Even within the meandering and aimless boundaries of the open world big-budget shooter genre — games designed to lovingly transform vast hours of human existence into points map percentage completion, without involving the brain in all but the most cursory of ways — Far Cry 6 stands as a disappointment. As a political statement, it’s cruel, bleak, and simplistic. As a game, it’s rote, repetitive, and only surface-level innovative. As a hybrid of the two, it’s an outright disaster.