There’s a part in George Alec Effinger’s seminal cyberpunk novel When Gravity Fails where the protagonist likens himself to a catalyst: he acts on the world, but is never acted upon himself. That is until—in classic hardboiled fashion—he gets in too deep, and things get very messy and very bloody, very quickly.
You might be asking what a late eighties sci-fi novel has to do with Far Cry 6, and the answer is very little.
I bring it up because I have been wracking my brain for weeks on how best to write a review for something as critically bulletproof as a Far Cry game. So, I did anything but: I watched movies and played other games, I spent time with my niece, I read books. And it wasn’t until I read that little passage in that somewhat-horribly-dated-but-still-somewhat-prescient story that the review started to take form and crystalise.
Ubisoft doesn’t see itself as a producer of games; it sees itself as a producer of catalysts. One only has to look at any of the company’s pre-show reels for its press conferences over the years to get that impression. The videos are replete with fawning fans and streamers screeching over clippable ‘moments of engagement,’ so the company can accrue social capital and bank it for whatever debt comes later (of which there is a lot, so much, just so fucking much, like fuck).
Far Cry 6 might be a catalyst—indeed, I myself have contributed to that churning #Content machine too. But like all catalysts, it itself is untouched by the reactions it promotes. The game is closer to the chemically inert sediment that settles on the bottom of a beaker, and seeing as these games have been releasing since 2012, there is a lot of sediment to wade through.
The game takes place in the fictional island nation of Yara, a broad stand-in for Cuba. It’s led by a comically overwrought dictator played by Real Life Big Time Actor Giancarlo Esposito, whose character’s name I have already flushed from my memory banks, despite the machete-like aggression every supporting character wields his name with. Like every modern Far Cry villain, he is a caricature, unable to escape the gravity of his predecessors: he whispers, and then punctuates those whispers with shouts, and then sometimes punctuates both those things with an act of extreme violence. You’ve seen this before.
You take the role of guerrilla fighter Dani, sowing chaos all across Yara’s many islands and biomes. The main driving force of the rebellion is that Esposito’s regime has stumbled on to a miracle cure for cancer that is derived from the tobacco leaf. To mass produce said cure, they have turned to slave labour, forcing certain members of Yara’s population (the poor and those on the fringe) to work to the death in highly toxic environments. Yara then sells the cure to foreign countries for exorbitant amounts. Not only does this feel like a bit from a Simpson’s skit, it’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of how a country like Cuba would react in this scenario, given its history of international medical aid.
None of this, however, is quite as frustrating as Dani’s passivity when it comes to taking charge of the story. Like the protagonist from Effinger’s book, Dani constantly reminds the player and those around her that she simply exists to push this revolution forward because Bad Guys are doing Bad Things, and they need to be stopped. But unlike Effinger’s work, she is immune to the blowback such a morally smug and self-righteous character often reaps. The game basically ends with Dani throwing up her hands and saying “I’ve done my part, but I’m not picking a side. Now you’ve gotta figure out the rest!” While Dani’s voice actor does a good job bringing a certain amount of humanity to her (she hums and sings along to songs on the radio, sometimes off-key), it’s wholly undone by the writing propping her up. In a world claiming to be about friction (few things are more chafing than rebelling against a despotic regime), there is nothing pushing back against Dani’s spineless posturing. I have no doubts that the writers behind Far Cry 6 would have loved nothing more than to explore the rebellion in detail, but with Ubisoft that’s never going to happen.
Like every Far Cry before it, Far Cry 6 is about liberating outposts. You do this by shooting guns. A lot. The shooting is fine. But also like its older siblings, Far Cry 6 is strangled by the Ubisoft mantra of “more is more.” Instead of cutting extraneous systems, years of older ones have just been heaped on top—some even from completely different games in Ubisoft’s catalogue. Want animal companions, à la Far Cry Primal? Sure, take this spunky crocodile that wears a jacket: he’s sure to generate some good clips online. Want to passively earn some income while you’re playing, even though you don’t really need any more resources than what the game gives you? Send some Banditos on missions, like 2010’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Want to equip a branded wristwatch that increases your defence? Hoo baby, let me tell you about The Division.
It’s here. It’s all here. In all its compounded, crushing weight.
What is new however is also largely pointless. There are new classes of weapons called Resolvers and Supremos, which feel engineered to produce more of those social data points that publishers so crave. Why just shoot a gun when you can shoot CDs at an enemy? Isn’t that funny? What about a backpack that fires heat-seeking missiles? Isn’t that good? The answer is no: none of these weapons are as efficient as a silenced assault rifle, of which you can get a very good one four or five hours into the game. Even the unique guns which are supposed to serve as Destiny-like exotics are neutered because you can’t customise them (read: slap a silencer on them).
It’s also no wonder then that a game so positively bursting at the seams with code would also have its own share of bugs. I gave up riding horses because it was a total coin flip on whether oncoming traffic would veer into me. The reverse was also true; I ran over countless horses in my SUV because the scripts piloting them seemed to have a death wish. Indeed, so hated is the equine family in Far Cry 6 that they often seek to escape Yara’s airspace, catapulting into the stratosphere when being mounted.
Much like the ones before it though, Far Cry 6 looks good. Yara’s dusky orange sunsets and bright blue oceans are a welcome reprieve from the inane story and mindless systems. Not all sediment is bad sediment.
Upon reaching the end of this review, I’ve come away with a revelation. Yes, Far Cry 6 is the accumulated chemical detritus from years of similar lab experiments, layered and stratified, compounded with time and pressure. But it isn’t a catalyst. I am. I played Far Cry 6 to completion: I pressed buttons to shoot guns and progress the plot; I killed an inordinate number of animals to buy upgrades; I equipped new pairs of pants to make myself stealthier. And at the end of it all, I felt nothing. I was unchanged by the experience.
Far Cry 6
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Genre: FPS, Action-Adventure, Open World
Platforms: PC (reviewed) PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Release date: 7 October 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.