No other series outside of Rockstar’s spectrum of video games generates quite as much controversy as Ubisoft’s Far Cry series. In light of the recent reveal of Far Cry 5, the internet has once again exploded at the prospect of Ubisoft doing things a little differently than the norm. With this iteration, players can expect to cause chaos in the sweet little Hope County, Montana, a rural American setting overturned by religious zealots; not only marking this as a first for the series, but a ballsy move for gaming in general. With the idea of possibly playing as the rebellious protagonist caught in the middle of this reigning religious cult, the overarching themes are pretty out there without a hint of subtlety – in true Far Cry fashion, this caused outrage, but it’s almost expected for the series at this point.
The beginnings of the series’ controversies began with 2008’s Far Cry 2, the acclaimed standalone sequel to the first Far Cry. Instead of a tropical setting, though, players were thrust into the heart of Africa in the shoes of a mercenary on the hunt for an enigmatic arms dealer called The Jackal. Despite the blatant African setting and attention to detail, the game was met with furrowed brows regarding the portrayal of the natives and the violence inflicted upon them – another puzzling “problem” that Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 faced despite also being set in Africa. However, the controversy was nowhere near large enough to catch the attention of the mainstream media and instead faded out over time, or more accurately, took a backseat to Resident Evil 5’s rising crapstorm that was set to release mere months after Far Cry 2.
In 2012, the third installment in the series, Far Cry 3, became a heated topic and seemed to stir the pot a little more. Far Cry 3 returned to the tropical setting of the first game, set on a paradise-like island where a group of vacationing American tourists, after an unfortunate crash landing on the island, are kidnapped by pirates and its up to the timid protagonist, Jason Brody, to break out of his shell and save his friends and lover. The plot seemed harmless enough except the controversy was largely aimed at the very charismatic villain, Vaas Montenegro – or rather, the archetypal role that Ubisoft had apparently placed the antagonist in as a pirate leader. I don’t claim to be an expert in what modern pirates are, but I seriously doubt anyone in their right mind would think portraying them in any other fashion besides villainous is accurate. Even besides the point, Vaas was an extremely fleshed out and multi-layered villain enough to be believable and not the murderous, cardboard tyrant that many had claimed him to be “inaccurately” represented as.
Far Cry 4 followed a similar pattern regarding the main villain, which was once again the center of controversy. Pagan Min, the pink-suit wearing tyrannical ruler of Kyrat, a Himalayan/Nepal inspired country, had a different dress code to the indigenous people of the land. His flamboyant suits, slightly fairer skin and bleached hair seemed to have thrown people off the wrong way, accidentally labeling him a white person and finding irrational reasons to be mad at Ubisoft again. Despite this controversy really having no ground at all and being somewhat culturally offensive, the game still garnered enough attention to continue this spiral of induced outrage that ironically just boosts the sales of the games even further.
One need look no further for the pinnacle of this outrage than Far Cry 5, the recently announced fifth instalment (well, fifth officially not counting Primal) of the series that’s set for release early 2018. After the leaked box art showed the main villain at the center of a dining table surrounded by bearded, religious cult members – intentionally done to visually recreate Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ – an uproar ensued, and continued to grow louder after the full reveal trailer launched. With the full trailer came a better understanding of the plot; Hope County, or now lovingly relabelled “Sinner County”, has become home to a violent religious cult that enforces their law by brainwashing civilians into following the “Father”, the new big baddie on the block. With the games’ rather unapologetic take on painting rural America as the central antagonists this time as opposed to the heroes, Ubisoft has cleverly flipped the table on a tired, mundane formula; the exact surprise element that immediately drew me into Far Cry 5.
As far as criticism goes regarding the supposed “pre-emptive strike” on Trump and the Republicans, I believe the game was in development long before Trump’s campaign had even begun, going by the average cycle of development time per title. Far Cry 5 may be attempting to tell a more generalized tale regarding its zany new villains, but as the series stands, it goes without saying that Far Cry, as a work of fiction, does not warrant extensive controversy regarding its subject matter, themes, or characters. No piece of fiction does. It may have something to say on a more satirical level cleverly masked as social commentary, but it refrains from ever being concrete factual adaptations of something – a little factor I believe people may have forgotten. With any form of art encouraging freedom of speech, video games should be treated the same; not contained in a little bubble but enjoy the same liberties of creative expression that unfortunately video games are still inexplicably panned for. Far Cry understands this well. Ubisoft understands this well. It’s perhaps the greatest reason why Far Cry is so well received by gamers and the masses. It’s not afraid to say what we can’t, even by harsher means.