Far Cry 5’s announcement rode in on a wave of controversy. Where past games took players to far-off lands where the player murdered the locals, Far Cry 5 is set in a small Montana county. The enemy is a group of largely white Americans. Its heroes are a ragtag group of resistance fighters, fighting against a cult — a group whose imagery is drenched in patriotic Americana and Christian symbols.
But its first demo, for all of the conversations around the change to the game, felt largely like the Far Cry games that preceded it — its Montana location serving less as a statement than as a playground.
A great deal of buzz around the game has been given to its politics, though Far Cry 5’s development reaches back much further than the election of President Donald Trump and the rise of the alt-right.
"I get that question a fair amount,” Far Cry 5 executive producer and creative director Dan Hay tells The Verge. “Our intention was not to make a specific political statement. Our intention was to build an environment and build a situation that felt real.”
Hay describes the game’s design and the political climate as a “chicken and egg” situation.
“It has been eerie, is the word I would use,” Hay says. “Usually when you're making a game, you take a break, you walk outside, you go have lunch, and the conversations that take place at lunch that you're listening to are vastly different from the conversations that are happening in the game. That is not the case in this game. And it's been strange.”
At E3, Far Cry 5 is present in the form of a short demo mainly showcasing the game’s different AI-controlled partners. Grace Armstrong is a sniper; Nick Rye is a pilot with access to a very tough to fly plane; Boomer is a dog. All three have different capabilities, with a character like Grace providing backup from afar, while Boomer is there to rip through nearby enemies and fetch a gun. My experience with the game provided little insight about the cult the group is fighting against, aside from some bloody run-ins. And I never got the chance to meet the Father, the cult’s leader.
Hay describes the Father as a man who believes the means — in other words, murder and mayhem — justify the end. In building the game’s antagonistic cult, Hay says it’s easy to look at them from a scholastic standpoint. Or, even an anecdotal one.
“When people think about cults, they have an idea in their mind,” he says. Ubisoft worked with a team of “cult experts”on the game, though Hay declines to say what kind of research they did. "I'll be super specific about making sure that folks understand that we did a bunch of research with cult experts, and that's why we built our own cult,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that people understood we weren't specifically targeting a group. We wanted it to be ours.”
But Far Cry 5 needed a magnetic villain — a leader who could convince you that they have answers you don’t. “What I want to know is that I'm sitting down with somebody who's intelligent enough, who's magnetic enough, that even though I have the preconceived notion that I would never be turned or never think of myself as joining a cult,” Hay says. “That this person after a while could talk to me and I would begin to believe that perhaps under the right circumstances they could win me over.”
At the very least, Far Cry 5 still feels very much in-line with its past. In 20 minutes, I’d managed to tangle with wolves and locals (with deadly results); joyride through the country (with deadly results); and man a plane long enough to bomb a stretch of farmland (much to my dismay, with no deadly results).
For those that want to sidestep the messy conversation about what the game may or may not say, Far Cry 5’s E3 demonstration was happy to oblige.