Ubisoft revealed today that Far Cry 5 will be about one of the most disturbing realities about American extremism: an armed religious cult that believes the collapse of society is near.
The French video game publisher has a way of making fictional games feel realistic, like the San Francisco setting of the recent Watch Dogs 2. But this game is going to make a lot of people, Americans in particular, feel uncomfortable about where our society is heading. The recent presidential election surely showed that the United States is divided, and the open-world shooter Far Cry 5 peers into the consequences of that division.
Fans had guessed that story as Ubisoft slowly unveiled details this week on the setting in the fictional Hope County, Montana. And Ubisoft all but gave it away in an image of the box cover for Far Cry 5, which featured a group of cult-like figures presiding, in the style of The Last Supper, over some kind of trial of a sinner. This new Far Cry won’t come out until February 27, 2018, but we had a briefing on the story from creative director Dan Hay.
It isn’t pretty.
Far Cry’s tradition is to mix the beauty of landscapes with the madness of men. You see it in the chilling calm of Vaas Montenegro in Far Cry 2 and the violent insanity of Pagan Min in Far Cry 4. Ubisoft’s game makers conceive of villains who rule over the local society with extreme brutality. But now Hay and his team are taking a risk and doing the unthinkable: finding such villains in the heart of America, with a focus on a fanatical doomsday cult.
“Far Cry is both chaos and beauty,” Hay said.
Hay said that his team did research by going to Montana and talking with the locals. They found people who wanted to be left alone and were preparing for the inevitable collapse of American society. When the fall comes, they will be ready to defend themselves. And Hay said that in Far Cry 5, you’ll meet a leader who wants to speed that collapse along.
The cult’s head is Joseph Seed, a religious leader who has created an armed group that spreads fear throughout the rural community. People are afraid to speak out against them. His two brothers serve as enforcers, and his half-sister tries to mollify those who don’t want to go along.
“I am your father, and you are my children,” Joseph Seed says in the trailer.
As far as I know, the story doesn’t delve into racism. Some of the groups in the West have been built around the idea of white supremacy, and they have chosen to build compounds in places where there isn’t much diversity. But what Ubisoft has revealed so far don’t shed much light on that dimension, other than that all of the enemies within the cult appear to be white. Again, that’s another uncomfortable question that this kind of game can answer. Ubisoft says racism isn’t the focus. Rather, it’s about the consequences of having that doomsday cult take root in a place where it is the dominant force.
I wondered if there were some dissonance in this game. It focuses on a very real, very relevant concern about growing extremism in America, and yet it’s also a zany Far Cry where you can grab heavy weapons and fire them at will through an open world full of nonstop action. It’s trying to make a statement about how disturbing we have become, but it also wants to be a fun video game where you blow things up. It could be a compelling story full of characters that are fascinating, but it could also be an open world where you do whatever the hell you want.
This is the first Far Cry set in the U.S., and it could be the most disturbing setting yet. Each Far Cry game takes place in a beautiful setting: Far Cry 4 was set in Nepal, while Far Cry 3 was set on a tropical island between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Far Cry 2 took place in Central Africa, and the original Far Cry was on an island in the South Pacific.
Those beautiful settings show off the amazing graphics of the 3D games, and in this case, the running water in the stream looks real. But there’s an interesting story behind how the Far Cry team found the inspiration for the story below the surface.
In this case, Hay said, “When I was a kid, thinking back to about 1982. I remember very clearly being a child of the ’80s and the end of the Cold War. What I remember very clearly is that these two titans, the Soviet Union and the U.S., were embroiled in this battle. It left an indelible mark on me. I was watching stuff like The Terminator, War Games. I remember The Day After [about a nuclear attack and its aftermath] scared the shit out of me.”
Then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and Hay felt he could breathe a sense of relief. It would be OK. We were safe. But the feeling of fear returned again after 9/11.
“I felt that feeling,” Hay said. “I started looking at things that happened after 2008 and 2009, looking at the subprime mortgage collapse. And the feeling of people in the world, and specifically in America, looking at the government and wondering where the fuck is the government? How are you protecting our legacy? How are you protecting our homes? Who is driving this? Who has their hands on the wheel?”
As they considered the U.S. for a setting, Hay said, “As we moved the clock forward, the language of the world is starting to change. Gone is the language of the global village. And now we are starting to hear words like ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are starting to see people separate.”
Hay was writing the story about two-and-a-half years ago, and he was looking for evidence of this change. He looked into the standoff in Oregon, where an armed militia took over a federal wildlife refuge and occupied it for 41 days. The Bundy family and others who played a role in the standoff were acquitted in the trial that followed.
“That’s brings us to the creative of the game,” Hay said. “We are going to Montana. We are going to the frontier of Montana in present day. What we learned there is this concept of ‘freedom, faith, and firearms.’ People in that region, they don’t want to be fucked with. We’re applying that to Far Cry. We did that two-and-a-half years ago. But even today, this morning when I turned on the news, this concept of dissatisfaction, feeling like something is wrong, something is off. It brings me very much back to when I was a kid. I don’t know that I feel safe.”
In some ways, Hay expresses sympathy for the people who want to be left alone. But he also supplies context for why they feel alienated and driven to fanatical extremes. Hope County is symbolic of the bucolic places of America. But after Seed and his family created The Project at Eden’s Gate, they bring a climate of fear. They pressure the locals to join them and keep quiet, and not bring the hated federal government to interfere with them.
While Joseph is the leader, his siblings help him control the region. Joseph’s brothers are Jacob Seed, a former Army soldier, and John Seed, a lawyer. Their half-sister, Faith, pacifies people and keeps them following her father.
“Joseph believes he has been chosen to protect the people from the collapse,” he said. “To save them whether they want to be saved or not. They believe we must prepare to be tested.”
As can happen in real life, the lawyer, in this case the brother, will go into an area, buy a bunch of land, and put a bunch of followers in it. The value of the surrounding land goes down, and the lawyer buys that up. And soon, they have control of a region.
One everything goes bad, the violence familiar to Far Cry fans starts. The cult tries to suppress the resistance in the town so it won’t betray the cult to the feds. Your job as the player is to help organize the resistance. This includes people like Pastor Jerome, a crop duster named Nick, and a bar owner named Mary.
“We build a beautiful world,” Hay said. “We fill it with unique characters. We give you a shit load of toys to go out and build your resistance.”
And that is Far Cry 5.