Ubisoft is peeling back the layers on its Far Cry 5 game, which paints a disturbing portrait of America with its focus on a doomsday cult in Montana. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles, Ubisoft showed a hands-on demo of how you can find allies and expel the cult from a small town in Hope County.
I liberated a town called Falls End in Far Cry 5 in a demo at a Ubisoft event. And then I spoke with Dan Hay, executive producer of the game, afterward. Hay explained to us why you have companions, dubbed Guns For Hire, in your battle against the cultists who have taken over Hope County, Montana.
The game is a constant struggle, where you are the underdog against 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.
But as you win battles against the cult, you gain allies who can aid you in each battle. In this demo, I played the Falls End mission with the crop duster Nick Rye, the sniper Grace, and the dog Boomer. They could help with overwhelming force (like bombs from Rye’s biplane), sniper cover, or stealth dog attacks.
The game comes out on February 27, 2018. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What did you want to demonstrate with this particular demo?
Dan Hay: The first thing you think about when people got to play, they got to see what it’s like to take back a small community like Fall’s End. We gave three different Guns for Hire to be able to attack. When you think about Grace, she’s pretty adept at being able to come in with a sniper rifle and take everybody out. Then we gave you Boomer, and the chance to have your best friend run in and take guns out of people’s hands and take them back. And we gave you Nick, who’s just a lot of fun to play. You can have him come in doing the death from above and blow stuff up.
Once you’ve liberated Fall’s End, you have to go out into the open world and see the cult, see what’s happening. When we show you places like Nick’s, the plane, the opportunity to fly around the world see the cult from above — you can strafe, you can bomb. You’ll get an experience that’s completely different. Then, when you have a situation where you’re up in the air fighting another plane, that feels super cool.
GamesBeat: There’s a balance you have to strike there, whether the companions make it too easy. The airplane is pretty deadly.
Hay: Players who play Far Cry love the idea of the anecdote factory, being able to mess with the systems and see how they collide. We had this idea of, “What if you could bring the systems with you?” What if you could bring the Guns for Hire, Fangs for Hire, with you and actually use them as a weapon? We want to be careful. We want to make sure the people who want to just play solo and go in to run-and-gun can do that. But the Guns for Hire are tools you can use. They’re good at very different things.
Boomer will give you the ability to see what you couldn’t see. He can go in and tag people. Then, when you decide that you’re going to attack, he’ll go in and protect you. What’s cool is, maybe you’re on a .50 caliber shooting a cult truck. Then a bunch of guys come in from one side. Boomer can protect your flank. Or maybe what you want to do is get up in the tower and snipe with Grace, who’s deadly with that rifle. Or you want to pull back a bit and watch, pick your spots and have Nick come in to bomb and strafe.
GamesBeat: Can you dial that back by making the Guns for Hire more expensive? You won’t necessarily use that on every mission, maybe?
Hay: We’re not going into the set details of how the systems work. But what’s important is that we want to give the player the ability to meet different people or choose not to meet somebody and go down that path. Either way, you play the way you want to play. For me, I love Boomer. It really does feel like that dog has my back. When we tried to build that dog, we wanted him to feel like an extension of you, like it felt natural.
GamesBeat: Is he the equivalent of a stealth ally?
Hay: That’s one way to look at it. The nice thing about Boomer is that nobody really pays attention to him. You can send him all the way around Fall’s End. It’s not just about human A.I., too. If you’re out in the world and you encounter a group of wolves and you know they’re going to attack you — if you have Boomer with you, he can hold his own. He has the ability to hold them at bay and give you the opportunity to figure out how you want to attack.
The other day I was running around the open world and I had Boomer with me. All of a sudden, I hear this huge roar, and there’s a bear beside me. I back up, and Boomer basically scares the shit out of the bear, chases the bear all the way across a field of hay. It was awesome. Bear hunting with Boomer.
GamesBeat: I got to go fly fishing for a minute there.
Hay: Did you catch anything?
GamesBeat: My colleague [Mike Minotti] caught the biggest fish of the day. I didn’t see how many pounds, though.
Hay: We went fly fishing ourselves when we were up in Montana. It’s one of those moments where yes, you can go in the game and blow stuff up and shoot things and meet people and maybe have funny stories to tell. But sometimes you just want to spend your time out in the open world. You just want to take in the world. The fly fishing is cool, because you can kind of lose yourself. It’s a mini-game where you step up next to a dock or out in the river, and pretty quick you just hear that sound, that tick-tick-tick as you bring the fish in. You catch a nice eight-pounder, and then someone else playing the game catches something that’s eight-point-pounds, and all of sudden you want to keep going.
GamesBeat: What are you planning to settle on as far as framerate? It seems a little slower than other shooters right now.
Hay: What you see right now is pre-alpha. You know Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4. Our goal is to make a great shooter experience for everyone. Our focus is on making sure the people who play the games we make have that kind of experience, and they trust us to deliver it.
GamesBeat: Some things, like the water, look very advanced. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that.
Hay: We spent a lot of time on the water and the clouds. If you’re going to be in a place that has such a big sky, where that sky is almost a personality in the game — we know you want to be able to fly, to play duck and cover in the clouds and have a great experience.
GamesBeat: In this particular town, there’s a fair amount of narrated experience. You’re weaving the action into it pretty closely.
Hay: When we were in Montana, we met real people. They weren’t actors. People had day jobs. They were earnest folks. We wanted to be able to create that experience where if you go and you take Fall’s End, and then you go into the bar, there’s Mary. She knows you. She knows what you’ve done. She says, “Look, maybe there’s a chance for you to go out and meet these other people and find what’s going on.” You can build that resistance, because she knows people. She’s been in the area a long time. She knows all the personalities. We wanted that to feel real.
We built it so that maybe you’d pass by Jerome, or you’d meet Nick, and these people would have real problems. They’d have real suggestions about how to push back on the cult. Or maybe you just meet someone out in the open world who’s hunting, or who’s lost. They know you too. They know what you’ve done. They know a little of your story. Maybe they can give you a hint about what to do next.
GamesBeat: What kind of reaction have you seen to the setting and the subject matter so far?
Hay: It’s been really interesting to watch people talk about the game and start that conversation. As people get their hands on it, I think they’ll really enjoy it. If you’ve played Primal, or Far Cry 3, or Far Cry 4, you’ll know what kind of games we build. But we wanted to bring that to the states and we wanted it to feel real. We wanted to pick a place that was a frontier, that gave you the opportunity to believe that something like the unique Far Cry experience could happen there.
When we went to Montana and met people there, it felt real. We felt like people there wanted to be left alone. They didn’t want to be messed with. It was the perfect opportunity for us to build a world that felt credible, and to build the cult. When we talked about what kind of enemy we wanted, what kind of person we wanted, we wanted to build that magnetic leader. Someone who would have their own understanding of right and wrong, who could operate in that space. Someone you could meet, and when you talked to them, they felt real. When we started to craft the leadership of the cult and what they believed in and how they affected the world, people really responded to that.
GamesBeat: At some point I wonder — you’re an underdog in this whole situation. Can you, at some point, bring the full force of the federal government or law enforcement into it? That’s what tends to happen in real situations like this.
Hay: It was our intention to make it so it felt like you were a bit alone here. You’re cut off. The experience we had in Montana that was kind of spooky — we flew in there, and we’re used to — everyone has their cell phone now. We can’t go 30 seconds without checking our phones. As soon as we landed, though, and we started to go up into the mountains, all of a sudden our phones have no signal. We didn’t really know where we were. This goes on for hours, and then hours became days. So how do you get a message out? It really did feel like we’d stepped back in a time a bit.
For us, that experience, we wanted to share it with people. We wanted to say, “Maybe, for 48 hours, for 72 hours, you could believably keep this out of the news. You could keep what’s going on here to itself.” When we built it, we liked the idea of no cell phones, no signal, no 911, no help.
GamesBeat: So you have to find this sort of underground.
Hay: You have to find regular people who are willing to help you, who have a similar distrust of the cult, who’ve maybe lived there a long time and know what the cult is about, and who believe they need to defend themselves. You build a resistance. That’s what it is, resisting the cult.
GamesBeat: From what I’ve read about the government’s encounters with these types of people, finding those friends can be pretty hard. Or you find someone who seems to be a friend until they aren’t.
Hay: There’s something interesting about when you meet someone for the first time. Everyone has who they really are, and then who they are on the surface, who they show other people. There’s no question that, when you’re walking around in the world and meeting people, there’s an element of trust. I can’t give too much away, but when you enter a region for the first time and people don’t know you, versus when you’ve been there a while and done stuff there — when you walk up to somebody and you’re not sure how they’ll react, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s you. You’re the one who took Fall’s End. I’ve heard about you. Hey, if there’s anything I can do to help….”
You’ll have this feeling of, “Okay, I’m doing this. This is me. People are going to help me.” But you do want to be a bit guarded with different characters. We want to make sure we’re not just presenting the idea that everyone is there to help you. How we play with that, though, I won’t go too far into it.
GamesBeat: You don’t want to make the revolution too easy.
Hay: That’s just it. We built something where you don’t really know anybody at first. You’re alone in this space. It’s scary at the beginning. The tension is there. Then you step out into the world and begin to meet people. You begin to protect people and built this group of people that trust you. You’re maybe even building a squad of people that can deal with this world. You meet someone like Nick and he can show up with that plane. You did something for them and now they trust you and let you bring them along.
We tried to make it so you meet a variety of different people. We have people with different views in the game, different opinions about stuff. People are from different places in the game. It’s not all one flavor as you go through.