Far Cry 5 suggests a world on the brink of a violent apocalypse, but the game’s sanitised gameplay and clean-cut power fantasy ultimately ring hollow. If the series wants to make a case for human savagery, it should look back to Far Cry 2, a game that wasn’t afraid to let things break.
In his GDC 2011 talk “Dynamics: The State of the Art,” Far Cry director Clint Hocking revealed that the original pitch for Far Cry 2 stated that the game was supposed to be about how “human social savagery is more disturbing than the simple savagery of teeth and claws.” To facilitate this, Far Cry 2 is built with systems that intersect to cause the player a great deal of inconvenience and make combat messy. The game famously implemented fire spread, allowing molotovs or explosives to light the world ablaze. Guns were prone to jamming, and the jam either needed to be frantically cleared or the weapon discarded. Enemies rammed the player’s cars until they smoked and needed to be repaired. Injured soldiers stumbled through the jungle and bled out while others pretended to be dead only to fire at the player when they got too close. Far Cry 2 is a game where the player sets off with any number of plans and watches as everything goes to shit.
A few nights ago in Far Cry 2, I ambushed a target convoy on a road in the middle of the night, opening up with machine gun fire that dispatched one Jeep while the truck and my target fled. I chased them around the map before circling around to cut them off on a different road. Leaping out of my car, I pulled out my flamethrower and pulled the trigger. My weapon jammed and I was forced to leap out of the car’s way, firing wildly with my pistol until the driver crashed into my car. I blasted away at the target’s bodyguards as a fire spread around us. Scrambling, I scooped up a nearby assault rifle and shot his escorts dead. Unable to find him in the impenetrable dark, I only discovered my target when they fired at me. I unloaded a magazine and kept firing until it was empty and my target was dead. The fire spread around the wreckage, which finally exploded. There was nothing left behind but burned bodies.
Contrast this with the cleanliness of Far Cry 5, where I might capture an outpost without raising a single alarm, shooting perfect arrow shots at cultists from a safe position. Far Cry 2’s combat seeks to disabuse players of the idea that their ability or planning can lead to anything other than chaos. Far Cry 5 preaches that if you’re skilled enough, killing can be a pure expression of your power and ability, but Far Cry 2 says the opposite.
This sentiment is further compounded by Far Cry 5’s player character the Rookie. They are an unnamed deputy sheriff caught in a lawless frontier. Hope Country, long since claimed by Joseph Seed’s cult, has far more in common with the bandit-filled countrysides of Red Dead Redemption or the cartel-ruled Bolivia of Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Left with nothing but a badge, some guns, and some grit, they have to wrestle the world into a state of order. It is a power fantasy that Ubisoft employs often, perhaps most notably in Tom Clancy’s The Division, where players are permitted to loot and murder all because of their special status as a Division agent. Far Cry 5’s systems perpetuate that fantasy. Nothing ever really breaks in Hope County, and the player’s weapons are always pristine and ready to shoot the next mindless fanatic they come across. For all the game’s doomsaying, the gameplay itself never impedes or even inconveniences the player. It never breaks their bones or jams their guns. For a world on the brink, supposedly brimming with sin, everything functions perfectly well.
Far Cry 2 doesn’t entirely escape from the unfortunate trappings the series has become known for. The ability to drop into an intentionally unnamed African country and sow chaos without censure is no less insipid a power fantasy than becoming a magical tribal warrior on a tropical island in Far Cry 3 or dispensing justice on the American frontier in Far Cry 5. But in spite of its problems, Far Cry 2 is the only game in the series where the world properly presses back against the conqueror’s impulse.
The moment the player enters Far Cry 2’s unnamed nation, they contract malaria. In gameplay, this sickness can flare up to impair movement or even knock out the player if they don’t possess valuable anti-malarial drugs. Far Cry 5 might summon an angry wolverine to pester the player, but Far Cry 2 conjures a foe that can’t be defeated by purchasing a new assault rifle. Unlike Far Cry 5’s world of seizable outposts, Far Cry 2’s guard-posts and checkpoints always respawn enemies. They player is always at risk, and they can never truly change the world. How dare they ever believe it was possible?
In presenting a sanitised form of combat, Far Cry 5 fails to meaningfully engage with either the player’s power or the Rookie’s authority. Its message that “sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away” rings false as it gleefully offers a frontier where there’s no reason to walk away when pulling a trigger is so easy. Far Cry 2, with its tendency to break down and undercut the player’s plans, makes a far better case for human cruelty than any of Far Cry 5’s sermons.