Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Windows PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Toronto
Release Date: March 27, 2018
If games are ever going to be taken seriously by the world at large as an art form capable of intelligent social commentary, major studios need to show some resolve when constructing their stories and characters.
When Black Panther was unleashed on movie-going audiences in February it helped elevate the superhero film to something more than jaw dropping action sequences and clever wisecracks. It made a strong statement about racism, showing us how America’s systemic social flaws perpetuate hate and anger while suggesting those who can do something about it need to step off the sidelines and take action. And guess what? It’s now the highest grossing superhero movie of all time.
It was with hope of something similar that I entered into Ubisoft Montreal’s
Far Cry 5, the latest entry in the French game publisher’s blockbuster open world action series that drops players into unpredictable playgrounds of chaos and mayhem created and shaped by charismatic and often ideological villains. This time out players are going up against something that ought to hit close to home for the series’ North American fans: An armed religious cult based in the wilds of Montana led by a preacher known as the Father.
It’s hard to imagine a more topical subject. Proliferation of guns in America? Religion-motivated violence? The rise of right wing extremism? Check, check, and check. There’s all kinds of potential here for some legitimate analysis of and commentary on real world problems. But while Ubisoft’s writers boldly march up to the door, they’re too shy to start pounding on it, settling instead to whisper a few safe jokes before moving on.
The game is loaded with bits of satire that broach all sorts of rural American topics. Flags and eagles are almost everywhere, cranky old timers rant about aggressive liberals ruining their way of life (with a couple of witty nods to Canadian socialism), and isolated doomsday preppers keep well stocked concrete bunkers. There are plenty of places where you can see how the writers drew inspiration from real life cults and local reactions to them, particularly the Oregonian Rajneesh movement back in the 1980s, which took over an entire town and even created its own armed police force.