Far Cry 6 was always going to be a controversial game, whether Ubisoft wanted it to be or not. While it’s set on a fictional Caribbean island named Yara, it’s inspired by the very real Cuba. What’s more, it explicitly draws on some of the country’s political history with a plot revolving around revolution, a dictator, and guerilla warfare. All of that would make it hard for Ubisoft to pull out its usual line about its games being apolitical.
And yet, it did anyway, spurring yet another debate about how games approach (or shy away from) real-world politics. Navid Khavari, Far Cry 6 narrative director, quickly took the wheel, rebuking Ubisoft’s claim with a blog post firmly stating that “our story is political,” but the dreaded discourse had already begun. Ubisoft’s initial comment is sure to stay in the back of many players’ minds when they hop into the game on October 7.
Or at least, it kicked around my brain as I played a five-hour demo of the game. While Ubisoft’s insistence that its games (several of which are military shooters) are apolitical is absurd, I almost understand why it made that statement in regard to Far Cry 6: That’s because it’s more interested in Hollywood action and comedic farce than compelling social satire.
Far Cry 6 opens with some loaded imagery. We’re introduced to Yara’s ruthless dictator, Antón Castillo, who id voiced by and modeled after actor Giancarlo Esposito. After a brief history lesson about the island, we’re thrown into immediate unrest in Yara’s streets. Military forces are patrolling and shooting at protestors, making Yara look like a war zone. It looks dystopian, but it’s reminiscent of images we saw one year ago during the George Floyd protests.
Soon, I was dashing through back alleys as Dani Rojas, a freedom fighter looking to topple Castillo’s oppressive regime. It’s a gripping opening sequence as I bolt across a battlefield unarmed, trying to slide into a manhole before I’m gunned down by stray bullets. The stakes are high and that’s largely because I’ve seen this kind of violence in the real world. This isn’t a fantasy dystopia; it’s a place I’m uncomfortably familiar with.
But Far Cry 6’s actual plot is far less relatable. It turns out that Yara is home to a kind of miracle tobacco called Viviro, which is highly effective in treating cancer. Castillo’s sinister rule is entirely based around his desire to sell the drug, which has led to forced labor in order to keep his paradise afloat. Certain pieces of that premise certainly mirror real-life political conflict, but it’s largely an action-movie setup that you’d find James Bond mixed up in (Yara’s story actually isn’t far off from Quantum of Solace’s Bolivian water monopoly setup).
Some of the missions I played certainly had a Hollywood flair to them. In an early standout, I broke into a Viviro field armed with a flamethrower and started torching rows of plants. Guards started shooting back, culminating in a shootout that emphasized the “fire” in firefight. It was an excellent set piece that highlighted the game’s solid gunplay, though it’s a (pardon me) far cry from what I’d experienced in the genuinely tense opening sequence.
I can’t really identify a bold thematic takeaway from my first few hours of playing the game. But I can easily recall the experience of swinging between two massive boats with a grappling hook while a helicopter reigned bombs down around me. Far Cry 6 seems more invested in action. And at least it can back it up.
The further I got away from the introduction, the more Far Cry 6 parted with reality. That was especially true in my final hour of the demo, as I put the plot to the side and freely explored Yara. I soon found myself in the midst of a wild sidequest that involved a murderous chicken named Chicharrón. I chased him around as he terrorized fruit vendors, set off explosives, and led me into a series of shootouts against Castillo’s forces. Even the chickens hate this guy.
Once I finished, I was able to summon Chicharrón as an “amigo” that can attack enemies on command. It’s a moment where I realize that Far Cry 6 is more interested in farce than satire. There’s a thin line between those two. Satire twists the real world on its head, using comedy to expose truths in a sort of funhouse mirror reflection. Farce, on the other hand, is less invested in making a point; it’s just trying to entertain audiences with goofy caricatures and larger-than-life antics.
When I sic an alligator on a beach full of troops, that’s farce. When I heal myself by putting a big Cuban cigar out on my wound, boy, oh boy, that’s farce. I may as well have been watching Woody Allen’s Bananas.
None of this is new for the Far Cry franchise, mind you. It’s always been a series that aims to balance complex themes with absurd humor. It’s a tricky line to toe, though. The game is still rooted in history and real-world violence, even if we’re dealing with a fictional island and an impossible miracle drug (tobacco is the cure for cancer!). It wants to reflect reality, but still keep the ugliest parts of it at arm’s length so players stay entertained. History is a buzzkill, after all.
In the same blog post where Khavari declares that Far Cry 6 is political, he also sets some realistic expectations about what it’ll offer players on that front. “If anyone is seeking a simplified, binary political statement specifically on the current political climate in Cuba, they won’t find it,” Khavari writes. It’s an honest statement. I don’t know that we’ll ever get profound commentary from a massive AAA open-world game that’s aiming for mass appeal. Though it makes me wonder why the Far Cry series is so obsessed with historical reference points that it has little to say about.
I reckon that many players could care less if they walk away from Far Cry 6 with a deep understanding of Cuban history and political revolutions. Its huge world is full of comedic potential that’s perfect for content creators. And anyone who’s looking for a fun co-op experience will surely have a good time driving around as a friend guns down planes overhead. In those respects, Far Cry 6 delivers so far. My first five hours were filled with slapstick shenanigans and engaging action set pieces.
Just don’t go in expecting Yara’s political struggles to get the depth they deserve. It’s a war we’re never going to win when it comes to Far Cry.
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