'Far Cry 5' Needs to Confront Montana's History of Violence and Greed

There’s a great opportunity here for Ubisoft to use the state as an allegory as much as a playground.

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May 25 2017, 7:00pm

Keyart courtesy of Ubisoft

Spoilers follow for the stories of Far Cry 2 and 3.

With its Montana setting, the forthcoming Far Cry 5 presents its makers Ubisoft with an opportunity to say much more about the series' obsession with wealth, and the collecting of material things to promote status, or simply drive the narrative forward, for better and worse.

In the series standout so far, 2008's Far Cry 2, the player is cast as a mercenary, completing missions for money—and the more we earn, the worse the situation around us seems to become. For every pay-off, a tragedy. Our actions perpetuate a civil war—and later, in a fight over diamonds, we kill our best friend.

Far Cry 3 gave us more weapons (that didn't jam), more abilities, but it's ultimately for naught as our character—having accrued innumerable dollars and captured swathes of land—is consumed by his own power, once again killing his friends in one of its optional endings. Far Cry 4's most materialistic character, who lives in a palace, is also its main antagonist.

This series appears to criticize wealth and acquisition, implying that possessions, and a prominent streak of self-interest, corrode the soul. But at the same time, collecting items, finishing quests, crafting gear and earning power-ups is intrinsic to the core Far Cry experience.

Montana provides the fifth core Far Cry title a natural, geographical allegory.

In various forms, the thrust of these games is Getting Stuff. And if they suffer from contradiction—which isn't the same as ambiguity—it's because they moralize about their less-savory characters, while encouraging and permitting players to do as they do.

But Far Cry 5, by virtue of being set in Montana, has the chance to be a lot more cohesive. Central to the gold rush and the western expansion of the US, the Canada-neighboring state represents, historically, both an appetite for more and its pernicious effects—precisely what Far Cry has struggled to convincingly criticize.

After gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek, in 1862, the Montana Trail was created and emigrants flocked to the state and surrounding areas. Encapsulating the pursuit of wealth and its pernicious effects, the gold-rushers inevitably clashed with the Shoshoni tribe. The Bear River Massacre, in Washington Territory, ended with the deaths of almost 250 Native Americans. From discovery, to destruction—something Far Cry's been doing for nearly a decade.

You might look at the vapid South America shooter Ghost Recon: Wildlands and conclude that Ubisoft has little interest in respecting the complexity of any place, or period.

But then there's the San Francisco-set Watch Dogs 2, from the same publisher, which successfully, and continually, addressed issues of privilege and tech culture. That made it feel like a more faithful recreation of reality, and recent history. There's precedent, then, for this studio to do right by another of its open worlds, and paint it in brushstrokes that aren't so broad as to be insulting.

If Far Cry's disapproval of acquisition, of material gain, has appeared out of place in the games to date, there's no doubt that Montana provides the fifth core title a natural, geographical allegory. Should it cheerfully encourage us to go out and, again, Get Stuff, it'll appear ignorant of a history that centers its setting as a perfect, all-encompassing metaphor.

Far Cry 5 is officially revealed on May 26th.

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