Far Cry games are often, and not unfairly, characterised as predictable – but after a global pandemic, supermarket shelves running bare and fights breaking out in garage forecourts, who isn’t aching for a little predictability? Or for our chaos to come in a neatly ordered checklist, with a pause button?
The latest instalment transports the big budget series to the fictional island of Yara, which definitely isn’t Cuba, despite its colonial architecture, classic cars, and US sanctions. Decades of poverty saw the country unite behind Antón Castillo (played by Breaking Bad villain Giancarlo Esposito), the latest charismatic leader to promise better times. But when he turns out to be more slaver than saviour, it’s time for yet another revolution. Enter Dani Rojas, a homegrown hero leading an endearing, if chaotic, band of guerrillas in a fight to liberate their island.
So far, so Far Cry. It’s a formula that Ubisoft has perfected, and there’s no denying it works; the exhilaration of Yara’s huge open-world map, just waiting to be methodically conquered, is still as potent as ever. Dive in, however, and it quickly becomes evident Far Cry 6 actually builds on its tried-and-tested recipe, refining things that have previously held the series back.
In earlier games, for example, Far Cry’s revolutionists have seemed naively optimistic. In Yara, an endless cycle of revolution and oppression has seen them grow weary, and from the start your fellow rebels warn you that removing Castillo guarantees nothing but a power vacuum. It’s a perceptive take, and a clever evolution of the usual saviour storyline, even if the game doesn’t really explore what should happen next. But then, we haven’t figured out a solution in real life, either.
Oddly, the islanders’ resignation at their bleak long-term prospects helps bridge the tonal dissonance between the futility of war and the fun of flamethrowers – with an uncertain future ahead, it’s made clear that Dani has decided to enjoy herself, giving you permission to do the same.
In another departure from form, there’s no flamboyantly eccentric villain. Esposito instead delivers a deliciously cruel, composed performance as Yara’s latest tyrant. His regime reflects him, too, with a far more efficient and strategic army than we’ve seen before. It means enemy encounters require a little more consideration: the addition of medics, who can prevent kills and revive their companions, as well as soldiers scrambling to erect gun turrets or call in reinforcements, requires you to take a moment to assess each confrontation.
However, with so many gear-based special abilities, ammo types, armoured backpacks, weapons and amusing animal companions, every situation presents a deluge of choices. Do you want to quietly dispatch enemies with a silenced rifle, or run in and harpoon everyone in sight? Launch missiles from your backpack, or send in your killer crocodile? Changing tack involves fiddling around in menus, and often, it’s just easiest to default to a gun you know and love, even as the game encourages you to experiment. Fortunately, whichever choice you make, the gunplay is gleeful fun.
If decision fatigue strikes, Yara’s a beautiful spot to relax in, dictators aside. Unusually for the series, you haven’t been parachuted into this place, and Dani’s local status makes the tropical island feel like your personal playground, whether you’re fishing, tracking mythical animals, or taking on a treasure hunt. There’s a lot on offer, though, so you’ll need to get on island time if you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed. There’s no clear finish line here.
This feels like a far more honest take on what Far Cry is to most people: a joyful, chaotic toybox. There’s room for improvement – the questionable Latin American representation, for a start – but there’s no doubt this is something of an awakening for the series, exploring ideas I’m excited to see refined in iterations to come. In particular, doing away with the cumbersome pretence of political salvation leaves you free to pick and choose your own adventure, whether that’s toppling Castillo or just being crowned Gran Primo champion. Like Yara, Far Cry 6 is brimming with potential – you just have to step up and shape it.