There have been some strange old murmurings around the glacial reveal of Far Cry 5 [official site], people worrying about it in all sorts of strange ways. And as the final reveal appeared at the end of last week, and we learned that - sigh - yes it is about a doomsday cult and your efforts to thwart them, I'm left wondering at what it could have been.
Gosh, there were some odd reactions. Just the word "Montana", before we'd even seen the first teaser trailer, was enough to trigger some of the more delicate denizens of the internet to erupt in rage certain it was to be the final oppression of white people they'd so long predicted. Others have proclaimed it's clearly a game about defeating the rise of white supremacy, at last a voice speaking out against such Western extremists. But to me it sounds like what everyone's forgetting is: it's a Far Cry game. It's far more likely to be a crass mess of stereotypes as a buzzing background irritant to a lovely, silly playground.
The thing is, watching the trailers and bits and bobs revealed Friday afternoon, I find myself imagining a far more interesting approach to the same set-up.
Far Cry is, I think history has rather firmly established, not the place for Swiftian satirical interrogation of modern cultural mores. I would venture that Far Cry has proven itself disastrous at such attempts, and the idea that this fifth installment should suddenly be the game to strike a killing blow against freedom-loving patriotic Americans, or indeed be the mouthpiece that finally sees the alt-right's rise collapse like a souffle on a landmine, is perhaps a touch optimistic. It's much more likely going to be a goofy string of far-too-long cutscenes, each of which interrupts the opportunities to have lots of fun.
There is certainly an argument to be made that picking on poor, struggling American people in 'flyover' states like Montana is unhelpful in an era that has seen such down-nosed attitudes inflame the disenfranchisement that allows a monstrosity like Trump to attain power. And if Far Cry 5 were to be that, it'd likely be problematic in all sorts of ways. But Far Cry 5 isn't that. It's going to be a game in which exactly those good-old-boys-and-girls of Montana fight back against the distinct otherness of a cult that steps on liberties and freedoms. It isn't going to be a game that's anti-gun ownership, because it's going to be a game in which you win by firing lots of guns. If the history of the series is to be repeated, it'll think it's being far cleverer than it is, which we will all ignore in order to have fun driving cars into petrol stations.
There's no doubt the trailers suggest the game is going to be replete with stereotypes. In a way that really shouldn't be any surprise when you look at the emotional sophistication of the average shooter, let alone a Far Cry game. They'll have bases dotted all about the nearby counties, and you'll have to take them over in the name of, I dunno, not a cult. Maybe it'll ramp up the insensitivity to a headline-grabbing point of emulating a Waco-like siege. Maybe it'll be offensive? Probably it'll be offensive to some. Boy were the previous Far Cry games offensive to some.
But if it were me, and especially if I were revealing a game in the drip-drip method Ubi used this week, I'd be revealing something that would have surprised and confused the hell out of everyone who was lining up to complain.
Would the world be a better place if developers like the various Ubisoft studios were to rise above stereotypes, and to think beyond the predictability of responding to their own awkward past by role-reversing? Goodness me, yes it would. Imagine if - and it won't be this but let's imagine - Far Cry 5 had you playing as a member of the cult! A sincere, believing member, whose only desire is to see loved ones protected from the impending government-led uprising she so desperately fears. Imagine, perhaps, that maybe she was right! That in fact this is a cult that does not discriminate by race or gender or sexuality, but instead rightly recognises that in this fiction the American government is in cahoots with a despotic corporation, whose intent is to end the Montanan way of life such that its citizens are enslaved to work as drones. And you, bravely, fight to reclaim Montana for all its peoples, regardless of background or birth.
Imagine how that would turn the tables on everyone's expectations. How you'd flummox those who see it as an attack on their incredibly specific way of life, and those who see such ways of life as an attack on them. It wouldn't endorse the true horror of real cults, it wouldn't be a statement in favour of the unsettling rise in American militias. It'd be a statement against both them and those who dismiss the realities of America's terrible rise of jobless, hopeless small towns forgotten in the back-and-forth of Washington. Hell, you could use it as the most spectacular way to satirise the deceit of a rich manbaby who inherited his millions from his daddy who pretends to give a shit about such people while enacting laws that will only further devastate their lives. It could, so easily, have been a game about both speaking out for these people while simultaneously condemning the rise in racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that's cynically used to stoke the flames of forgotten counties.
It's not, most likely. If it matches what's come before it, it'll be a bloody brilliant fun game with a stupid story you wish would shut up so you can get on with having a good time. And it's entirely possible that some characters and cutscenes will hit the mark, either as satire or serious business, while others will miss so badly they'll disappoint or cause offense. But you'll be fighting alongside the bears! You'll be screaming in rage because this is a game about a county that's closed off from the outside world despite your having an aeroplane and it'll most likely say, "YOU'RE LEAVING THE MISSION AREA" when you fly too far. Anyone seeing it as a threat, and anyone who sees it as a potential saviour, is being ludicrously pessimistic/optimistic.
But the game I'd have made - that'd have been something.