How Far Cry 5 is unleashing anarchy on the U.S of A.
Creative director dan Hay reveals How Ubisoft Montreal is attempting to reinvent the open-world sandbox
“PEOPLE HAVE THIS IDEA THAT YOU CAN’T EAT DESSERT FIRST. AND WHY? I LOVE DESSERT” DAN hay, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
It has been getting increasingly difficult to find enthusiasm for
Far Cry. The series defined itself in the early Noughties through stages of rampant reinvention. Some view this period as Far Cry simply trying to find its voice, others believe it to be a manifestation of Ubisoft Montreal’s huge ambition in the open world sandbox space – that Far Cry represented a creative outlet in which the development teams could play, the risk low but the potential reward high.
But in 2012, with the release of Far Cry 3, reinvention gave way to iteration. The locations may change between instalments, but the core loop remains the same; enjoyable as it is, we are hungry for more. Eager to see a Far Cry game that truly belongs in the current climate, one that is eagerly taking advantage of modern technology, pushing confidently into uncharted territories with a newfound sense of energy and freedom.
That isn’t Far Cry 5. Not on the surface of it, at any rate. Ubisoft Montreal is bringing the action stateside for the very first time; tropical paradises replaced by rural Montana, with the series’ trademark tyrants displaced in favour of charismatic cultists. If this were the best the studio had to offer we’d be intrigued, but not necessarily ecstatic. Not content with sitting here and wallowing in a well of our own discontent, we took our concerns directly to creative director Dan Hay; questioning whether there is more than meets the eye to Far Cry 5 and, should that be the case, whether it is even possible to accurately convey that to an audience that has a tendency to engage with little more than 280 characters. “I’m sure there is,” he says, a smile creeping across his face, “But it’s just going to be a bullshit marketing answer. That’s not what I’m going to do.”
“What I’m going to tell you is this… the nice thing about this age is that some people are engaging with a quick synopsis of things, but life is much more complicated than that. What I’ve learned over time is to try your best, try not to speak in absolutes all of the time, and to try and offer an experience that, once you scratch the surface, you can see in a little deeper. I think what’s going to be interesting to people picking up Far Cry 5 is that they may look at it and think that it’s this one thing, and then they are going to play it and go, ‘Oh okay, it’s also this other thing.’”
That’s what we were hoping to hear. It’s difficult to get a read of Far Cry at preview stage; much like Ghost Recon Wildlands, so much of the fun to be found in it is purely anecdotal. That is to say, that the convergence of the various systems working behind the polygons creates these moments of intense insanity that are fairly unique to you and your specific experience. Hope County, Montana may be a setting that every player will explore, but what you encounter within its various biomes – around its core cast of characters and story – will largely differ from player to player. We know that the gunplay is exquisite and empowering, and that the weapon feedback and controls are tight as all hell, but what we don’t know is what happens in between those moments that you’re feeding clip after clip into an assault rifle.
Hay, as it should happen, has an anecdotal way of describing this process. You see, building games isn’t easy, particularly those of the open world sandbox variety. But after Far Cry 3, 4 and Primal, Ubisoft Montreal is eager to open up the experience more than it has ever done in the past – removing many of the boundaries and barriers to free-form play, pushing for a world and story that is reactive to your presence. “The trick when you’re building a game that has this many pieces to ensure that it is not a buffet, to make sure that it does not all have one taste,” he considers, our eyebrows raising a little higher by the second. While we did conduct this interview shortly after lunch, we thought it best to wait this out and see where Hay took us. It was worth it. “That it’s curated, and that it at least makes the effort – that it feels like a meal that comes in full courses, regardless of the order that you choose to order them in. And that’s difficult to do, because I think that people have this prescribed idea that you can’t eat dessert first. And why? I love dessert, and there might not be room for it at the end.”
If we’re going to continue rolling with this eating analogy, Hay is essentially eager to let people grab a hold of the multi-course offering of content that it has cooked up over the last three years and digest it in any way, and in any order, that they like. Does that sound gluttonous? Well, we have (admittedly) gotten pretty damned greedy over the years. As open worlds continue to grow in size and complexity, so too has our appetite for more content, more varied experiences, and more moments that are both sharable and memorable.
It is, of course, difficult to give players a true sense of freedom without shoving a controller directly into their hands and stealing a few hours of their time. Given that the series has been active since 2004, many developers have tried to portray an open structure to players while still maintaining a degree of mystery over its story and direction. What is it that makes this Ubisoft Montreal team any different?
“I think it’s our willingness to do the unexpected, a willingness to try and challenge ourselves,” counters Hay. “It would have been really, really easy to make a linear game, one that knew where the player was going to be [at all times] and be able to write a story with characters that we could tell would show up moment-tomoment. That would have been very easy… this has not been very easy,” he continues, erupting into laughter. It’s the kind of laughter that masks a very real exhaustion, so we ask, has it been worth it? “We made a choice to set the bar really very high; we made it challenging for ourselves.”
“I think people will appreciate it, but the thing as developers is we have to realise that some people will never notice it all,” says Hay, giving us some degree of insight into one of the most difficult challenges that developers of these sandbox games are so often presented with. A game like Far Cry 5 takes years to create, and costs millions to produce, with literally hundreds of staff across the globe all offering their expertise, knowledge and talent to the altar of triple-a game production. It takes all of these resources to make a game such as Far Cry as vibrant, bustling and crammed with content as humanly possible. Developers want players to interact and engage with their work, as much of it as possible; pulling down the barriers to play and offering a truly free-form experience is then, in essence, terrifying – there’s a reason elements such as Towers and waypoint-heavy minimaps have become such a mainstay of the genre; they subtly guide the player between the content and intricacy crafted points of interest. Far Cry 5, we’re told, will feature neither.
“One of the things about building a game is that it’s about the road you’ve travelled [in development], and there are roads that you can’t travel; you may never know what you missed. So we built this super-earnest story with all of these opportunities, with these characters, and we go, ’This is it! Go over here and you’re going to meet all of these characters’ and the player is just like, ‘No, I’m not! I’m going this way!’
And we say, ‘Well, what about all of this great content?’ And they say, ‘Well, yeah, but I’m over here doing all of this great content.’ We just have to say okay,” he says, throwing his hands into the air. “We’ve just got to take it.”
Hay believes that this reflects some of the wider beliefs within Ubisoft. Wildlands is a perfect example, although Assassin’s Creed Origins stunned players late last year by loosening the reins a little in its interpretation of Egypt. While he wasn’t willing to speculate on how this approach to design would feed into the next cycle of Ubisoft sequels, he was able to comment specifically on how it has informed his Far Cry team: “It’s a big team, and it very much has its own culture and its own mindset. If I think about the larger feeling on Far Cry, it’s just to be able to grow the anecdote factory. To be able to put it into a situation where players can do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.”
“The game that we are building is really unique and really generous. I think the mindset is to encourage Far Cry players and allow them to kind of experience it – and not necessarily the way that we intended. I just want to give them the controller; they will tell us the way they want to play.”
This isn’t all to say that the game will be aimless, only that the aim will be ever shifting. Unlike previous Far Cry games, in which your character is pre-defined, you’ll be able to create your own this time out – a blank canvas, a sheriff in over his head attempting to take
Hope County back from a god-fearing cult that believes the end is nigh.
You can choose to engage in the main story, participating in a little constitutionally approved anarchy, or you can head out on the road less travelled. The characters that you’ll encounter live autonomously in pockets of Montana, unaware of what is happening elsewhere in the gorgeous – and surprisingly varied – biomes of Hope County. Side quests will be hidden away, just waiting to be found and completed; animals roam the forests freely, begging to be hunted; right-wing cultists operate on most of the major roads and throughways, just waiting to push back the law as it prepares for the rapture with a baptism of fire and bullet shells. The choice is in your hands, and Ubisoft Montreal isn’t interested in holding your sweaty mitts all the way through it. “The way I chose to look at it is this… the game has a body, the spine is the story and the characters, but outside of that you can go where you want, do what you want, and experience what you want to," continues Hay. “I think that, in terms of a prescription of what you are supposed to do, there is none of that; there is no funnel. We put together opportunities for you to go out into the world, to meet characters, to find out different microstories, but there is no ‘You’ve got to do this, not this…’ the game is much more reactive.”
“That’s what’s really, really interesting about discovery within the confines of this game,” considers Hay, eager for players to experience Far Cry 5 on 27 February and dive deeply into the product of so much passion and attention. “We’re hinting at things like that and we’re bringing them into this space. I think it’s going to be really powerful.”
“IF I THINK ABOUT THE LARGER FEELING ON FAR CRY, IT’S JUST TO BE ABLE TO GROW THE ANECDOTE FACTORY” DAN hay, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
below: Far Cry 5 sets you lose in america for the very first time, using everything at your disposal to uproot a cult that has taken over Hope County, Montana.
Above: you’ll be able to team up with a variety of the locals of the world, using their expertise to give you new options and opportunities in combat. right: Hunting is still a big part of the game, and the switch to rural america hasn’t cut into any of the animal based chaos you’ll get yourself into.
right: flying has been noticeably fine-tuned, making it easier to pilot vehicles than before. in fact, the epic dogfights we’ve engaged in are some of the best content we’ve seen thus far.
Ubisoft Montreal has put a lot of resources into the graphical and audio presentation of Far Cry 5, it’s a powerhouse.