Far Cry Retrospective

In May of 2022, my friend over at A New Game Plus and I recorded an episode for the Pretty Pixels Podcast discussing the mainline Far Cry games. I’ve wanted to take some points from that discussion and put them down in writing. So here it is! I hope to add to this as more games release and as I get to some of the spinoff/additional content.

Mainline Games:

  • Far Cry (2004; PC) (PC Metacritic: 89)
  • Far Cry 2 (2008; PC, PS3, X360) (PC Metacritic: 85)
  • Far Cry 3 (2012; PC, PS3, X360) (PC Metacritic: 88)
  • Far Cry 4 (2014; PC, PS4, XONE) (PC Metacritic: 80)
  • Far Cry 5 (2018; PC, PS4, XONE) (PC Metacritic: 78)
  • Far Cry 6 (2021; PC, PS5, XBOX series X) (PC Metacritic: 76)

Spinoffs/One-off Games:

  • Far Cry Instincts (2005; Xbox) (Metacritic: 85)
  • Far Cry Instincts: Evolution (2006; Xbox) (Metacritic: 78)
  • Far Cry Instincts: Predator (2006; X360) (Metacritic: 78)
  • Far Cry Vengeance (2006; Wii) (Metacritic: 38)
  • Paradise Lost (2007; arcade game, a two-person railshooter)


Far Cry

  • 2004 release, PC
  • Developed by Crytek, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 89

Setting: Far Cry is set on a cluster of tropical islands somewhere in the South Pacific. There’s some variety in the game’s locations–beaches, rain forests, swamps, etc. Players will navigate villages, military outposts, and a high-tech research facility.

Plot: Jack Carver is a former special forces operative for the US in search of a missing journalist, Valerie Constantine. On their way to the island, Jack and Valerie are separated during a mercenary attack. While exploring the island in search of Valerie, Jack stumbles upon mutated creatures. These mutants (called Trigens) are running loose and overpowering the mercenaries. Jack must fight both mutant and mercenary before he can sail off into the sunset.

Comments: I found it intriguing to revisit Far Cry because so much that defines the franchise today is traceable to this game from 2004. The inclusion of vehicles, sandbox environments, online play, and freedom to approach targets is all there. Of course, these features are more limited than what we’d expect from a mainline Far Cry game now. One key difference is that Far Cry’s sense of an open world is more linear. Certain areas feel like an open-world, but the game also has you go inside various facilities at which point the game turns into a corridor shooter. Far Cry doesn’t fully commit to the open world. Something that sets Far Cry apart from later games is how it deals with a sci-fi problem. Far Cry deals with mutant creatures and a mad scientist. Aside from Far Cry: Blood Dragon, the franchise has steered away from sci-fi and focused more on overthrowing despots.

Other: Far Cry didn’t start as Far Cry. In 1999, developers from Crytek went to E3 to demo a game called X-Isle: Dinosaur Island. This demo had amazing draw distance (for the time) as well as stunning graphics (water had reflections!). It was because of this demo that Ubisoft signed X-Isle to be a AAA game. You might check out this Polygon article for some history on Crytek.

Demo: X-Isle: Dinosaur Island

Flashforward to 2004, and that game was known as Far Cry. Far Cry was a commercial success selling over 700,000 copies in four months (“First Quarter Sales”). The game was highly praised for its visuals and touted as a successful and innovative first-person shooter.

Without a doubt, Far Cry has the most advanced graphics seen in any PC game to date. Everything in this game looks amazing, and the level of verisimilitude is unprecedented. Jungles actually feature dense foliage that consists of trees, plants, and tall grasses, and this foliage is filled with birds and insects. Beaches have blinding-white sand, and the surf slowly laps ashore.

Jason Ocampo, “Far Cry Review”

It creates a continuous strategic and tactical challenge while wowing my eyeballs with next-generation bells and whistles.

Tom McNamara, “Far Cry Review”

Due to Far Cry’s success, Crytek started getting noticed, which led to their deal with EA to make Crysis. From there, Ubisoft took over the development and publication of Far Cry.

Far Cry 2

  • 2008 release, PC, PS3, X360
  • Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 85

Setting: An unnamed eastern African nation.

Plot: Far Cry 2 is a game centered on madness, violence, and choice. This time around players take control of a mercenary whose goal is to kill the elusive Jackal (you actually meet him right away–this early meeting of the antagonist is something we see in later Far Cry games as well). The eastern African nation you are sent to has been torn apart by a civil war–both factions are brutal to the people who live there, and the Jackal is making things worse by playing everyone and providing weapons to both sides. As the game opens, you are sick with malaria, which is something you’ll have to manage throughout the game. After the player leaves the opening town, you’re basically free to start taking on quests, which involve helping an underground network and a local journalist who is covering the conflict in the area.

Comments: This game was developed in the Dunia engine and was meant to be more realistic than the first game.

‘Far Cry marked the beginning of a new era for shooters. An era of gorgeous graphics and of advanced artificial intelligence,’ said John Parkes, Ubisoft marketing man. ‘We are confident that Far Cry 2 will have the same impact again on the FPS genre landscape’

Robert Purchese, “Far Cry 2 announced”

Based on the way Ubisoft talked about the game in promotional material, dev diaries, and during the PAX 07 demo, they wanted Far Cry 2 to be set in a beautiful location many players hadn’t been to, they wanted the game to be realistic and immersive, and they wanted higher levels of gameplay. Those buzzwords were thrown around a lot–dynamic, realistic, immersive. Ubisoft’s marketing emphasized technological advancements to the point that people weren’t sure what Far Cry 2 was even about. Granted, they were talking about some pretty cool stuff–the effect of wind, trees being destructible, and how fire could be used to the player’s advantage.

“Far Cry 2 – Dev Diary 2”
“Far Cry 2 PAX 2008 – Trailer”

Far Cry 2 featured an even bigger map and gave players more freedom. It introduced a day/night cycle, which you could play around with to approach your enemies. Weather was a significant element of this game to the point that it could change how you experienced combat encounters. For example, if it was windy, you could start a fire and let the wind blow that fire out of control. You could use fog to mask your position. Dust could kick up, and most things in the world were destructible. It’s also in this game we see the early experimenting with guns for hire. You could help people by doing side missions for them, which would strengthen your relationship. Far Cry 2 was one of those games that kept pushing “open world” games forward.

“Put simply, Far Cry 2 is the closest game we’ve seen yet to a true ‘open world,’ and that’s not just because you can roam around the entire game without ever seeing a loading screen. The only plot and environmental elements that are set in stone–the story’s ‘superstructure,’ as creative director Clint Hocking puts it–are those described in the previous paragraph. Everything else is mutable, based on your actions, allegiances, and chosen missions, and ultimately the cascading effects of all those choices you make.”

Brad Shoemaker, “GC ’07: Far Cry 2 First Look”

To this day, some Far Cry fans insist Far Cry 2 is THE best Far Cry game. Of course, there are those who say the game is overrated and no one should bother playing it. I played Far Cry 2 on PC years ago, and I enjoyed it. But it’s definitely a product of its time. Far Cry 2 was necessary for the franchise to move forward and also for the development of open world games. It reflects a lot of ideas (some executed better than others), and those ideas reflect the exploration necessary for games to develop further. Unlike a lot of games at the time, Far Cry 2 had a level of openness in terms of the narrative. There weren’t as many guided paths and cutscenes. Instead, the world responded to the player’s actions. For example, I might fail a mission or other objective and that wouldn’t derail the overall narrative, it would be a part of it. What you do and how you do it affects your reputation in the game, which in turn determines the interactions you’ll have.

Other: Initially, Far Cry 2 seemed to confuse a number of people. Game journalists had good things to say about the game, but they didn’t get why it was called “Far Cry 2” being that it didn’t share any characters in common with the first game and that many of its features were different. Far Cry 2 is also different tonally. It’s dark, violent, and depressing.

Far Cry 3

  • 2012 release, PC, PS3, X360
  • Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 88

Setting: Set on a cluster of pirate-controlled tropical islands, the Rook Islands, somewhere near the Pacific Ocean.

Plot: Jason Brody and his friends are on vacation and living it up in Bangkok. They decide to go skydiving, which leads them to the Rook Islands. Apparently no one tells them the Rook Islands are under the control of pirates because the group ends up getting captured. Vaas, a kind of pirate lord, intends to put a ransom on the young adults and then sell them into slavery. But Jason breaks free and is taken to one of the Rakyat villages. From there, Jason aligns himself with the Rakyat and sets out to fight against the pirates and private soldiers across the islands. As he does this, he searches for his friends and becomes closer to Citra, the leader of the Rakyat.

Comments: Far Cry 3 plays a lot like the most recent Far Cry games. The emphasis is on combat and exploration. There’s a variety of weapons and vehicles available, skill trees to level up in, and experience to earn. You have items to upgrade and have to hunt different animals. Cutscenes are back and the narrative is more linear than in Far Cry 2. As for critical reception, Far Cry 3 was praised for its characters (mostly Michael Mando’s performance as Vaas), world design, and gameplay. There’s a lot to like with this one and it’s obvious why fans continue to look back at Far Cry 3 with fondness.

Far Cry 3 presents players with a generally meaningful open world. It doesn’t fall prey to being too big for its own good. The world is big enough and yet still focused on narrative experiences that engage players without those experiences becoming too recycled or predictable. However, the game is problematic on a number of levels, and I can’t talk about the game in this context without acknowledging that. It falls into the white hero narrative trap. The Rakyat are sexualized. Jason’s fragile masculinity is the driving motivator for nearly all his actions. He’s fragile and coddled throughout the game, which is ultimately built on this toxic male fantasy of domination, sex, and violence. Narratively, Far Cry 3 is a mess. As an open world playground, Far Cry 3 was a refreshing moment for the franchise. But it’s also where this disconnect between open world playground and “serious” narrative begins to form for the series. And that divide has only grown deeper as more games are released.

Other: The developers wanted the Rook Islands to feel like a character in the game (“The Development Secrets of Far Cry 3“). They put a lot of care into the islands’ design, using an algorithm in the Dunia Engine to procedurally generate large areas in the world (they’d then go in and adjust things manually). This made the game’s environments less predictable and more dynamic. Dynamic. They really like that word.

Far Cry 4

  • 2014 release, PC, PS4, XONE
  • Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 80

Setting: Far Cry 4 takes place in Kyrat, a fictional Himalayan country that’s inspired by regions in northern India and Nepal. The game’s map is divided into two major regions: north-west and south Kyrat. The southern part of the map is relatively open to the player from the get-go, while the northern region unlocks as the story progresses and the conflict rises. As for the environment, Far Cry 4 is more vertical than previous games. You can traverse mountains, forests, valleys, and rivers. And with the setting, there are some new animals to encounter such as the Asian elephant, Asian rhino, brown bears, and tigers.

Plot: The game starts with Ajay Ghale on a bus. Ajay is returning to Kyrat to fulfill his mother’s last wish of having her ashes brought to Lakshmana. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Far Cry game if the antagonist didn’t immediately interrupt the protagonist’s plans. Pagan Min appears with flair and fashion. Due to Pagan Min’s interruption, Ajay is unable to leave and instead gets involved with the Golden Path, a rebel group trying to overthrow Pagan Min. The Golden Path is struggling to even hold on at this point, but with Ajay in Kyrat they have a fighting chance (there’s that hero narrative again). In addition to helping solve the conflict between Pagan’s forces and the Golden Path, Ajay must sort through the internal conflict between the Golden Path’s leadership. Will Ajay be loyal to Sabal (a traditionalist) or Amita (a more progressive-minded person)?

Comments: Development of Far Cry 4 started after Assassin’s Creed 3 released in 2012, but it was in 2013 that Ubisoft suggested another Far Cry game was in the works. Far Cry 4 released in November of 2014 and sold more than 1.5 million copies in the first week, making it the biggest launch for the franchise at the time (“Far Cry 4“). The main goal is the same as always. Fight bad guys, take over outposts, gain experience, grab new weapons, make things go boom. Far Cry 4 does include some role-playing elements with two skill trees–the Elephant, which involves defensive skills like strength and healing, and the Tiger, which involves offensive skills like various takedown moves and the ability to reload while running.

I’ve played Far Cry 4 several times and it seems like Ubisoft was confident in their abilities to make an engaging world with beautiful environments and locations while playing with more verticality than in previous games. It takes the successful components of Far Cry 3 and adds even more to see and do.

Other: Do you remember the outcry regarding the game’s cover art? That’s right. Far Cry 5 wasn’t the only Far Cry game that sparked reactions for its cover art. You can read about it here: “Don’t judge Far Cry 4 by its cover, says game director” by Jeffrey Matulef.

Far Cry 5

  • 2018 release, PC, PS4, XONE
  • Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 78

Setting: Hope County, Montana is the fictional region featured in Far Cry 5. Within Hope County, you’ll find lakes and rivers, fields, farms, woods, and mountains. Montana isn’t the typical vibrant, tropical location the franchise featured previously, but it’s still a cool place to explore. (Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Midwest and love the woods, but I appreciated having a game set in America and in an area that isn’t visited frequently in video games.)

Plot: Players take on the role of a deputy part of a joint operation between the Hope County Sheriff’s Department and the United States Marshals. Your goal is to arrest Joseph Seed (a religious cult leader) on charges of kidnapping. Per typical Far Cry fashion, everything goes to shit and you’re left stranded in the county. During your time in Hope County, you’ll free captives, fight Seed’s followers, help your allies, and reclaim the region for its residents. There is a lot to do in this one. In a Vice article by Austin Walker, Dan Hay, the game’s creative director, referred to Far Cry 5 as an “anecdote factory.”

“…it’s a Far Cry game, you’re gonna be able to go in, it’s going to be an anecdote factory. You have a whole bunch of stuff to do and you can play it however you wanna play it, and you can assemble the story as a choose your own adventure…”

Austin Walker, “Talking Cults and Culture with the Developers of ‘Far Cry 5′”

And that’s pretty true to how the game plays out. Of course there are a ton of icons on the map and a quest list to work through, but Far Cry 5, out of all the games prior, opened up early on and left it to players how they wanted to proceed.

Comments: Far Cry 5 was aggressively marketed and immediately captured people’s interest due to it being set in the U.S. and to the religious and cult elements teased throughout the promotional material. Ubisoft released promotional videos, they came out with a book, and there was a short film on Amazon for a time. They were out to SELL this game. And, of course, the Last Supper-inspired cover art drew a lot of attention and inspired and provoked. All of that led to Far Cry 5’s commercial success; in its first week, it made over $310 million (“Far Cry 5 Breaks Franchise Sales Records“).

As much as I enjoy Far Cry 5, I do believe the narrative fails itself in several ways. The narrative designers could have played up the cult more and engaged with the cult on a deeper level. One of the things the franchise does is it includes optional texts (notes, letters, audio files, etc.) throughout the games. In Far Cry 5, you get some pretty interesting stories of people who dealt with Eden’s Gate–how they were approached by the cult, rumors they heard about the cult, and various interactions they had. Some of those notes are more interesting than what I saw of Eden’s Gate. I think that some of those smaller narratives should have been brought more to the forefront so that players could really experience and see Eden’s Gate as a manipulative force in Hope County. Part of what’s so intriguing about cults is how they get to people. How they work their way in, convincing people that they have something valuable to offer. Cults often separate people from their families and friends. They isolate their members. I wanted to see and hear and feel more of those things in the game. Without them, Eden’s Gate is not much different from Pagan Min and his followers or Vaas and his pirates. Bringing in a cult was a good idea, but I don’t think it was developed all that well. I wasn’t sold on Eden’s Gate being a unique group that was vastly different from the bad guys and their cohorts we’ve encountered before.

Other: One of the things I found annoying at the game’s launch was Ubisoft’s insistence that Far Cry 5 is not a political game. And yet, in the same Vice article referenced above, Hay’s said the following: “It’s about the state of the world right now, where everything feels like it’s a little bit closer to the edge than it should be. And that maybe we need to take a step back. Maybe there’s a moment where we need to think.” But yeah, the game isn’t political (*wink).

Far Cry 6

  • 2021 release, PC, PS5, XBOX series X
  • Developed by Ubisoft Toronto, Published by Ubisoft
  • PC Metacritic: 76

Setting: Fictional island of Yara, set in the Caribbean and partially modeled off Cuba. This location is the largest world presented to us in a Far Cry game yet.

Plot: Set in the present day, Yara is an isolated island. Its economy is suffering and Anton Castillo has been “elected.” He promised to solve all of Yaran’s woes, turning them into a prosperous nation. In reality, he’s working people to the bone, killing any who oppose him, and ruling through fear and force. Dani Rojas, working with members of Libertad (the guerilla movement) must fight alongside various allies to overthrow Anton. Players will make alliances, run errands, and overtake outposts.

Comments: Far Cry 6, in many ways, feels like a direct response to Far Cry 5’s supposed lack of political commentary. Far Cry 6 throws players into political conflict. The game is inspired by revolutions, such as the 1950s Cuban Revolution, and comments on fascism, imperialism, and democracy. This game is also notable for its callbacks to earlier games, such as Far Cry and Far Cry 3’s tropical settings, and the voiced protagonists of games like Far Cry 3 and 4. Far Cry 6 plays very similarly to Far Cry 5. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal, along with Resolver weapons, which are tied to perks, and Supremo backpacks, which let you do things like fire missiles. The game also has a “Rank” system–the map is divided into ranked regions and enemies become more difficult the higher your rank. You also have access to several camps in the game, and each of those camps has facilities to level up. There’s nothing too unique about the features added to the game, but they spiced things up some. Some people might complain about franchise fatigue. Far Cry 6 is a functional game; things work. But if you don’t like the formula, it probably has little to entice you.

Other: Because of the emphasis on politics and fascism, this game has some great examples of propaganda. There are a number of posters and billboards in the game that show Anton interacting with Yaran civilians, working on a car, standing in a field of farmers, with big smiles on their faces, and strong confident postures. It’s really interesting to look at. You can check out some of those images here: “Look: The Propaganda of Far Cry 6 in 10 Unnerving Images.”

Final Thoughts

Overall, Far Cry is a commercially successful franchise for many reasons. I do wonder what the future holds. I’ll be curious to see if they ever attempt to deal with the growing rift between fun playground and serious narrative commentary. I do hope they continue on a path of cultural sensitivity–taking the time to really study and know an area and its people before incorporating them into their games. I worry about the franchise’s future because of its dependence on location. They sell many of their locations as something “other,” and that presentation of location and culture often results in “exoticizing,” which is unnecessary. Location can serve as character without othering, but that would require bringing in outside experts. And I’d also like to see more significant choices, choices that truly have an impact. I don’t need every video game to be heavy and serious, but if decisions are meant to matter make sure they matter. Otherwise, offer us an open world with a linear story and sell it as such!

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