Far Cry 5 and Character
StoryScan: Weak Point
StoryScan: Weak Point highlights specific aspects of individual game narratives that don’t live up to audience expectations. In this essay, we’re covering Far Cry 5 (Ubisoft, 2018), the first-person shooter set in rural Montana. This essay will cover content from the entire plot of Far Cry 5. Players who have not completed this game may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers for the main storyline.
Over the last two decades, Ubisoft’s Far Cry series has had its ups and downs. While reviewers praised the first-person shooter franchise’s earliest entries, particularly Far Cry 3, the more recent additions have left fans wanting. Some of their complaints are mechanical—Ubisoft’s take on the open-world format has grown stale, and the looting and crafting mechanics are boring—but other complaints focus on the issues with the narratives. In a recent review for Far Cry 6, Vice reviewer Matthew Gault summarizes the franchise as ‘self-aware exploitation,‘ saying: “A hero jumps into a world they know little about and attempts to save it from a scene-chewing villain. The games are overtly political and weirdly crass.“1 Although this unflattering yet accurate analysis gets to the heart of what makes the series flawed, it glosses over the differences between the heroes and villains that elevate some entries while dragging others down. Far Cry 3’s dynamic protagonist-antagonist relationship is proof that when Ubisoft puts in the effort, they can get it right. Without that effort, the results can be dire—which is the case with Far Cry 5.
Even before Far Cry 5 hit shelves, its story was mired in controversy. Released during a time of intense political division in the United States2, Far Cry 5 bucked the series tradition of focusing on remote locales and dropped players into rural Montana. This unusual setting choice, coupled with the focus on a religious cult and the abundance of American iconography, led reviewers to wonder whether Ubisoft had the skill to handle the subject matter. “The game will inevitably have to walk a crazy tightrope of topical conversations,” theorized Ars Technica reviewer Sam Machkovech, “and everything its stories and characters do—and don’t—explore about hot-button issues like class and racism will be heavily scrutinized.”3 Machkovech’s concerns proved to be prescient, as Far Cry 5’s story sidestepped most of the issues of the day by telling an astoundingly apolitical story that, to quote Polygon reporter Ben Kuchura, “comes close to trying to say something, but never actually does.”4 While Ubisoft used several tricks to pull off this feat, the main trick they used was also the most disastrous for the narrative: the use of a silent protagonist.
Silent protagonists have a long and storied history in video game narratives. In the early days, when protagonists were no more than a lump of pixels, dialogue took up precious memory developers couldn’t spare. As the medium developed, some developers began experimenting with giving player characters personalities, while others kept their protagonists silent for the sake of immersion. As a relatively modern series, the Far Cry franchise has had the freedom to try both types, with Far Cry 5‘s protagonist representing the one extreme. Not only is the unnamed ‘Deputy’ character completely mute, but they’re also a blank slate of personality, appearance, and gender. While some of those characteristics can be decided by the player through an in-game customization system, none are reflected in the story itself. It’s the Deputy’s job to rescue their comrades, fellow U.S. Marshalls who have been taken by the Eden’s Gate cult, yet the player has no idea what the Deputy’s comrades meant to them. They also don’t know how the Deputy feels about the cult or the people rebelling against it. The only information the player has to go on is the choices they make, which don’t reveal anything about who the protagonist is, what they want, or who they care about. For all intents and purposes, they’re a dolly-mounted camera that can shoot guns and throw paddles5, and the entire story suffers for it.
There are some games where a protagonist like the Deputy would fit in without causing much of a problem. Modern games with a retro flair will sometimes pay homage to early titles by rendering their protagonists mute, while role-playing games with ensemble casts still enjoy the occasional quiet protagonist. Historically quiet characters like The Legend of Zelda’s Link and Half-Life’s Gordon Freeman still keep their thoughts to themselves, as well. These protagonists work in their respective stories because the stories have been developed to support them. Retro-style games with silent protagonists may not have complex stories that require characterization, while role-playing games with large casts can offload key dialogue to other party members. Meanwhile, the Links and Gordon Freemans of the gaming world have been laconic for so long that their silence has become an identifiable character trait, and changing them would be a betrayal of the characterization. None of these are the case in Far Cry 5. Far Cry 5 tells a large, sweeping story with dozens of characters, and the protagonist is a new character created to serve the story. It’s ironic, then, that their silence only detracts from the story, rather than supporting it.
The Deputy’s strict silence has a cascading effect on the characterizations of the other members of the cast. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the depiction of the antagonist, Joseph Seed. As the leader of the Eden’s Gate cult, Joseph is purported to be a charismatic, compelling leader who brings people to his side through a combination of violence and rhetoric. While his violent tendencies are on full display throughout the story, his rhetorical prowess is limited by his audience: a protagonist who can never talk back.
Since the Deputy is always silent, all their meetings with Joseph devolve into extended monologues, where the Deputy issues no opinion and the player is forced to sit back and watch. This lack of verbal exchange means that Joseph’s views are never challenged. If the Deputy ever spoke, they would be able to raise objections to Joseph’s plan, which would, in turn, expose a new element of Joseph’s character. He might maintain an even keel while repeating his points, holding firm in the face of foreign aggression, or he might grow angry and lash out verbally or physically. While it’s possible to guess how he might act based on his interactions with others, there’s no way to be sure. The only way to see how a character reacts when challenged is to challenge them, but Far Cry 5’s Deputy is incapable of challenging anyone. All they can do is listen and shoot, and that’s what their interactions become.
The Supporting Cast
Far Cry 5 has an extensive cast of side characters, both allies and enemies, yet they all suffer for the lack of back-and-forth dialogue. Joseph Seed’s Heralds, the secondary antagonists, are stuck delivering the same monologues as their messiah, while the Deputy’s allies fare little better in their respective bases. Those lucky few who are surrounded by other characters with working vocal cords have the opportunity for dialogue, yet those scenes are still tainted by the Deputy’s presence.
As long as the Deputy is observing a scene, the other characters have to acknowledge them, which inevitably emphasizes how little they have to say. They’ll praise the Deputy for their bravery or combat prowess, but beyond those self-evident skills, they don’t know the Deputy any better than the player does. This puts them in the unenviable position of having to make small-talk with someone whose name they don’t even know, and whose wants and needs are a total mystery. In that context, it’s a miracle their conversations aren’t more awkward than they already are, and it’s impressive that any of the characters are memorable at all. Unfortunately, that context isn’t enough to save the characters from the damage the deputy causes, and their stilted interactions leave the player feeling little beyond indifference.
Far Cry 5 is a deeply flawed game with a narrative that leaves much to be desired. Its silent protagonist lacks the wants and needs that make stories compelling, and the other cast members suffer for the lack of opportunity for dialogue. Writers who wish to incorporate a silent protagonist in their work should first consider why they want to do it, then how the silence will impact the other characters.
Narrative Analysis: Characters
Protagonists, antagonists, and foils are just some of the roles to fill in fictional worlds.
Narrative Analysis: Dialogue
How characters express themselves, using spoken or written words.
StoryScan: Spec Ops: The Line and Theme
Spec Ops: The Line leaves a lasting impression on players by reinforcing its theme at key plot points.
1 Gault, Matthew. “Far Cry 6 is Creatively and Morally Bankrupt.” Vice, October 6, 2021.
2 Dovere, Edward-Isaac. “America, Now More Divided Than (Almost) Ever.” The Atlantic, November 7, 2018.
3 Machkovech, Sam. “Far Cry 5 takes series to deadliest land of all: Disenfranchised America.” Ars Technica, May 26, 2017.
4 Kuchera, Ben. “Far Cry 5 doesn’t want to offend anyone, so it will end up annoying everyone.” Polygon, March 27, 2018.
5 videogamedunkey. “Car Fry 5.” YouTube, April 9, 2018.
* Reference Footage: Gamer’s Little Playground. “FAR CRY 5 All Cutscenes (Xbox One X Enhanced) Game Movie 1080p 60FPS.” YouTube, March 26, 2018.