The Far Cry series is at a crossroads. Does it go full-on fantasy with dinosaurs and sci-fi, or back to the gritty world of guerrilla warfare and freedom fighters?
At the start of the month Ubisoft began polling players on possible locations and themes for the next release in the Far Cry series. From the suggestions it looks like Ubisoft is at a crossroads, deciding to go with the realistic or the fantastical.
On the one hand there are relatable real-world elements to the Far Cry games. Players are caught up in civil wars, playing weapons and drug dealers off against one another, and helping freedom fighters retake their land. But it also goes to extremes; Blood Dragon went off the deep-end with 80s retro sci-fi, and the Shangri-La, Ink Monster and Yetis of past games also show a willingness to make the mythical playable rather than just using it for background storytelling.
Let's look at Ubisoft's suggestions for a new Far Cry game and assess what would work, what wouldn't, and what sounds outright bonkers.
Remote Alaska and surviving the extreme wilderness
There's more to Alaska than meets the eye; plenty of indigenous cultures (the most famous being the Eskimo peoples) and a rich history of Russian and European colonisation to liven up the U.S. state. The setting is great, then, but apart from the extreme weather, it all sounds almost too much like Far Cry 4. Weather, exploration and survival would have to take priority to differentiate it over combat and conflict, but I get the feeling that would slow the gameplay down and take Far Cry into a different genre. Far Cry isn't The Forest or Rust.
Futuristic sci-fi setting on another planet
One of the most satisfying aspects of Far Cry is the tools you use throughout the game. Pistols, arrows, knives and a grapple are all pretty standard adventure gear - there's nothing outlandish or extravagant about them. They feel like they could jam at any moment. Vehicles are scrappy and battered. Everything has been previously used.
Far Cry's locations and storylines are easy to understand; they're built around drug dealers and warlords, despots and freedom fighters. It's not that far from real-world events. I'm not sure what a sci-fi setting would bring to the series, so this theme is perhaps better off considered for a spin-off in the same vein as Blood Dragon. Slick gadgets, lasers, aliens and spacecraft seem way too out there for a series that's built itself on bloody-nosed combat and surviving wild environments.
The Vietnam war during the 1960s
Vietnam immediately sounds like the right setting for a Far Cry game. The series lends itself well to improvised combat and makeshift problem solving, and the guerrilla warfare and brutality of the Vietnam war would play well to this.
But while there's plenty of potential with this great setting and soundtrack, Vietnam is still the unpopular war. Remember that Call of Duty canned ideas for a Vietnam spin-off, and games set during the war (Shellshock: Nam 67, Conflict: Vietnam) haven't lived up to the perceived potential. Maybe the secret here would be to let Hollywood's classic war movies be the real influence - Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket - rather than the true reality of the conflict.
The cocaine trafficking jungles of Peru
It's interesting that Ubisoft highlights coke for this, suggesting it would form the backdrop for the entire game. Peru fits the Far Cry mold as well as Alaska with its diverse environment (the rainforest is particularly appealing) but the talk of cocaine brings to mind the 1980s - a time when Peru faced massive internal conflict as the Communist Party, the government of Peru, The Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru revolutionaries all came to blows. The Shining Path actually adopted a method of attacking and liberating "zones", which is a fundamental design principle of the recent Far Cry games.
1980s Peru is ripe for Far Cry, then. But again, is it too similar to Far Cry 4?
A Far Cry game where you can fight against or join vampires
Nah, give it a rest. Sounds like bloody Twilight.
A Far Cry game in the Spaghetti Western style set in the 19th century Americas
So, an open-world Call of Juarez? A lone gunslinger playing off different criminal factions is the classic Spaghetti Western plot, as he shifts sides and loyalty to earn cash and keep himself alive. That's very similar to Far Cry 2, so the only real difference is the 1800s setting - the lawlessness of the Wild West.
Red Dead Redemption is the only truly triple-A western game, which means there's either space for another franchise that explores that myth, or there's a reason why Rockstar hasn't rushed out a sequel. Techland's Call of Juarez has been okay, but it's hardly a blockbuster. Something tells me a Wild West game is exciting on paper but in reality may be a little too niche to appeal to the average game player.
A Far Cry game set during a zombie outbreak
We've got enough zombie games without straying into Dead Island and Dying Light territory. If Far Cry did go down this route it had better shamelessly take The Walking Dead as inspiration and focus on battling other survivors and their warped politics rather than headshotting the undead. Use the zombies almost as a force of nature, as part of the environment, rather than a hostile force.
Blood Dragon 2: A sequel to Blood Dragon
As much as I enjoyed Blood Dragon and its excesses, and as much as I think it's a good idea, Blood Dragon is probably best left in its own little world. It seems a little too late to revisit it now. Like Mirror's Edge, we probably have fonder memories of this when in reality it wasn't that great to begin with. There might be scope for another spin-off but Ubisoft has said there's no Blood Dragon sequel in the works and I tend to believe it.
A Far Cry game set in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world
This is a great idea apart from… there's already a Mad Max game on the cards and I have a lot of faith in Just Cause developer Avalanche to do the licence justice. What's the point of emulating a film you don't have the rights to?
Far Cry already does the psychopathic characters of Mad Max anyway. Pagan Min and Vaas are right up there as unhinged charmers likely to hug you one minute and pull your eyelids off the next. One of the cool things about Far Cry is that it picks places we don't often visit in first-person shooters - the Himalayas, the plains of Africa. A post-apocalyptic setting needs to be much more refined than just the end of the world as we know it.
A Far Cry game on a Jurassic Park style island of dinosaurs
This is it, really. We're all pretty sure dinosaurs and Far Cry go together like a T-Rex and a lawyer on the toilet. This is the one everyone is waiting for.
Far Cry has refined its animal hunting skills well. How you deal with local wildlife is just as important as your weapon loadout and skill tree. You don't just hunt animals, you manipulate their aggression, or ride them for transport and control them to help take down enemies. In return, they can be unpredictable and dangerous and just as lethal to you if you don't keep them at arms length.
We'd all like to think Ubisoft can apply those characteristics to Velociraptors, T-Rex, Diplodocus and all the other giant lizards from the movies. The thought of riding a Triceratops into battle is just as appealing as it was riding an elephant in Kyrat. My only caution here would be that it would take Far Cry in a direction it wouldn't be able to turn back from. Once you add rampaging dinosaurs you can't really go back to storylines involving civil conflict, guerrilla politics and marijuana production.
A Far Cry game based on the world of Shangri-La from Far Cry 4
A choice better suited for more DLC I think, rather than a full-on game. Shangri-La missions were a cool break from the main Far Cry 4 game, and playing as another character with a limited weapon set makes the player think differently. It reminded me of the Brush With Death quest in Skyrim. It's a jarring change to begin with, but it has its own charms. Try and stretch that beyond 4 or 5 missions though and it loses the appeal. Some things are better in small packages.
Dinosaurs and Vietnam are doing it for me, but doing one will cancel out the other. Dino-island sounds like fun but I'm swinging towards Vietnam in the long-term.
I can't help thinking Far Cry needs to stay on the edge of the real world. The Charlie Don't Surf absurdity of Apocalypse Now and the dehumanisation of the soldier seen in Full Metal Jacket would be great starting points. Add the experience of Ubisoft Montreal to the weapons, attitude, the brutality of a chaotic war and the counter-culture vibes of the 1960s and you have the makings of a real gonzo Far Cry game.