Perhaps the best thing about Far Cry 6 is its story missions, all of which are smartly crafted to maximise the game's systemic potential. The mission which closes out the game's tutorial island sees you infiltrating two large military frigates acting as an offshore blockade. Once again, my attempt at sneaking onto the ship failed miserably, and I soon found myself in a massive, protracted battle, zip-lining between the ships while helicopters and gunboats peppered the decks of the two larger vessels.

This is the stuff Far Cry has always done well, and despite itself Far Cry 6 has the best iteration of it. But this doesn't make it any less frustrating that the game largely fails to build meaningfully on those systems, piling on evermore bells and whistles that don't add much to the experience.

It feels like Far Cry is being increasingly pulled in two different directions, one that favours dynamic, emergent play, and another that simply wants to overawe you with endless 'activities'. Which is not to say all such activities are unwelcome. For example, Far Cry 6 brings back the environmental puzzling of Far Cry 5's Prepper Caches, now rebranded as 'Treasure Hunts'. These are fun, inventive asides that range from navigating a fortified house prowled by a highly aggressive mongoose, to retrieving items from all across Yara to place in a supposedly haunted cave.

Alongside this, however, are more extraneous features the game simply doesn't need. Far Cry 6 doesn’t need a base-building mechanic, one that inexplicably switches you to third person for no reason whatsoever. It doesn't need a tasteless cock-fighting minigame where cockerels fight each other to the death in a Tekken-style beat 'em up. These elements feel roughly shoehorned in, when those resources could be better spent further layering the game's combat systems and dynamic world.

This isn't the only area where Far Cry 6 feels strangely dissonant either. The script cannot decide whether Far Cry 6 is an action comedy or a serious exploration of the politics of revolution, the result of which is that it doesn't either particularly well. Dany himself has little personality, mostly a vessel for the player to fill. His fellow guerrillas, meanwhile, are shallowly sketched wit-dispensers who the game never gave me much reason to care about. Giancarlo Esposito puts in a typically excellent turn as Castillo, but like Pagan Min and Vaas before him, Far Cry 6's most interesting villain is sorely underutilised. As a slight aside, I deeply dislike how the game has adopted third-person cutscenes. Far Cry has always been about keeping you immersed in a first-person perspective, and the switch to third person cutscenes does nothing for the game but break that immersion.

Then there's the visual and environment design. Yara is frequently a stunning place, a vast tropical island that includes sweeping rainforests, craggy mountains, dusty rural villages and, for the first time in Far Cry 6, a sprawling cityscape, all fringed by crystalline waters that turn a beautiful, burnished bronze at sunset. Far Cry has always felt most at home in the jungle, and Far Cry 6 proves to be no exception, the teeming foliage lending itself well to Far Cry's ambush-based combat, as well as simply feeling right for the game.

But Far Cry 6 can also be stupendously ugly at times. Some of the textures on characters and objects look extremely fuzzy. Your pet crocodile Guapo, for example, looks like a smear of brown pixels up close. There is a high-resolution texture pack that you can download separately, but it requires a whopping 11GB of VRAM to run. And this doesn't explain why so many of Far Cry 6's textures look as rough as they do. There are less technically-demanding games that look sharper than this, such as Deathloop and Back4Blood, neither of which require 11GB of VRAM to run.

Even the companion system doesn't quite escape this sense of incongruence. This time around, all your available companions (or amigos as Far Cry 6 calls them) are animals. I've already mentioned Guapo the friendly crocodile. But other beastly buddies include Chorizo, a loveable sausage dog with a broken spine who gets around in his own little canine wheelchair, and will distract guards so you can either slip by them or slit their throats. Sitting at the other end of the scale is Chicharrón, a ferocious rooster that's useful mainly for causing chaos. They're all fun in their own way, but in a game that's supposedly about guerrilla fighting, about working together with a close-knit group of comrades who will die for their cause, restricting companions to animals-only seems like a bizarre creative decision, one that removes some big opportunities for character and relationship building.

All these issues point to one key problem, lack of focus. Far Cry 6 is trying to be and do so many things at once that, like a guerrilla fighter who develops a lust for blood, it loses sight of its goal. There is a great FPS in here, but it's buried beneath a mountain of stuff that the game simply doesn't need. It's interesting comparing it to Ubisoft's other big-name series. Assassin's Creed Valhalla tied all its elements together through its central town-building mechanic, which gave everything you do in the game a sense of purpose and perspective. Viking raids help build your town, story quests bring new characters back to town, side-stories provide resources that help you further enhance your town. Everything feeds back into this one focal point, the crux of the entire experience.

Far Cry's crux has always been its emergent, escalating combat, and everything about the game should be redirecting itself toward that. Instead, Far Cry 6's fires in all manner of directions, and while that stuff can come together brilliantly, it almost feels like it's happening by accident, rather than by design. It's still a better game than 5, but it's also further evidence that the series needs a recalibration.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04