A lot of inadequate and inappropriate words get used to describe games. “Fun” and “addicting” are the two most common offenders. For starters, there’s no objective thing as “fun” and I don’t want to waste my time explaining why “addicting” is an inappropriate way to describe how you feel about Fortnite.
Instead, we should talk about how enthralling or engaging a game is. Specifically, why those things are dangerous and demand critical attention. I was having the jolliest of times running around Montana blowing up trucks and shooting cultists until I took a second to think about what a good time I was having. Between flying around, slinking through the grass, and petting my gigantic pet bear I was ready to declare that despite all the hand wringing that Far Cry 5 is a pretty good game. Then Yussef Cole sat me back down reminded me to put my critic hat on.
The danger of being enthralled with a game is that you begin to ignore the blemishes. You don’t see the vapid loading screens. You stop noticing that none of the weapons plays differently than any other weapon in its class. You lose sight of how despite being a cult with hundreds and hundreds of followers there doesn’t seem to be any coherent message beyond “say yes” or doing drugs.
It’s easy to steep one’s self in an average, attractive game. Big, bombastic music and constant gun fights and cougar attacks create a scenario where a body can quickly cease to see the large deficiencies. Far Cry 5 works very hard to make sure that you don’t look too long or too closely. There’s almost no problem at can be solved fast and easy with the right application of violence. That’s necessary because taking your time and savoring would demonstrate that the feast laid out before you is Golden Corral.
The difficult thing about all this is that Far Cry 5 is very engaging. It holds your attention firmly as you race through the forest with your mountain lion loaded with a smaller arsenal. The game forces you to improve your character but trying all sorts of different things. You have to fish, shoot, hunt, be helped, and generally kick over every rock you can. The more Far Cry you experience the more Far Cry experience you get.
What this means for Far Cry is that it’s about 60% of “a really great game.” That other 40% would be a total overhaul of the script that gave depth to its secondary characters. They don’t all have to cease being poor SNL caricatures of Americans but most of them shouldn’t be. It would reinforce the tragedy of the cultists too. It would make the antagonists more than cardboard cut outs of cult leaders from the tabloids.
What remains of that 40% would remove the random abductions that bring the game to a full halt no matter what you’re doing. It would tighten the map so that more happens over less space. The far, stretching vistas are gorgeous but without a photo mode what is there to do with them when I could just go to Montana?
That 40% isn’t just what the game is missing but what it does poorly. For all the talk about cult experts and research it doesn’t appear did anything with it except that cults exist and sometimes they’re religious. The game doesn’t strictly need to have a clear and defined political position, but it doesn’t even have a clear and defined set of beliefs for the cult that dominates almost every scene. It’s worse than “not saying anything” it doesn’t even do anything with the lines it did bother to write and include.
That’s the trap of engagement and enthrallment. At 100mph the flaws dissolve in the motion blur.