How Far Cry 6 helped me understand why I play games

A killer crocodile

Let’s get one thing straight off the bat; Far Cry 6 is not a bad game. In fact I’d even say it’s a pretty decent game, and one that I enjoyed for the limited time I had with it.

There’s a lot to like. The gunplay feels incredibly satisfying with weapons that look and sound great in action. The world is absolutely beautiful – as I knew it would be – and its design makes you feel completely immersed in the region of Yara (just think Cuba). The level design is solid, the missions are varied and it all flows nicely along. You’re continually rewarded with materials and experience that allow for upgrades, which in turn make a meaningful difference on how you play. And the world feels alive – people come and go about their own business, and your actions seem to have real impact. It’s an elaborate, feature-rich sandbox – a chaos simulator.

A Far Cry 6 screenshot
Normally best enjoyed when not on your phone

The problem is that I’ve seen it all before in earlier games in the series. Brutally violent stealth and enemy take-downs, check. Endless map markers and liberation of checkpoints/outposts/whatever you want to call them, check. Charamastic villains giving monologues to those in their capture, absolutely (and within the first 20 minutes). Far Cry 6 even has the same flamethrower mission from Far Cry 3, where you are tasked with destroying crops (and anyone who gets in the way of your anti-horticulture persuits). Here though, the mission comes significantly earlier in the game – within the first couple of hours. This gave me two reasons to worry, firstly that the power creep in your arsenal is going to get beyond absurd (the rocket launcher-based ‘ultimate’ attack provided doesn’t help here) and secondly that the game is already running out of ideas. The developers were clearly concerned about this too, with the main character, Dani, quipping “Burning shit with a flamethrower? Felt familiar”.

This line made me far angrier than it had any right to. If you recognise you’re doing the same things, maybe you should spend longer coming up with new ideas instead of trying to patch over the same-old with self-aware dialogue? But once I’d calmed down, I started questioning why I’d responded so badly to this. After all, Far Cry 6 is a sequel in a long line of games – giving more of the same but bigger and better to those who enjoyed the last one. You don’t get to number 6 in a series and suddenly roll the dice and make it into a completely new game. Whilst easy to criticise, these games are some of the best games as commercial-first operations – find your niche in the market, and keep serving it better and better each time.

A Far Cry 6 screenshot
The flamethrower mission does look and play well, to be fair

I think, in truth, I was angry with myself as I knew what to expect going in. No-one is surprised by the formula anymore, and if you really expect that the introduction of killer crocodile companions and weapon holstering is going to change how the game plays, then shame on you. But while the game is fun, looks good and plays great, that is no longer enough for me. I have such limited gaming time nowadays – 5-10 hours max a week – so why had I opted to play a game I’ve already played (Far Cry 3) and bounced off half way through (Far Cry 4). I could post-rationalise it and say it was because the game was on free trial, but time, not money, is my main issue. And these 6 hours of free play felt like a giant, albeit mostly enjoyable, waste of time.

So why do I play games?

After I came to my senses and realised I really had had enough, I did what I never thought I’d do after playing a Far Cry game – I sat and I reflected. I asked myself that if simply enjoying my spare time, and having fun doing so, wasn’t enough then what is it I hoped to get from games? Why do I play at all?

I started by writing a list of the games I’d played over the last 5-10 years (or sometimes longer) that I had connected with at the time, or that had stayed with me since.

An image showing my favourite games
Games like these (with some notable omissions)

Once complete, I took them one-by-one and tried to analyse why they’d resonated with me. From that, came the following common themes:

  • Games whose narrative or characters made an emotional connection. Best examples; Edith Finch, Final Fantasy 15 (and most games in the series), Gone Home, Spec Ops: The Line, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
  • Games with absolutely top-notch (ideally genre-leading or defining) gameplay. Best examples; Hades, Rimworld, Spelunky, Into The Breach, Civilization 6, Monster Train.
  • Games that either truly innovated or introduced a new concept or genre to me (in short, games that showed me something new). Best examples; Rocket League, Portal, Slay the Spire, Smite.
  • Games that provided a challenge, allowed me to compete or gave me some sense of real skill progression. Best examples; Warzone, CS:GO, Football Manager, Binding of Isaac.
  • Games that provided a space to hang out with my friends. In truth, this is mostly Warzone and, to a lesser degree, Fall Guys and Rocket League.

The best of the best do multiple things. Slay the Spire, for example, popularised a whole new genre, is masterfully balanced and replayable, and required a lot of practice before I could beat it for the first time. Interestingly, games that stuck with me for narrative/character reasons tended to only be great at that (for example I recognise FF15 is not the strongest in the gameplay department).

This is not to say that I can’t enjoy a game that doesn’t do all, or any of these, but its likely that I’ll find it forgettable or reach the point where I begin to wish I was playing something greater. In some ways I’m in an enviable position. I have few gaming hours to fill and LOTS of choice of what to fill them with. This allows me to be as picky and selective as I like.

Back to Far Cry 6…

Had I done this analysis earlier, there is no way that I would have spent time with Far Cry 6. Let’s see how it stacks up on these criteria (based on my short time with it and my best guesses about what the rest of the experience would be like):

Games whose narrative or characters made an emotional connectionI doubt it. Whilst there’s usually one or two characters that stand out, most of the time they are the same; one-dimensional or comically over-the-top (but with varying accents).
Games with absolutely top-notch (ideally genre-leading or defining) gameplayThis is probably where Far Cry 6 excels, few games do Far Cry like Far Cry. But is it noticeably better than others in the series, no. And despite my obsession with multiplayer shooters, I don’t actually consider single-player FPSs in my favourite genres.
Games that either truly innovated or introduced a new concept or genre to me Ha, good one.
Games that provided a challenge, allowed me to compete or gave me some sense of real skill progressionThere is a higher difficulty mode but these games are about living a power fantasy in a sandbox the developers want you to see as much of as possible, rather than providing a significant challenge.
Games that provided a space to hang out with my friendsNo (although there is a non-cross-play-enabled co-op mode).
Evaluating Far Cry 6

Again, this doesn’t make Far Cry 6 a bad game. It’s one of the best in the genre and a lot of fun, but I need something a bit more.

So which game is next up?

I’m actually glad I played Far Cry 6 because now I have a clear set of metrics by which I can evaluate which games that are right for me. With a long backlog, I can be more selective about what I play and when.

The next game I wanted to play actually isn’t in the backlog, it’s Two Point Campus. I enjoyed 15 or so hours with its predecessor, Two Point Hospital, but was ultimately quite critical of it. And now, having skimmed a few reviews of TPC, and pre-juding it against these new-found criteria, I’m a bit skeptical about how much I’ll enjoy it:

Games whose narrative or characters made an emotional connectionNope (although it will have its funny moments).
Games with absolutely top-notch (ideally genre-leading or defining) gameplayTwo Point Hospital felt great to build, be in and play. But its mechanics ultimately felt too simple, with few interesting decisions to make. I’ll need to see a big step up from its sequel.
Games that either truly innovated or introduced a new concept or genre to meMy main concern is that TPC will be more of the same. It will need to do something pretty unique to capture my attention beyond the first few hours.
Games that provided a challenge, allowed me to compete or gave me some sense of real skill progressionUnlikely. Two Point Hospital wasn’t particularly hard, it just required patience and persistence – it was almost impossible to fail a level. I’ll have a good time with this one if that changes, but I just don’t think it will.
Games that provided a space to hang out with my friendsNope.
Pre-judging Two Point Campus
The Steam description of Two Point Campus
The Steam description – an emphasis on creativity rather than challenge I think

It’s on Xbox Game Pass so there’s no monetary cost (only time), so I’m still going to give it a try and time to impress. But I can go in more mindful of the experience I want, and have a clear idea of where the stopping point should come (again promoting gaming mindfulness). I’m open to loving it, but will also be interested to use it to validate the things I believe are important to me.

So thanks for that Far Cry 6, and good luck with your inevitable sequel.

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