While the Far Cry series once focused on the high-octane exploits of westerners mingling with the locals of foreign lands, the shoe is now on the other foot with the US setting of Far Cry 5. This shake-up was intended to push some buttons, according to creative director Dan Hay. And it certainly has, although the creative forces behind the game were somewhat hesitant to say to GameSpot directly that it's a commentary on current times.
Though the game still revels in the over-the-top action and open-world hijinks the series is known for, the fifth entry's distortion of Americana--within the confines of an isolated mountain region of Hope County, Montana--feels all the more potent and timely. During a recent press event for Far Cry 5, we had the chance to talk to lead writer Drew Holmes (Saints Row: The Third, Red Faction: Guerilla, and BioShock Infinite) and lead actor Greg Bryk (Fargo and A History of Violence)--who portrays Eden's Gate cult leader and main antagonist Joseph Seed--about their work on the game.
Can you talk about how your experience working on past games prepared you for Far Cry 5? You've had experience on other open-world games, but this one is so totally different from your past work.
Drew Holmes: Over the years you learn what works and what doesn't from the things you work on. So going from Saints Row to Red Faction to BioShock Infinite and to now this, it's like I'm bringing all that knowledge I've accumulated from all those people that I've worked with, and then taking that saying, "What is Far Cry 5 about?" Sitting down with Dan and Greg, we talked about who this character is and what he stands for, and what is he afraid of. What is the experience we want to give players--that is harrowing, dark, and even a bit frightening, but also big and bombastic and thrilling? All the things that encapsulate Far Cry, while also giving more ownership to the direction of the story for the player experience. It's along that path of trying to grow as a craftsman and as an artist while trying to bring some humanity to really scary villains.
While the core concept of the game was planned out years ago, the game as it now has some rather striking imagery and moments that resonate strongly in our present times. Particularly the ideals of American conservatism in isolated pockets of the country, and the concept of a cult of personality in power. With your performance as The Father in the game, did anything from real life and current events sort of inform your performance, and were you even a bit surprised by how closely the parallels were?
Greg Bryk: No. For me, it's a very personal journey [of this particular character]. This is a man who is broken, who has been deprived of love and even stripped of the insulation that love affords most of us. And then within that, [The Father] was given a message from God, and that it's the truth and that the end is coming. He believes that the end is coming, and he needs to save as many people as he can. And as a father in real-life, sometimes your kids want--sometimes you know what's right, and they don't. You have to correct them and put them on the right path.
I really believe the sense of longing Joseph had was the spark that created his world system and his worldview. It also sparked a longing that a lot of people have. I think we really are alone, a lot. We really are lost in a lot of ways. Even though we have access to such vast information, how rare is it to sit across from another human being and hold their hand and just spend time with them. We've really lost the art of being human together, and I think to me was one of the captivating features of this character. For someone who has nothing, how do you build a family? So I came at it from that place.
But I understand that we live in chaotic times now, and I think people will project a whole bunch of narratives onto the story--and they will because this is what we do, we're storytellers and we want to take the meaning of that. It's a great conversation piece and it's great for the game, but I think from the player's experience of it will not be at the arms length of an ideology, but rather that someone is challenging me with their truth, and you are going to have to make a decision--and it's going to be an intensely personal one. One that you could take the hero's journey and take the cut down or the message could resonate with you and strike a chord with you.
Holmes: One that will linger long after you put down the controller.
Bryk: And of course there are also some kick-*** moments throughout the game. That got super heavy for a minute. You can still shoot s***, dogs and bears attack people, and there's airplane but there's also the heart of the game, quietly beating underneath all of that.
Was it challenging trying to balance those tense and extremely dark moments with the sort of standard video-gamey action beats?
Holmes: I think that's Far Cry. When you look back at 3 and 4, it is that chaotic and dark story running through, but also fighting tigers and bears with a rocket-launcher. You can't separate that, that's a part of what the game is. For us on the narrative side of that, it was trying to figure out how to embrace more of that. How to check our egos at the door, to give up more authorship to the players, to say to players that you're running the show. We have all these little moments for you to discover and for you to meet these characters in the cult and across the county to progress in the game. But it's up to you to decide when that stuff is moving forward, and the tone that it takes. If you want to play it dark and brooding and serious, there are characters for you to seek out that offer experiences like that. But if you want a crazy open-world experience, that's there too.
We aren't dictating how the game unfolds. It's challenging from the sense that we all understand in terms of traditional storytelling how things unfold, we've been conditioned to that by watching and listening to stories to understand that flow, and now [in this game] to giving control to the player where you start to play the game, where the cadence and the pace of it is really up to you where you can just go out and explore the world and not engage in things, that's still a part of your experience. Or you can seek out Hurk and have a ridiculous time, and that's gonna cause the cult to come after me and then I'm gonna have to dip into Jacob Seed's story and what that means for the Whitetail Militia. It changes the cadence of what unfolds.
But for me, it's really challenging to make it all feel cohesive, but at the end of the day when you can sit down with the controller in your hand play through it, it's just so enjoyable. It's fun, it's frightening, it's scary, but also really f***ing funny in places. But that is really the special sauce that makes it Far Cry.
It really says a lot when you're able to bounce between moments of philosophical introspection with gameplay scenes with Cheeseburger the Bear.
Bryk: But that's life, isn't it? How often does life follow a nice, tight tonally consistent narrative arc? It doesn't. It's absurd, it's profound. We go from the birth of a child to something absurd happening, to other catastrophes happening. It's all like this [snaps fingers]. Life isn't polite in that way. It intrudes and delights and terrifies, quickly.
Holmes: The world isn't painted with one brush, and neither is this game. We wanted to offer as much content with differing tones.
Since you've been on this game for some time, is there anything from your experiences on this over years that stuck out?
Holmes: There's a lot. But for me, a lot of it starts with the performance that Greg has given us. Having an idea for a character, a spark of where it's going to go, and then putting that on a page is another. But until you can find someone that can embody that, make it believable and honest, where you care about the things that the "bad guy" believes in--and can make you see where they're coming from--that's super tough. When we started to work together, we were on the same page as far as a villain who doesn't see himself as a villain. It's the choices that he makes and the lengths he's willing to go, in his view, that people see him as a villain. He believes wholeheartedly in what he does, and he believes that others will thank him after he saves them. It gives Joseph a different flavor as the villain than the previous Far Cry games.
Bryk: This is has been one of the happiest adventures of my life, creatively. It was also very dark and challenging but in the best kind of way. Like you have a problem you want to wrestle with and it exhausts you, and it takes the best and the worst of you, and then says "here it is." It ended up being the last scene we ever shot for a key moment in the game. When I first read it, we were shooting the short-film in Montana and Drew sent me the pages of the script. At the time, Montana was on fire [during the 2017 wildfires]. So I could literally see the state burning around me and the air was thick with smoke and I'm reading this almost Book of Revelations-type narrative. I could feel this sort of rage within me--that is animalistic and nihilistic--where love is gone and can never be. It f***ing destroyed me but in the best possible way. And we got it.
As an actor, there are honest moments, and then there are moments where you understand a fundamental truth of your darkest fear realized. And he wrote it, and it was just one of those magic moments where it all worked out. I think when the player is forced to confront someone in that state, they'll have a moment of pause. Because that's someone who's been stripped of nicety.