Ubisoft Forward, is the last in a long row of online E3 stand-ins. Alongside updates on Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Watchdogs: Legion, Ubisoft also announced Far Cry 6. This one is set in Yara, inspired by ‘Cuba’…. There will be explosions and guns, but what else did we take away from this announcement?
Ubisoft has not exactly been exuding positive vibes lately. First and foremost there is a string of news about workplace abuse at several of its worldwide studios and particularly emanating from its influential Editorial Team. Even the new addition to the Assassin’s Creed series: AC: Valhalla, does not yet exactly manage to fill us with confidence. Maybe a new addition to Far Cry 6 in a tropical setting and revolution theme can turn the ship around?
The answer is no. No, Far Cry 6 does not bring positive vibes. It is a conceptual mess right from the very first 30 seconds of its (admittedly very cinematic looking) trailer. Reflected in a crocodilian eye, we see an image of a tropical island that fades to a scene of colonizing conquistadors, followed by a shackled person, which merges into a scene of a group of rioters with guns, transitioning into a pretty classical car doing donuts and smoking rubber to someone drinking rum and smoking cigars.
OMG, pack your bags/pre-order now, cause, in case you didn’t guess it, you’re going to
Cuba Yara, baby!
Some of you may wonder, why? Weren’t we done with shooting up tropical islands after Far Cry 3? Narrative director, Navid Khavari, explains the reasons in this IGN piece:
“”I think it was two things. There was a feeling among fans of being excited to go to a tropical setting once again. But also, I think for us, [there was] this idea of looking at revolution. And the moment you start looking at revolution, you think guerrilla warfare. And the moment you start thinking guerrilla warfare, you think Cuba.”Navid Khavari (narrative director Far Cry 6, via IGN)
That is not all there is to it. Cuba is a pretty conservative place, at least so it seems from the trailer and interviews. This works out neatly for Khavari since his story is “about an island that is almost frozen in time, like a living postcard from the ‘60s that players can experience and walk through” (in an interview in this Ubi Blog.) This conservative society is contrasted to the abovementioned guerrilla uprising, which is apparently very modern. Never mind that the guerrilla uprising we all know is being referenced took place in the ’50s and was won by Cuba’s people for Cuba’s people — unless you’re thinking about the failed, American-backed Bay of Pigs.
Who are the people of
Cuba Yara rising up against? Against a Batista lookalike, the absolutely tyrannical, mob-owned dictator? No, that would be too simple… Like a CIA assassin, Far Cry 6 set its sight on a more ‘complex’ leader named Fidel Castro Antón Castillo, played by Giancarlo Esposito (Danish actor, best known for playing complex evil druglord Gus Fring in Breaking Bad). The thing with Antón, according to Khavari, is that he means well, but just can’t help but enslaving his people in order to build his paradise. He is socialist evil because he cares.
If these themes sounds like Cuba, you may want to read the country’s Wikipedia page, you won’t need more than 30 seconds. If you have some more time, may I suggest the ethnographic classic, Cuban Counterpoint, by Fernando Ortiz? This virtuoso work manages to present a solid first understanding of the history of this island and its relation to the rest of the world up to the fifties by talking about two things: tobacco and sugar cane. With these two crops as perspective, it is even more minimally stacked than Ubisoft pitch of tropical island, old stuff, villains, and guerrillas. Cuban Counterpoint is about a thousand times more informative, though.
Perhaps it is a bit too early to tell and maybe this game will not pander to the most common denominator of tropical tropes, but I think we’re heading deep into imperialistic imaginary islands for this one. Indeed, the Far Cry series has quite a history of using places that seem suitably faraway for some Michael Bay-style freewheeling — at least to people not living there. So what should you expect?
Far Cry 6’s dev team did that thing where developers go to a place, take in the sights, and talk to some people. It’s been my own privilege to have spent some time in Cuba, now more than ten years ago. I have pretty good memories of the place, and especially its people. Some of the services the state provides to all of them are also unparalleled in the region. I do understand it is a country about which you may have some less positive views, depending on your political perspectives or experiences. But that is not the point. What baffles me is how you can spend a month there and come away with a game concept that literally fits on the back of a cheap cigarillo box.
While I was there, I got to work with some amazing local archaeologists, who were not frozen in time at all. Owing to the economic blockade of their country by the US, they did have to work with limited means, but they had a very advanced understanding of archaeology and knew much more about about many other things than I did. Aside from visiting collections and helping out with surveying, I spent a lot of time talking with them and other people I met there about “what Cuba is about.” I was probably very annoying, but they were always very friendly, open, and patient and, obviously, had these very balanced, complex views on the good and bad elements of the society they were part of. A few years later I had the honour of being an academic witness for the PhD defense of one of the friends I made there.
What I learned is that Cuba’s people have a history, present, and hope for the future that will quickly mess up any preconceptions you may have of them and their country. Cuba cannot be boiled down to concepts like ‘socialist island paradise’, ‘failed state’ or as a country of brave guerrillas and diabolic dictators. The other concepts that form the basis of the Far Cry 6 trailer are even further from the mark. What I also learned is that, when outsiders talk about Cuba, they mostly end up talking about political issues and worldviews that are not very Cuban at all — as I did then and as am I doing here (I’m so meta).
What I took away from the Far Cry 6 trailer? It shows that Ubisoft is pretty good at churning out games that try to hit the right tones as fun, interesting and a-political experiences, which increasingly seem out of tune with what is happening in the world. It also showcases how the rest of the world cannot help but project what worries or otherwise keeps us busy onto Cuba’s past and present. Interestingly, Far Cry 6‘s Yara is pitched as a place in which a privileged and populist *sshole chokes the life out of an isolated society that is held by back by its conservative values. Does that remind you of any other place in the world? Let us know what you think!