Note:Ubisoft covered airfare, lodging, and food for this trip
After five main titles and a giant pile of DLC, gaming culture seems to feel like the Far Cry series is pretty well defined. While the series has been known to take some wild chances in the past - left field entries like Blood Dragon and Primal come to mind - popular sentiment is that when you boot up a new Far Cry game, you have a good idea of what you are going to get. There will be hunting. There will be crafting. There will be an open world with elements that interact in predictably unpredictable ways. There will be a band of freedom fighters to join, and there will be an interesting bad guy to rebel against.
In some ways, all of these assumptions are true of the newest entry in the franchise, Far Cry 5. The game does indeed include hunting and crafting, an active open world that leads to plenty of over-the-top “OMG” moments, and a rag-tag group of people desperately fighting against an oppressive force. But while maintaining these parameters that make up “Far Cry”, Ubisoft has violently flipped the script on the narrative aspects of the game. They have ripped the standard lunatic dictator from the center of the game, replacing him with a charismatic, sometimes even sympathetic, religious fanatic.
Joseph Seed, also known as “The Father”, is the leader of the Project at Eden’s Gate. He is a preacher and a family man. He stands at the center of a righteous religious community that he has created in Hope County, Montana, surrounded by devoted followers that adore him. He has a team of lieutenants beneath him, made up of family members and trusted advisors, doing their best to guide the group through trying times. He is sometimes soft spoken, but forceful when he needs to be, and a reassuring word from his mouth can calm even the most unstable of his flock. He is also insane, dangerous, unpredictable, violent, and 100% certain that he is doing God’s will.
Like locusts, Joseph Seed’s followers are slowly eating up the land in Hope county. They are either absorbing, driving out, or outright killing anyone that gets in their way, fully convinced that they are doing what is necessary to prepare their neighbors for the coming apocalypse. The farmers and rural population of Hope County have been driven to either hide or fight, knowing that either way, they will likely be killed. This is the world that the player finds themselves wandering in Far Cry 5, and it is a long way from the jungles of India.
There is no question that violent dictators exist in the world today. There are oppressed people all around the globe, and freedom fighters are engaged in struggles against occupying forces somewhere in the world at this very moment. Far Cry has been playing with this dynamic throughout the history of the series, representing the struggle for freedom in a variety of interesting fictional locales. So why does a game set in the heartland of the United States feel so revolutionary? And how, in a game series known for its gonzo gameplay and wild water-cooler moments, did Ubisoft construct a narrative around the sensitive subject of religious fanaticism that players could take seriously?
“I think you barrel straight into it,” says Drew Holmes (BioShock Infinite, Saints Row 2), lead writer for Far Cry 5. “That’s Far Cry, that sort of mix of crazy tone, dark but humorous, ridiculous but scary. That’s part of what makes Far Cry work, and I think that’s what everyone has come to expect.”
Holmes believes that he and the Far Cry team have delivered an experience that players can tailor to their own preferences. “I think it’s just a matter of asking what experience we want players to have? And the answer is whatever they want to experience. We have this dark, imposing villain, family of villains, really, and the player’s mission is to free the county, rescue your friends and be the hero. But we don’t dictate the style in which (players) progress through that world. The game-play itself has always been about that 360-degree approach with stealth, action, etc., and the new tools that we’re bringing in (guns for hire, fangs for hire). We give you all these things, so you can attack it the way you want to. Then we say, “Now can we do the same thing with the narrative?” Can we allow the player to approach the story and get into the story in any way they see fit, whether that’s with crazy, ridiculous characters like Herc, or serious ones like Jess and Grace? We allow them to control their experience and paint with whatever sort of brush they want.”
Of course, whether a player chooses to play the game more seriously or in a buck-wild, outlandish manner, they will still have to contend with Joseph Seed, “The Father”. Unlike previous charismatic but ultimately cartoonish Far Cry villains, Joseph Seed isn’t after money or power. Joseph Seed is in the business of saving souls, and there is no sense of irony or tongue-in-cheek scenery chewing about him. This character believes that anyone not in his flock when the world ends will be destroyed, and he is desperately trying to rescue as many people as possible, by any means necessary.
The Ubisoft team engaged in an intensive search to find the right actor to portray Seed, before finding veteran film and television performer Greg Bryk (Saw V, Frontier), who wasn’t entirely convinced that he wanted to portray a preacher in a video game.
“I was really resistant at first,” Bryk says, laughing. “Because I just wasn’t sophisticated in the gaming world. I didn’t understand where the story telling was. You know, how involved that process was and the narrative arcs. Casting had reached out, and there had been a pretty broad search for someone to play the Father, and I’ve played a number of bad guys. So I was looking at the breakdowns of the characters and saying ‘No, no, no, no, no’, and then I came to the Father, and I said ‘Hmm..there’s something very interesting about that charismatic cult leader, this head of a family’. They sent a monologue that Drew had written that sort of summed up the origin of the character. It resonated immediately with me.
“The first lines were describing how he was twenty-three years old, and his wife was pregnant with their first child. I got my wife pregnant when I was in theater school. That terror of responsibility, that accountability of being a father to someone. (For Joseph Seed), that starts the progression of losing his wife in a car accident, and he’s left with his baby. He’s forced to make choices. He hears God calling him and challenging him to make a choice. He makes a choice, a pretty horrific choice. That starts his path.
“I’m interested in broken people,” Bryk continues. “I’m interested in what grows in the cracks of a broken person. We all carry our personal tragedies with us, our heart breaks. That tends to be the palate that I paint most frequently in. So, this writing was stunning. When I did the audition, I met the director, and I did one take. Drew looked at it and they really responded immediately.”
Holmes agrees that the connection between Bryk and The Father was immediate. “There was something when you watched Greg’s audition tape,” Holmes elaborates. “There was a believability to it. You watched it and you believed that this story happened to him. You believed that he made this choice. You felt sympathy for him and you felt abject horror, and it was all in this little tight compartment. I believed that this is a cult leader, this is a guy that people will follow. To their doom.”
Holmes began working directly with Bryk to define who Joseph Seed was. “It was really tough trying to figure out who this guy was, and what he stood for. We were looking at a broad range of ages of actors, just trying to find what that spark was. For me, once we had Greg, and I could start to hear Joseph speaking in Greg’s voice, everything started to crystalize for me. Then the paths that we thought we wanted the story to take started to become solid. The pieces started to fall into place, and all of the other characters spun off of that. For me, as a writer, when you are working on a game and you are trying to produce something, once you know who that person is, it changes everything. You can really start to write to that actor and bring in their personality and their stories to make it feel much more honest.”
To both Holmes and Bryk, this collaboration became vital keeping the character grounded in the real world. “Whenever we’re on set,” Holmes says, “it’s always like ‘This is the script’, but if something doesn’t feel truthful to you, let’s talk through it, let’s make some changes. I don’t give a shit what I wrote. If it doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t matter.”
Both men were deeply committed to constructing a real character, not just another video game villain. For Bryk, finding seeds in his own life were key to understanding The Father, and keeping his performance true-to-life.
“As an actor I like to work very personally’” Bryk says. “I’m blessed, I’ve been married for a long time and I have three kids who are my world. And if you work from a place of loss of that, I mean real loss, then [you’re in] a very dangerous place. Because what would someone do to protect that structure? It’s everything. There is an inherent fear and desperation.
“And if you heard – unquestionably – God speak to you and tell you that they end was coming, and you had to save your family, you had to save the people around you, you would do anything to do that. They might resist that at first. They don’t know the truth that you know. You heard God command you, you know the end is coming. Whatever tactics I have to employ to know that those people that are closest to me, that are under my protection, are saved, what length would you not go to save your child? You would do whatever had to be done.”
“If you don’t approach it from that angle,” Holmes explains, “then nothing is ever going to ring true. You’re trying to capture some other person’s interpretation of what the truth is. The one thing that I’ve learned over my career, looking back, it’s that stuff never worked was when I was trying to write the perfect line, or I was trying to get too cute, or too cool. When you strip all of that bullshit away, and say ‘What would my response be?’, putting yourself into the shoes of that character, what is the honest, unfiltered, raw version of what was coming out? And I think that you strip the “writerly-ness” away and just let people be people. Let them connect. And the humor works in that same way. You’ve got to just allow the characters to speak truthfully and not try to force a certain line.”
While there was a lot of work put into making The Father believable, there was also a responsibility to make certain that this serious topic was handled in a realistic and appropriate manner. That included giving Joseph Seed a believable back story, even if it never comes to light during the course of the game. Drew Holmes and the rest of the Ubisoft team worked hard to make certain that Joseph Seed had reasons for his behavior and wasn’t just a raving lunatic.
“We did a lot of research with Rick Ross, our cult expert,” Holmes says, “to find the commonalities. What is the general make up of someone who becomes a cult leader, and builds a cult? What are they looking for? And there is not a “One size fits all” path for us. In terms of the broken home, it came not from any of the cult research, it came from the desire to have a family for him. It started with this idea of the sense of family. Knowing that we needed a family of villains, there has got to be something damaging in their background. You don’t just become a bad guy because you wake up and decide to be bad. What is the psychology behind it? What are they searching for? What are they trying to fill? For us, it was that family abuse that broke them apart and shattered them.
“Then it was Joseph, trying to figure out what his purpose was in life, going back and finding his brothers and healing them. Building them up around him, to say 'I’ve had this vision of the end of the world and God told me that I need to save as many people as I can, and I need help'. Those brothers feel beholden to him, because of the shared history that they have. Maybe they don’t necessarily believe that he talks to God, but they believe in him. And that tight-knit brotherly love, I think, makes it a much more grounded group of villains. They feel relatable in some ways. They feel very, very scary. It adds a layer of complexity that we just haven’t had in previous Far Cry games.”
Both Drew Holmes and Greg Bryk are very excited for players to get to experience Hope County and the Project at Eden’s Gate for themselves. Representing years of work, the release of Far Cry 5 is right around the corner. And it is clear that, despite its rampaging bears and exploding barrels, the story in this game has great personal meaning for both men.
“People are going to have to live and experience this story the way that we live and experience our lives,” Bryk says. “It’s because of our choices, and there are certain milestones and tent-posts along the way that are pretty universal in the human experience, but how we get there is our fingerprint. And this game will have that. So, I think that people are going to have a really personal experience.
“And also, we [as people] are alone a lot, and we feel unloved a lot, and part of the thing about the Father is I get to commune directly with the player, and I get to say, ‘I know what it feels like to be unloved, to be unwanted. And I’ll love you, and I’ll accept you, because all of my broken pieces fit with your broken pieces.’ And so we have these deep connective tissue, but also some of the larger ideas.
“We spend so much time worrying about ‘likes’ or whatever, and the people closest to you are in pain, and they are lonely, and I’m just talking about my own life. My daughter, you know, who I’m going to have in my house for a limited amount of time, wants to sing to me at fourteen, and I’m sometimes checking Twitter or whatever, and I’m like “What the fuck am I doing?”. This is the modern conundrum. We have access to everything and we are losing that which is closest. It’s like a baby that has a toy in his hand, but he sees another, and in reaching for that, but he lets go of this. And what are we letting go of, when we are grabbing for everything that is at our fingertips? Because though everything is there, we have lost this [connection], and that is a very important message for Joseph, and it’s very important to me personally. I never felt that I had to say something that I didn’t believe on a very fundamental level in terms of this character.
“And obviously hearing God’s voice would strengthen that belief, but you can do substitution work there. But just the ideas behind it, I think we need to think about it. I hope that players get at least some of these ideas. And oh fuck, there’s amazing ‘Yee-Haw’ moments. This is just really entertaining, fun stuff. But I want there to also be a moment [in the game] where we’re together, and I challenge you with my truth, and you’re forced to decide what your truth is. And just to hold on to that for a second.”
Far Cry 5 will release on March 27, 2018 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile