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Far Cry 6 hands-on preview: Enough issues to make us say, “Ay, Dios mío”

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The trailer for Far Cry 6 featuring a very familiar voice for modern TV fans.

Roughly six weeks before Far Cry 6‘s upcoming launch on PC and consoles, Ubisoft elected to unlock the entirety of this first-person shooter’s opening beats for a press-only, hands-on demo. This kind of access differs from the carefully selected “slices” we sometimes play in preview events, as those are meant to show an unfinished game in its best light.

But after going hands-on with Far Cry 6 for nearly four hours, I was reminded why game studios are sometimes cagey about prerelease reveals.

The demo I played was equal parts massive and unwieldy. I couldn’t help but feel like hundreds of Ubisoft staffers’ efforts to create a beautiful and convincing pseudo-Cuban adventure wound up squeezed into a single, tiny clown car of a package. The issues didn’t end with game-breaking bugs and wonky AI, which may very well be resolved on, erm, October 7. At this point, I’m more concerned about uninspiring new loadout systems, a narrative tone that can’t make up its mind, and an absolute yawn of a return to the Ubisoft open-world bloat of old.

Yara mean one, Mr. Esposito

For the uninitiated: every new Far Cry game, much like games in the Final Fantasy series, changes the location and characters while otherwise sticking to a familiar gameplay core. In FC6‘s case, that’s open-world, first-person gunplay. Players must typically move by foot, four-wheeler, boat, or other modes of transport between massive forests, expansive shorelines, and run-down cities, all while battling whatever megalomaniacal leader is dominating said remote locale.

This time, the setting is Yara, which is a thinly veiled fictional Cuba, and its megalomaniac is Antón Castillo, portrayed by beloved actor Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad). Over the years of his reign, Castillo has converted his island nation into a massive research and pharmaceutical laboratory, and he is so set on selling a cancer-beating cure to the rest of the world that his regime forces locals to work his farms and labs as unpaid slaves—or be killed for resisting. You start the game as Dani, a born-and-raised “Yaran” who questions this leadership approach and joins a rebellion.

The game immediately lands on the wrong foot in terms of tone. While Far Cry games’ villains haven’t necessarily been the epitome of nuance, Castillo is easily the series’ corniest one yet, saved (almost) by Esposito’s adept performance. To the plot’s credit, we’ve been fast-forwarded to the part of the story where Castillo has tricked enough of the party faithful into aligning with his murderous regime—you don’t have to look far in history books to see how accurately that checks—but FC6‘s plot-filled opening has no interest in establishing how Castillo ever became beloved. His valuation of all other civilians’ lives is comically nil.

Meanwhile, everything posed from Dani’s perspective can’t make up its mind: should Far Cry 6 be bludgeoningly serious or distractingly cheeky? Harrowing murders and ripped-apart families suggest one extreme, while giddy nihilism and comically large flamethrowers point firmly in the opposite direction. I’m working from a deficit in guessing how the full package plays out, but I already suspect that Esposito’s solid acting and legitimacy will continue to get in the way of FC6‘s hankering to descend into dumb, dumb, dumb.

Yes, you can pet the dogs… with bullets

This is the kind of game, after all, where you’ll get seriously hurt in the middle of frenetic machine-gun combat, then tap the “heal” button and watch yourself… light and puff a cigar? Because Cuba, I guess? It’s also the kind of game where you’ll head to an out-of-the-way farm because a “battle chicken” you’d just befriended instantly warps about half a mile from your current location. Hop in a car, track the farm down, and help this bird kill a bunch of trained guard dogs over some sort of thinly explained animal spat. To repeat that: you must murder barking dog after barking dog, with very little explanation as to what evils these dogs had ever committed or what nasty names they may have called the chicken’s mother.

In my head, I’ve already started cataloguing every emotionally numb, head-scratching narrative turn I faced in this four-hour demo, and I’m not convinced that explaining each of those beats at length is worth your reading time. It certainly wasn’t worth my attention inside the game.

But if you’ve played previous Far Cry games, you may already assume the narrative-worst with this series and instead hope that this sequel cranks up the massive-island battling opportunities to the point you can mash the “skip cut scene” button and have fun anyway. The nicest thing I can say on that front is how pretty, lush, and varied FC6‘s Cuba-like cities and islands looked in my preview session. Ubisoft’s global network of studios has clearly put a ton of work into building Yara’s landscapes, and the environs alternate between full forest zones, roadside encampments, boozy shoreline towns, castle-like fortresses, and more.

These are even more fun to explore when you commandeer a car, horse, biplane, or helicopter to tread ground more quickly, though FC6 has many unsurprising “finish a quest before exploring freely” road bumps in place. Some road checkpoints will slash your car’s or bike’s tires if you try to drive through, and anti-air turrets will blow unexpected aircraft out of the sky mighty quickly. Kill all of the guards at any of these pesky anti-rebel encampments to drive or fly through freely.

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