Far Cry 5’s environmental storytelling helps create truly detestable villains.
I was about an hour into Far Cry 5 when I crouched on the brow of a hill overlooking a pumpkin farm. Looking through my binoculars I could see a group of cultist “Peggies” (the term given to those involved with Project: Eden’s Gate) taunting a dog in a cage below me among the aftermath of a slaughter. Pulling out my silenced sniper rifle, I went about disposing of the villains. Thud, thud, thud, thud. They’re down and the area is clear. Making my way down to the farm, I started to see the devastation that the Peggies had left in their wake. A body lay on the ground at outskirts of the farm, shot in the back as if the person was running away as they were gunned down. When I get to the farm, surrounded by puddles of blood are a man and a woman, both slain, reaching out to one another. The Dog that was in the cage – Boomer, as I find out – is sat next to them forlornly. I manage to cheer Boomer up by giving him a pat and he joins me on my quest but I’m still quietly seething at the destruction the Peggies had wrought upon these people.
Accompanied by Boomer, I made my way up the road to some kennels. My new pupper highlighted the presence of Peggies inside the area and we stealthed our way in through some bushes and through a cage. I could hear the cultists threatening a hostage in the central area by my attention was elsewhere – blood covered the floors of the kennels and there were the bodies of dogs around the area. “Those f**kers” I thought to myself. Switching to my pistol, I gave up all pretences of stealth and ran in guns blazing while Boomer tore into the guy patrolling outside. We delivered swift justice to the Peggies and I let Boomer turn one of the fallen cultists into a mid-morning snack. These people killed a bunch of dogs and took someone hostage. These people deserved it.
A small jaunt down a hill and I stumbled across 2 Peggies in a field. They had a hostage tied up who was screaming to be rescued but I was too late to save one person who had been tied to a post and had had his guts shot out. The person was long dead but the cultists continued to shoot at their corpse. They couldn’t hear my approach over their rifle fire so this time I got up close and personal and introduced their heads to my baseball bat. No regrets.
Anyone who plays Far Cry 5 will have similar stories to these. Right from the start of the game, when you’re introduced to the Seed family, the villains of this game cut an imposing figure. Their evil deeds and insanity are portrayed expertly through cut scenes and radio chatter and it’s easy to hate them but it’s the environment storytelling that differentiates Far Cry 5 from the rest of the series and allows the game to create detestable villains from even the lowliest of grunts.
For those that don’t know, Environmental Storytelling is a method used by games to give players information within the mise-en-scène to enforce/progress a narrative or to make the player question “Huh. What happened here?”. When you’re wondering around a facility in Fallout 4 and you find a skeleton locked in a room surrounded by empty bottles, that’s environmental storytelling. In Dead Space, when exploring the USG Ishimura and you see furniture piled up in front of a doorway in a room full of dead bodies, that’s environmental storytelling.
In Far Cry 5, Ubisoft use environmental storytelling much more than they did in the previous 2 entries. Instead of walking around forts or deserted towns filled with identical troops, the locations in Far Cry 5 are packed with visual clues to what has recently happened. The dead owners of Boomer clutching for one another. The Kennels full of dead dogs. The civilians impaled on spikes emblazoned with the Eden’s Gate logo. These are all visual nods that go above and beyond what has appeared in the Far Cry series to date. The effect of this is to really enforce what deplorable villains the “Peggies” really are, and not just the head honcho’s either. The environmental storytelling, the bloody wake left by their cleansing of Hope County, is designed to portray each and every one of them as terrorists, encouraging the player to strike back at them for their crimes. It’s such an effective method to reinforce the narrative and to give the player the feeling of being a “hero”.
For me, the environmental storytelling really elevates the minions of Far Cry 5 into something I can hate. It gives them a personality by showing me what they’re capable of in every outpost I come across and It drives me on to get revenge, much more than any of the cutscenes do. It’s a master class in mise-en-scène narrative enforcement, developing truly detestable villains from the lowest of minions and is an example for others to follow.