A good cult tells you where they stand. If they’re like the Church Universal and Triumphant, you get what they’re about after the second Mantra for Healing Personal and National Economies or so. Like Eden’s Gate, they’re a Montana-based group that bought up land and built bunkers, and they still await the catastrophic end to all things between chants that use spiritual energy to claim what is rightfully theirs within the US economy.
The Eden's Gate cult in Far Cry 5 could use a couple such mantras. All their covers of Amazing Grace don't spell out what they believe in besides a vague dissatisfaction with the state of the US government and the character of the American people. It’s not until just before the credits roll that the cult’s purpose starts to take shape, a bit too late for recruiting purposes. Chris and James have both weathered Far Cry 5’s ending, still uncertain of the Seed family’s goals and not convinced that such a dark ending earns the gravitas its going for.
Final warning, we’re spoiling Far Cry 5 top to bottom from here on.
James: So that was quite the explosive ending, wasn’t it, Chris? I mean, I sort of expected things to go this way—I hoped they would, though I thought we’d get the actual rapture given how omnipotent the Seeds are, but the nuclear apocalypse is close enough.
Chris: I guess it sort of had to happen, though now I feel bad for all the preppers who abandoned their cleverly constructed bomb shelters when the cult took over. Also a bit of a story problem: why did all these people build bomb shelters and then just leave town at a time when their shelters would finally come in handy?
So, do you think God was really talking to Joe Seed, or do you think these nukes were somehow set off by Seed himself? Is he a legit prophet or just a huge faker? Will he ever learn another song besides Amazing Grace?
James: I’m not sure, but I’d guess that they got of hold of the nukes themselves somehow, what with the scale of their operation. They have people all over the US, from what I gathered by reading the tie-in novel and watching the short film, though it might be explained in one of the dozens of letters the cultists leave around in plain sight.
It’s a really dismal turn of events: you resist Joseph one last time, go through another bizarre bliss-trip boss battle where you shoot your friends to sober them up, and take Seed away only for nukes to blow in the distance. In the end it’s just you and him stuck in a shelter for the foreseeable future, everything you’ve done to pick away at the cult’s presence obliterated. The gorgeous landscape of Hope County, Montana gone in a few minutes.
I think we both agree that everything leading up to that moment is pretty inconsistent. The cult leaders are thin and cliched characters, tragic figures without arcs. And the cult’s beliefs are pretty vague—they're doomsayers with a religious bend that’s never quite clarified. So what’s the point of this ending with all that in the rearview? It’s so dark and cynical for a game all about making you feel powerful and righteous, which could also be the meta thesis, too. I get annoyed when games designed to make violence feel good then try to make you feel bad about what you’ve done. Did you like our game, you monster?
Chris: I think the ending is mainly an attempt at delivering a dark twist for the sake of delivering a dark twist. 'See, we didn't give you the happy ending you were expecting!' I'm mainly thinking of Far Cry 2, in which you also fight all your friends (but actually have to kill them rather than here, where shooting them somehow saves them from drugs) and you discover you're not a hero, just another slimebag merc. It's dark yet satisfying, not to mention different than the usual glorious power fantasy ending.
In Far Cry 5, this bummer ending doesn't really work, mostly because neither the cult leaders nor the cult itself really work. The nukes went off but I didn't feel their impact.
James: Yeah, I mean, the leaders are basically sentient aphorisms that repeat the same idea over and over: Jacob wants to cull the weak (in an elk corpse hallucination boot camp), Faith wants to give in to happiness (drugs), and John wants people to open themselves up to suffering (and staple their tattoos to the wall?).
Chris: Why doesn't John cut his own tattoos off, by the way? He carves his sins into his flesh, but then just crosses them out. Same with Joe. But me, I'm supposed to have them totally ripped off and stuck on a wall? Mixed messages, John. Say 'Yes' to hypocrisy.
James: It sucks, because Montana's bloody colonial history and more recent problem of not burning to the ground make it the ideal place to dig through all of America's baggage. But if characters are what drive your story (as they should be) then it takes believable characters to make sensible political commentary to begin with. I just finished Assassin’s Creed: Origins over the weekend, and class disparity, racism, and power relations make the characters and conflict in that game, and none of it feels forced. Meanwhile, it feels forced out in Far Cry 5.
The characters play like comic Shakespearean villains, spilling their tragic histories in first-person asides to the player whenever and wherever they like, those tragedies totally divorced from the greater conflict at hand. Like, John, I’m sorry about your wife but I’m not sure this purple-lit monologue about killing your infant daughter makes you any more sympathetic or complex. You’re just a dick that wants to nuke Montana for whatever inexplicable, divine reason I’ll never understand.
Chris: Meanwhile Jacob thinks we've gotten soft because life is so easy now. We don't starve anymore, we have no hardships, we've got everything we want so we're soft and weak, he says, which makes me think he's one of those guys who flies into a rage about participation trophies and safe spaces on Facebook. Complaining about having enough food and comfort is about the whitest and most privileged thing you can do, you enormous tool.
James: The messages bump up against one another, and they don’t address what might actually be wrong with the world today: maybe industrial farming, gun violence, late capitalism, racism, colonialism, or—the most obvious theme Far Cry 5 could possibly address with its particular set-up—Christian extremism. It’s all there beneath the surface as thematic table setting, but never even named. What I’d give to be able to open up one of the dozens of cult bibles strewn about Hope County so I could figure out what the hell they’re about.
The confusion of non-ideas doesn’t make for a very cohesive portrait of the cult, especially if they’re planning to live underground for the rest of their lives. I suppose if I accept the cult as a blanket representation of Modern Anxieties™ and the people they drive to take action, then I can appreciate the ending more. It’s fucked up, but I agree that something’s going to give eventually, though I don’t expect some artisanal chocolate maker turned spiritual leader to nuke Montana to kick things off. Still, there are things we should be worried about, I just don’t think watching my home go up in flames after 25 hours of good fun will be the catalyst for action.
Chris: I guess it's OK for none of it to make sense. This family is insane. But then I'm not sure why I have to spend so much time being kidnapped and listening to their long, serious speeches as if I'm meant to be convinced that maybe they have a point of view. I don't expect to actually be convinced of anything—oh, now I see why you're mass murdering everyone, that makes sense—but there wasn't even a hint of even logic to any of them, even based on the assumption that the world was about to end. Do a bunch of drugs after the world ends, not before it. That's when you're gonna need to get high, Faith. When you're eating beans in a bunker for sixty years with your teeth falling out from radiation.
James: Yeah, and that’s why the ending is a failure for me. I didn’t expect Far Cry 5 to have anything particularly cutting to say about the modern problems it evokes by being set in the rural US where everyone owns guns and the arm of the federal government is felt the least. But the nuclear ending is an exclamation point with gibberish preceding it. I had hoped Ubisoft would leverage the natural absurdity of how Far Cry plays by writing some biting satire (hard to do, I admit) of modern America to accompany it or go full Far Cry 2 and make it a much more systemic, realistic, and grim take on doomsday cults and modern militias.
But the most we get are some shallow and divergent ideas in the cult leaders, loose allusions to Trump’s piss tape in a quest written by a preteen, and some megaphones that spew out the same speeches about social media my dad gives me. Quit spending your life looking a screen, James. Please, please drop the bomb already.
Chris: I'm gonna chalk up the nukes falling to a hallucination. How about that? I've been (literally) swimming in drugs for days, not to mention voluntarily quaffing weird potions I made myself out of weeds I've never seen before. I've been seeing things, having conversations with people who aren't there, and I can skin a bear without actually removing its skin: clearly, I'm imagining a lot of weird shit. Plus, I have essentially become a cult leader myself, with the liberated Hope County residents viewing me as a savior. I'm trippin'.
And, after the nukes fall I can still roam around the bright sunny countryside doing whatever I want, only seeing the remnants of nuclear destruction on my menu screen. Dutch is in his bunker like nothing happened, people thank me for saving the county and defeating the bad guys. I think I shot Joseph dead and just imagined the bombs. Plus, it frees Ubisoft to make another Far Cry game in a world where the nukes never fell.
James: I can’t live in a world where Boomer is dead anyway. I’m on the hallucination train.