Nothing makes a hero more heroic than a worthy opponent. Videogames are one of the few mediums that allow you to become the “embodiment” of the hero yourself, with many games allowing you to customize your hero’s appearance and backstory. That level of freedom is automatically perceived as more immersive compared to when a player would be controlling a already existing hero. When done right, the former buys you into the illusion that the hero’s motivations are your own, while the latter first has make sure you can bond and relate with the hero before you can buy into his motivations.
Heroes and villains.
Writers have a similar hurdle to cross when it comes to creating a strong villain. Motivation is key. If you’re looking to create a strong, layered narrative, a villain can’t just appear out of nowhere. Actually, the villain probably needs to be fleshed out even more than the protagonist for the player to be intrigued. Backstory isn’t the only thing that makes us players care. A villain is perceived to be even more interesting when they seem to have a point. What if the the villain could be right after all?
A strong villain also usually stands out from the crowd visually. If you look at proven success stories of strong and memorable villains, Star Wars’s Darth Vader is probably one of the most memorable ones. Admittedly, it took two movies for some of the necessary story beats to fall into place. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back when Vader’s connection with the hero became clear and it took even longer to find out his true motivation. However, Darth Vader has a immensely intimidating stature. He’s taller than most and his shiny black body armor makes a stark contrast against all the white cannon fodder. Like movies, videogames have plenty of villains that stand out. But there’s one franchise in particular where the games are all about the villains. That franchise is Far Cry.
This article contains light spoilers about the plot of Far Cry games.
The first Far Cry game was developed by the Frankfurt based studio Crytek. Back in 1999, Crytek had developed a benchmark tool that was visually so impressive, Nvidia approached them to sign a deal to include the software with their newly released GeForce graphic cards. This inspired Crytek to start development on a First person Shooter. Not long after some first public viewings of the project, Ubisoft came in and secured the game’s publishing rights. Far Cry was released in March 2004.
The first game was a technical marvel. It took place on a beautiful tropical island covered in rich foliage and supported immensely large viewing distances. Each level consisted of a large map that raised the bar when it came to freedom of movement. This allowed the player to approach each area using a variety of tactics. The game would turn out to be a massive critical and commercial success. Plans for a sequel were made, but Crytek eventually chose to sell all rights to Ubisoft in order to pursuit other creative projects.
The illusive weapons dealer.
After a few remakes of the original for consoles, Ubisoft released Far Cry 2. The game shares no story connection to the previous game but carries over many of the core ideas that made Far Cry stand out (like surviving a harsh, open-world environment). You start your adventure by choosing your own hero and are then dropped in a fictional, war-torn version of Africa. It’s here when Ubisoft started experimenting with establishing a strong, charismatic villain. You are being tasked with hunting down and eliminating a weapons dealer known by the alias ”The Jackal”, whose true motives you question over the course of the game. However his story is mostly told through a handful of tapes he leaves behind and a even less number of cut-scenes, resulting in a far less memorable villain then the ones that would proceed him. After a mixed critical reception, Far Cry 2’s sequels would take a rather different approach in tone.
The twisted pirate leader.
Far Cry 3 redefined in many ways redefined what the franchise stands for. Once again the game takes place on a tropical island. Innovations in gameplay made sure the game became more accessible in order to appeal to a larger audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean the game became easier, yet it ditched the many simulations Far Cry 2 had in place (like a weapon degrading system and no fast travelling) that many believed was holding the experience back. It also brought back a pre-defined hero, Jason Brody, who we follow on his quest to rescue his friends from a group of pirates. During his quest we experience how Brody is transforming into a true jungle warrior. A far more interesting innovation though, is that Far Cry 3 does not centralize its hero but its villain. The hero and the villain are both introduced at the start of the game, underlining that from now on these two will be on each other tails. Vaas Montenegro (played by Michael Mando) is immediately established as a ruthless killer. He isn’t presented as a cold and bland murdered though, but rather unnerving and with an enthralling personality, enriched by well-written dialogue. His intimidating demeanor will lead you to believe that you’re living according to his rules. Unlike Jason Brody, the character of Vaas is lacking in motivation. His violent actions are used as a means to develop his overall personality but as a player you’re left wondering and questioning what drove Vaas to being like he is. Be that as it may, Vaas his sole reason for existing is immensely under developed. In the end, he’s just another mercenary blocking your path. Albeit one with a fleshed out personality.
The egocentric and calm king.
Far Cry 4 is the odd one out in the franchise. For me, it’s the least memorable game. Its narrative contains elements of what made Far Cry 2 and 3 great, but it still never really manages to stand out. The main protagonist is being dropped in an immense world with one goal: spread the ashes of your deceased mother in the (fictional) country of Kryat. Again, in comes a fleshed out villain preventing you from reaching your goal. This time there is a personal connection to the protagonist but overall the narrative is extremely itself thin. That results in a heavier emphasis on the game’s gameplay, which many gamers felt was just too similar to its predecessor.
Far Cry 4 was quickly followed by Far Cry Primal, a game I personally skipped. Although it had the balls to venture into a completely new direction (the game takes place 10,000 BC) it received mixed critical acclaim as the game failed to do anything drastically new, and thus only adding to the general fatigue that was existing after 4. This meant expectations for a future entry in the series were at an all time high. It would have the difficult task to win back the hearts of the fans, proving once more that the franchise is all about excellent gameplay, complex characters and a harsh but beautiful environment.
The Megalomaniac Priest.
The Far Cry franchise has been without us now for more than a decade. The games (combined) have sold more than 38 million copies. What started as a ambitious project by a relatively unknown studio has grown into one of the hallmarks of gaming. In early 2018, a new game was released. It would become the fastest-selling title in the history of the franchise, more than doubling the sales of Far Cry 4. We’re talking of course, about Far Cry 5.
Far Cry 5 feels as the pinnacle of the franchise and manages to improve in all essentials areas. Almost to a point where the game even proves its aware of shortcomings of the previous titles, by stating in-game it will not bother you with climbing towers anymore. A gameplay feature seen in various other Far Cry & Ubisoft games up to that point. A new and fresh locale, grounded in today’s reality, combined with polished gameplay and impressive visuals. As accustomed right now, the game once again introduces us to a new villain. One so well executed that the game heavily relies on his presence and would drastically change in tone if he were to be absent.
Joseph Seed is as ruthless and twisted as Vaas, yet can be as calm and egocentric as Pegan Min. Greg Bryk, the actor who plays Seed (or The Father) was clearly inspired by Mando’s performance. The Father is a megalomaniac and founder of the religious terrorist cult “Project at Eden’s Gate”. Seed believes he was told the coming of the end of the world and that God chose him to protect the people and lead them to the new world. While clearly a psychopath, he is not afraid to show mercy and empathy. He believes he is not a villain, but rather has to force the people he loves to choose the right path.
The story of the Father does not start with the events in the game. The writing team at Ubisoft have fleshed out his whole backstory. From a abusive childhood, the tragic loss of his wife to the killing of his own daughter. He feels he has to serve God no matter what and your intrusion to stop him merely interferes with the inevitable.
For the first time in the franchise, Far Cry 5 allows you to create your hero’s appearance. Your hero never speaks but your role in the game is set in stone. You are a junior deputy. Together with the sheriff it’s your task to apprehend Seed to the authorities. However, Seed proclaims he has foreseen this event and that it only confirms his fear. While you might dismiss his crazy banter all the way until the end, your fate is sealed right when you enter that church.
Seed is ticking all the boxes when it comes to what makes a great villain. He gets under your skin with his eerie dialogue, he’s visually intimidating with his many tattoos and yellow sunglasses. He has a clear motive and perhaps the biggest twist of it all is that this villain turns out to be right. The world DOES end. Perhaps his biggest strength is that at the end of the game you as a player might despise him, but you can’t deny him anymore. You can’t deny that he was right all along and that he only tried to do his best, yet in a violent and twisted way.