The Far Cry series has always asked the player to have a transactional relationship with nature. Nothing exists just to exist. Every animal and plant is there to serve a purpose in relation to the player. Nature made unnatural. Forests filled with profit. Yet, no game has ever rendered this relationship as bluntly and cruelly as Far Cry 5. The game is a mess for a litany of reasons, but the way it renders nature is particularly egregious. Hunting and fishing, in the past, have been ways of life. Today, the practice has grown into a bustling economy of its own that is as tied to the firearm economy as it has ever been. They are inseparable, but hunting—at face value—is not a bad thing. The way it is practiced today, as sport, is unconscionable. Yes, you can hypothetically still ethically hunt but good luck finding that many people who do. Some just want something to sit above their mantle or to have (another) excuse to own more weaponry. Far Cry 5 sits firmly in the “hunting as a means to profit” camp. History, as a by-product of colonialism, racism, and greed, has seen the ugliest examples of profit-based hunting, and Far Cry 5 just buys into it. It does so uncritically as if it was just an afterthought.
Previous Far Cry games have asked players to hunt various animals in diverse locales as a means to upgrade their in-game character. A certain amount of animal skins would lead to a new weapon holster or something. This practice was still transactional and pretty gross. There is nothing true or pure or rugged about gunning down a pronghorn buck with an Uzi and then using its skin to craft a holster that lets you carry another rocket launcher. But these mechanics were somewhat easy to overlook and not engage with. In fact, Far Cry is at its best when the player is underpowered and outgunned so not engaging with hunting and skinning usually leads to a better time with these games. But Far Cry 5 does away with this semblance of giving hunting a “pure” purpose beyond profit. You see, hunting in Far Cry 5 doesn't lead to any player upgrades—the act of hunting only exists as a means to earn in-game money. That’s all. Death as profit. Disrupt every natural ecosystem as possible so that you can afford that glossy new heavy machine gun that just unlocked at the nearest weapons vendor.
There is no facsimile of a circle, they don’t even fake it. A dead animal does not lead to anything but money. Their carcasses lay still, skinned, exposed and bloody. You could easily kill four different species of animals in the span of a minute or two. Some animals grant you more money, and this goes for the game’s new fishing mechanic as well. The animation shows the character’s hands holding the writhing fish. No catch and release. No catch and eat. Just catch. Just kill. It feels so brazen and weird to the point where it almost feels honest. It is so close to being a critique of the modern hunting/”outdoorsman” machine. But like everything thematic and critical in this game, it comes out half baked or not baked at all. An idea just for the sake of being an idea and actions that are just that, actions. The game never critiques how it paints preppers and fringe weapons collectors as heroes, and it never really stops to think about how compelling the core conceit—a modern, violent cult led by a family shit right out of the Jesus-as-pop music megachurch machine that itself is a multi-billion dollar industry fronted by soulless magnates—is, and so it too falls short of saying or being anything more than a not-so-complicated prepper simulator. Chances are if you think Red Dawn is a good movie, then this is the game for you. And that extends to the hunting.
I grew up in a family that hunted. Look, I can say that because we often ate them and did everything as ethically as possible, that I am above what I am critiquing here. But I’m not. The act of putting yourself into the stillness and purity of nature is itself a noble act, but destroying that serenity with the deafening boom of a gunshot is antithetical to it all. Nature is a thing that you shouldn't be able to put a price tag on, but we have. I stopped hunting years and years ago, but the fact remains that I took part in a machine that has led to the eradication of numerous species, a booming gun industry, and more. Far Cry 5 plays into those same hands. By rewarding players with money for every animal they kill, there is a reinforcement that doing so is a good thing. In a capitalist society, getting money is a sign of doing something good or positive. The act of hunting was corrupted a long, long time ago but Far Cry 5 lays bare what hunting means to most people today. It is just a fun thing to do to kill time, on par with going boating or rock climbing. Yet in reality, it is so much more than that. It is a cosmic thing. It involves a life or lives ending. And yet it is sold to us as a fun little excursion.
Less than 100 buffalo remained in North America by the 1880s. It took acts of conservation and new laws to save what few left there were. There are more of them today. But we haven’t learned. You can book a trip to go hunt buffalo along the plains like the Osage, Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Kichai peoples (and more) once did before colonizers poisoned that act just as they poisoned the very soil we stand on. They stole the act of hunting and damned it in a way similar to how they stole the land that is the United States of America. This should be reckoned with—it has to be reckoned with—every time a white hunter pulls the trigger and downs an animal today. But it isn’t, and Far Cry 5 just asks us to view nature as something we already own, as something that we can run through the violent machine of consumerism. Hunting and fishing is the fastest way to make money in Far Cry 5. There are buffalo in the game and you can kill them, too. Look at a buffalo, take in their size, grandeur and all of the histories that you can read in their stature and by how they exist. To Far Cry 5, that is only worth two-hundred dollars. Even the price tag we’ve put on nature isn’t worth very much.