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(Pocket-lint) - In recent years, there has been a perception that the Far Cry franchise hasn't quite fulfilled its potential: Far Cry 5 and the clever New Dawn were pretty good games, but lacked personality compared to the magnificent Far Cry 3. Developer/publisher Ubisoft seems to have recognised that: with Far Cry 6, it has pulled out all the stops – and the end result will surely be acknowledged as one of the best games of 2021.

The essence of any Far Cry game lies in melding a sophisticated storyline with over-the-top first-person shooter gameplay, which Far Cry 6 certainly delivers on both counts. Narrative-wise, it simply sets new standards for action videogames, with a multi-layered structure which is highly complex, yet never feels remotely contrived. And clever tweaks to the franchise's familiar gameplay render it such a sandbox of destructive firepower that it brings to mind the Just Cause games – except with a level of polish that exists only in the latter's dreams.

Bring on the revolution

Far Cry 6 takes place on the fictional island of Yara, modelled on Cuba, where Anton Castillo – played with customary menace and charm by the brilliant Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad fans, you will instantly know) – has recently swept to power and is exercising his dictatorial muscles. Yara's back-story dictates that, in 1967, Castillo's father – another cruel tyrant – was deposed by a revolution (presumably, although it's never explicitly stated, a Communist one – like in Cuba). 

But the recent death of the leader installed after that revolution saw Castillo sweep into power on the back of Viviro, a miracle cancer-treating drug derived from spraying genetically modified tobacco with noxious chemicals. Castillo, in the populist manner, won the vote after declaring that Viviro would restore Yara's fortunes after fifty years of isolation from the rest of the world. But the reality is extreme brutality, with anyone who opposes him and the FND, his army, condemned to forced labour in the Viviro fields.

As Dani Rojas – who can be male or female, with both versions given the exact same dialogue – you provide the impetus for a guerrilla organisation called Libertad to launch a full-on revolution aimed at toppling Castillo. Which proves to be every bit as labyrinthine a task as it would be in real life. Past in-game revolutions have been characterised by taking all manner of short-cuts, but the one you start in Far Cry 6 is arrestingly convincing.

A three-pronged attack

Yara is split into three regions: the tobacco-growing Valle de Oro, Yara's breadbasket and home to the fierce Montero family; swampy Madrugada, where you're tasked with recruiting Maximas Matanzas, an organisation fighting a social media war against Castillo's propaganda, to the Libertad cause; and mountainous El Este, where the grizzled legends of the 1967 revolution are hiding out, and which is also home to La Moral, a Libertad-like group that evolved from Yara's street gangs.

UbisoftFar Cry 6 review photo 22

In the middle of those three regions lies Esperanza, the first big city ever to grace a Far Cry game. It's Castillo's stronghold, but only when you've recruited a three-pronged army will you be strong enough to launch your final push here.

Far Cry 6's narrative structure provides an extraordinary amount of flexibility. Essentially there are three main story threads, one for each region, themselves split into sub-threads attached to the different factions and groups that you become involved with. 

Then, at crunch points – or when you're summoned to perform missions for Libertad's leaders – your story cleverly intersects with that of Castillo and his 13-year-old son, Diego, who's being groomed to succeed him.

UbisoftFar Cry 6 review photo 20

The overall effect feels rather like starring in a soap opera: as we've come to expect from a Far Cry game, the writing is of the very highest quality, and you meet some highly memorable characters as you work your way through the story threads, each of which is, quite deliberately, reminiscent of a Netflix series. 

Carve your own path

What's most impressive is the sheer flexibility – you can work through one region at a time, or flit from region to region, carrying out missions for your favourite characters. There's a vast amount to do, such as taking over FND bases for Libertad, side-missions called Yaran Stories, treasure hunts, street races, anti-aircraft cannons and checkpoints to destroy, resources to collect and, in classic Far Cry style, hunting to be performed.

UbisoftFar Cry 6 review photo 17

Exotic meat can be cooked up into long-lasting buffs. Workbenches let you upgrade weaponry. And as you gain followers, you build a network of Bandidos, who can be sent on missions in an oddly addictive text-based mini-game. As the Libertad cause gains momentum, you really feel like you're at the very heart of it.

It's as meaty as any open-world role-playing game (RPG) – completists will easily be able to amuse themselves for well over 50 hours – and at times feels more RPG-like than any previous Far Cry game. However it completely eschews any form of skill-tree; you do rank up – albeit very slowly – which brings extra health and the opportunity to buy new weapons and gear.

The gear you equip is crucial, in a manner which feels influenced by but distinct from Destiny. Individual armour items provide specific perks, such as resistance to poison, fire, explosives or different types of ammo, as well as enhancing stealth, weapon reload times and the like, so the trick is to acquire a vast array of different gear, and equip whichever of it is appropriate to whatever mission you're performing.

UbisoftFar Cry 6 review photo 4

It sounds like a strange idea, but it works, thanks mainly to the fact that Yaran currency is easily found and earned, and arms dealers and crates containing useful kit are ubiquitous. In essence, you're levelling up via the kit you equip. And countless, often rather cute, homages to the conventions of action-RPGs can be found in the game.

Bada-bing bada-boom

The other big enabling factor in Dani Rojas' evolution into a one-person army is Far Cry 6's weaponry, which is spectacularly good. One of the many unexpectedly left-field ideas in the game (previous Far Cry games have been criticised for feeling formulaic, which is not an accusation anyone would level at this one) is the idea of Resolver backpack weapons, cobbled together from Yaran junk.

Resolvers take many forms, and have a glacially slow recharge (which can be speeded up by killing lots of enemies quickly), but the best ones give you superpowers: there's a guided-missile barrage; an EMP blast, which is handy when you take a stealth approach; and a jet-pack, which is useful for dealing fire damage to lots of nearby enemies in enclosed spaces. 

You can also buy hand-wielded Resolver weapons, such as one which launches an array of fireworks and is specifically handy if you're confronted by a tank. But the more conventional weapons are great, especially when you upgrade them: you can find super-powerful shotguns that operate over a longer range than they really ought to; light machine-guns that, with a bit of application, can take down helicopters; and an array of handy assault rifles that can be adapted to deal deadly amounts of damage to armoured or non-armoured enemies.

Frequently, Far Cry 6's gameplay sees you surrounded by quite powerful enemies, but equipped with the necessary tools to take them down, as long as you employ some nous –  disabling alarms always gives you an advantage, for example. Which all makes you feel like a one-person army, and the storyline feeds into that notion: as you seek to bring various groups around to the Libertad cause, you usually have to do their dirty work. 

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UbisoftFar Cry 6 review photo 21

Another resource you have at your disposal are so-called Amigos. These animal accomplices include many: there's Guapo, a crocodile with a gold tooth and a t-shirt; Chorizo, a cute sausage dog with wheels for back legs, who distracts enemies brilliantly; and Chicharron, a rooster who is, frankly, psychotic. Their presence provides a small indication of the humour that pervades Far Cry 6, and some of the more feckless characters you have to work with add light relief via things like immaculately observed, almost trippy, bouts of heavy drinking combined with vandalism.

Verdict

Far Cry 6 is prepared to go well beyond the bounds of what would be considered normal behaviour, which is utterly in keeping with its theme of fomenting a revolution when the alternative would be enslavement.

It is, by a long distance, the best Far Cry since the third game in the series, and in terms of its sheer scope and complexity – particularly in narrative terms – it even outshines Far Cry 3 in our opinion. Which, almost by definition, makes it a classic.

Far Cry 6 has all the sophistication of a role-playing game, along with the tactics of a shooter, and the immersiveness of a Netflix series. Sure, we're still due a few blockbusters before Christmas 2021, but we'll be impressed if any of them are anywhere near as engrossing and as much fun to play.

Writing by Steve Boxer. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 6 October 2021.