This is about fishing. This is about Far Cry 6. This is about the everything and the nothing of both.
I didn't learn to fly fish from “mi Tio” but, instead, my dad. The parent not from Mexico. We'd wade out into rivers and ponds far from any tropical shores, venturing deep into the woods of highly Midwestern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Fishing like this is quiet, isolating even. There is just you, the river, and whatever lies beneath. As I got older, we explored other parts of the river, eventually settling near a dam.
There was good fishing near the plunge pool, the sometimes deep, fast, turbulent water at the dam’s base, but it was easy to lose yourself in the roaring static of the water. An infinite white noise that presses on your senses from all angles and tries to seduce a break in focus from the subtle movement of your line. A demand that when paid, is only backfilled with more noise, more static, more void. Welcome to the plunge pool. Welcome to Yara. Welcome to Far Cry 6.
I rarely talk about it, but I do enjoy fly fishing. I dislike waking up early, all of the fiddly pockets, the lack of a bathroom, but there’s something that speaks to me about that isolation. You have to want to be there but once you’re out there, your focus narrows in a way. Just you, the water, and maybe, hopefully, fish.
It's why fishing in Yara is so odd to me. As in real life, you have to have the desire to do it. The game only ever makes you fish once. But once you’ve checked that box, despite the opportunities to do so, it's an activity in the game that is exclusionary, solitary even. It's a moment where you must stop and let the rest of Yara drop away.
As you assault Yara's governing Castillo regime you might uncover a military checkpoint and take it for the rebels. While you’re racing around the island to capture supplies, as part of an actual race or while hunting down treasure, the game seeks to feed back into itself. As you’re doing any of those things, you have a high probability of finding something else. Another resource, another mission, someone in need of help, a way to boost the skills of your animal companions. Far Cry 6 wants you to know that on your way to anything, you’re bound to stumble into something else. There's always more to do. More noise begging to be heard.
It’s hard to stumble into something while standing on one of Yara’s many shores, casting a line. When dialed into such a goal, the world necessarily begins to vanish around the task. In any one of the game’s infinite shootouts, on the other hand, you must focus on the noise. You concern yourself with ammo, reloading, enemies, allies, cover, vehicles, and any other game-enforced goals. A dozen tiny aspects all screaming for attention.
Games like Far Cry 6 aim to focus you on those disparate roars, sometimes collectively. The game assaults the senses, but to play the game is to be the conductor of that assault, literally and figuratively. To engage with it fully is not far from asking every part of the orchestra to pick a note and never relent from performing it. But the noise is the point, an empty wall of static you constantly aim at, again literally and figuratively, to make sense of.
But then there is the fishing. You stand there and filter the noise, focus, wait, and if you give yourself enough time, you’ll get a bite. And then the work begins. At first, it can be easy to convince yourself that the mechanical beats here are just like sniping enemy soldiers. It is easy to believe it is just like some other part of the game. Except it's not. There’s no way for this snake to eat its own tail. Gunplay lets the game be more of itself. Fishing exists almost entirely outside of it.
When you fish, there’s you, the water, and the fish. You must filter the noise and tellingly, put away your guns. Fishing, even in Yara, is slow time. There’s action to be had, certainly, but you have to wait for it.
None of this is to say that the fishing in Yara is any good. It is certainly no replacement for the real thing, much less a satisfying simulation. Strangely, as much as it exists beyond the rest of the game, it's also emblematic of it. It’s an empty experience. The things that most stick out to me about fishing are the feel of the rod in my hand, the click of the reel, the pull of a bite, and my dad’s voice in my head saying, “fish on!” Of course, there’s the joy of landing a fish but let’s be honest: the majority of fishing is hours of work for potentially minutes of glory. The main point of fishing is simply to be doing it.
That’s an incredibly difficult thing to simulate within a first-person shooter. Far Cry’s attempt to simulate what you might consider the joy of just doing falls flat, much like the feeling of driving, of liberating, of crafting. That doesn’t prevent the game from trying. It doesn’t keep it from trying any number of things.
Far Cry 6 is a donut of a game. A decadent, sweet thing that is ultimately hollow. But when you eat a donut, you’re not thinking of that gap, you cannot focus on its centerlessness. You go around eating the thing. The center is not consequential. And when you are done, you reach for another centerless thing. You just keep eating or you stop.
When I would go fishing with my dad, he would quickly separate from me. At first, I thought this was because he thought my desire to chat out on the river was annoying. Years later, I’d come around to the understanding that he was trying to teach me to be alone with myself. He wanted me to learn how to narrow my focus and live methodically in those moments.
Far Cry would be good to do this. It would be good for the series to learn to focus its mind on an experience. It has been so noisy and so chaotic for so long now, it’s lost any focus it might once have had. It’s no longer about becoming part of a world or playing a role in a tale. It’s about bombast, the roar of the dam, and not the good fishing on the other side.
David Shimomura is editor in chief of Unwinnable, and based out of Chicago. His critical interests include deconstructionism, narrative and storytelling, dogs, and horror. Follow him on Twitter @UnwinnableDavid.