Open-world action game Far Cry 3 was treasured by many, including Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell, who fell in love with its meticulously constructed open world and the interplay of systems within it, awarding it 10/10 in our Far Cry 3 review. But there were also other takes on it. Some players even felt the game's story of a white guy saving darker-skinned island natives was vaguely racist or at least racially insensitive. Now, Far Cry 4's cover depicting a blond man in a magenta suit terrorising an ethnically ambiguous fellow holding a cocked grenade has stirred up its own storm for its various interpretations.
Far Cry 4 creative director Alex Hutchinson told Eurogamer at E3 that he found the reactions to the cover art simultaneously bewildering, frustrating and flattering.
Hutchinson first clarified that the development team assets are different from the marketing team assets, although the former has at least some degree of input on the latter. When asked what the studio was going for with this evocative cover, Hutchinson said: "We want something that's arresting and something that's striking... Our big goal is to get it into someone's hands and for them to ask 'what is this?' and turn it over. I think it was good that it got a big spike in talk. So that was nice, because it means at least people care enough to talk about you, which is way better than no one caring that you announced your game."
Sure, the attention is good, but not all of this was positive. Many found the imagery troubling. "It's funny when there's one picture out there and there are so many articles jumping to conclusions. It would have been interesting for someone to ring us up. That would have been cool. For someone to say, 'Hello. We think this. What's actually happening?'" the director lamented.
"That's why I jumped on Twitter and was like, 'He's not white. That's not the player. It's more complex than that.' So it's been fun to see now that the video is out and more gameplay is out people are like, 'Oh, okay. No big deal then.'"
I asked whether Hutchinson was surprised by the reaction.
"I was surprised by how quick people were to go that direction," the director responded. "I think it's actually cool at the moment that inclusivity and breadth of character and everything are an issue in games, as I do think that's something we need to do a better job of. We need to go that way. But I think Ubisoft as a company has a pretty good history of doing unusual characters. The last game I directed, Assassin's Creed 3, had a Native American lead character voiced by a Native American actor. At the same time we had Aveline [in Assassin's Creed: Liberation] who was a Creole character. And in the past we've had Italian characters and now there's a French guy. We actually have a pretty diverse list overall."
Hutchinson noted that the full game of Far Cry 4 only has five white characters - none of whom is the main protagonist or antagonist. "There are literally hundreds and hundreds of people in the game with about 30 or 40 speaking characters, but everyone you fight for or against is not a white character," he clarified.
Some observers also suggested that the villain pictured in the artwork, Pagan Min, was being dressed flamboyantly to draw attention to his sexuality, but Hutchinson rejected this.
"We're being accused of being stereotypical, but the assumption is stereotypical," he suggested. "This character is meant to be a melange of different things. He's mixed race. The way he dresses is unique to him. It's part of the character. It's not a comment on gender or race at all."
Hutchinson also said that Pagan's sexuality will not be addressed by Far Cry 4's story. "It's not in the narrative," he said. "How do gay people dress?" In other words, Pagan's fashion sense and sexuality are not linked in the eyes of the developer.
(On this subject, Game Informer has reported that Pagan and another character were once involved in a love triangle fighting over the attentions of a woman named Ishwari, implying that Ubisoft Montreal does have a good sense of this aspect of Pagan's background, even if the game itself does not touch upon it as Hutchinson stated.)
"As much as people want diversity, the weird crossovers are uncomfortable," Hutchinson noted about the tenor of the reaction to the original artwork. "People were like, 'Well he can't be Asian because he has blond hair.' It's like, 'Have you ever been to Korea?'"
The game director summed up the game's main playable character, of whom we have yet to see anything substantial, as a man born in Kyrat but raised elsewhere. This character comes back to bury their mother's ashes and has something of a cultural identity crisis along the way. "Their heritage is here. That's actually the story of the game. Who are you when you come back to where you were born? Are you where you were born, where you were raised, or how does this play out? It's fascinating to see people immediately go for the cheap shot."
Following E3, Ubisoft revealed that the main character in Far Cry 4 is called Ajay Ghale and released an image.