I don’t know that there’s ever been a more colourful or positive outlook on how the natural world would fair after a nuclear holocaust than in Ubisoft Montreal’s Far Cry New Dawn.
Set just 17 years after the events of Far Cry 5, which ended with — spoiler alert — an atomic war that set off a decade-long nuclear winter, nature has rebounded with vengeance. There are beautiful forests, brightly hued fields of flowers, and animals that seem to have undergone only mild (if any) mutation.
I’d say planet earth fared pretty well in the absence of humans, except that humans are all over the place in Far Cry’s post-Armageddon. Having crawled out of their bunkers and hidey-holes, New Dawn‘s humans fall into three groups: the people of Prosperity, a small community of survivors trying to live peacefully off the land; the Highwaymen, a group of murderous marauders led by a pair of bloodthirsty sisters who seem to love causing chaos for chaos’s sake; and New Eden, a religious commune housing the remnants of cult leader Joseph Seed (the big baddy from the previous game), who are suffering just as much as Prosperity at the hands of the Highwaymen. This shared victimhood actually leads Prosperity to consider working with New Eden to bring the sisters down.
That’s about all you need to know in terms of stage setting. Narratively speaking, New Dawn is a much more efficient game than the numbered entries in the series, dropping fewer twists and turns and keeping cat and mouse games to a minimum. It also has fewer missions, a smaller map, and is just generally reduced in scope — a fact reflected in its price tag, which is around only half that of most new releases in Canada. This is Far Cry reduced to its core elements, both good and bad.
The good is, of course, the action. Far Cry has always been eminently playable, and that’s as true as ever here. When the shooting starts, it’s a blast that doesn’t let up until the final bad guy falls. We’re supplied a great collection of cobbled together guns — including that saw blade launcher you’ve likely seen in trailers — and destructive vehicles, controlled via an interface that’s tight and satisfying. It’s hard to keep oneself from wasting time simply going in search of enemies to kill (which — weirdly, given it’s the apocalypse — isn’t too hard, since they seem to be wandering around every road at intervals of just a couple hundred metres).
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It’s also possessed of the franchise’s trademark wit, produced largely by a collection of quirky and profane sidekicks that you gradually collect and can switch between at random. The missions in which these personalities are acquired provide many of the game’s best highlights, including one in which a prospective ally is simultaneously looking after/entertaining/teaching a newborn baby while helping you take down wave after wave of incoming enemies.
It’s worth noting, too, that New Dawn has a level of polish uncommon in modern open world games. My playthrough was completely glitch-free, as far as I could tell. And it looks fantastic, with arresting effects such as constant northern lights in the sky, colourful drug-induced hallucinations, and water so pure, inviting, and realistic it almost made me wish I could book my next vacation in Ubisoft’s (seemingly only slightly irradiated) future.
But my problems with Far Cry 5 have also carried through to this pseudo-sequel.
Missions, for example, still carry a strong whiff of repetition. Liberating outposts — one of the hallmarks of the series — becomes particularly tedious. Enemies put up little resistance the first time you attack, but you’re encouraged to abandon captured outposts and then fight to reclaim them in order to take on more challenging foes and earn more ethanol, a fuel used by Prosperity to upgrade its facilities and provide access to better weapons and vehicles. It feels like a lazy way to give us more to do.
And while individual characters and scenes are memorable, the overarching story is somehow unpalatable. I was disappointed by the way in which Far Cry 5 seemed primed for a bit of bold political and social commentary then backed away without saying much of anything. That’s not really the problem this time out since America, its culture, and its politics are now long gone. Instead, the writers have made a new mistake by trying to get us to sympathize with certain villains. Making an audience understand, pity, and perhaps even forgive evildoers is a difficult task in any narrative medium, and it requires a lot more care and attention than its given here. Ultimately, a franchise like Far Cry, which plies itself in bloody violence and raunchy jokes, might not be the right place for such an attempt to be made.
So if you’re considering playing Far Cry New Dawn, do it for the right reasons. Play because you want a well-made, deeply playable open world shooter with some fun guns and an irreverent sense of humour packaged in (relatively) bite-sized format. If, on the other hand, you’re searching for an epic adventure with original ideas and a thought-provoking narrative, best keep looking.