Far Cry New Dawn review: a beautiful post-apocalypse

Ubisoft's Far Cry New Dawn brings the apocalypse to Hope County. Here's our review of this technicolour spin-off...

The Far Cry series is at the point in its life where so many people are familiar the games that each new entry must bring something fresh and unique to the table to justify its existence, while also not abandoning the series’ tried-and-true formula and alienating the core fans.

Far Cry 5 sequel/spinoff Far Cry: New Dawn thankfully introduces enough new ideas, concepts, and game modes to indeed justify its price tag and carve out its own niche in the larger Far Cry catalogue. Yes, as is par for the course for the series, the game sees you overtaking enemy outposts, contending with ferocious beasts, and rollicking across picturesque landscapes on vehicles of all shapes and sizes. But new features really make the game pop, like the destructively touristic Expeditions, ranked enemy and weapon classes, and a wholly unique interpretation of the post-apocalyptic setting.

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Taking place 17 years after the apocalyptic ending of Far Cry 5, New Dawn sports a completely different look from its parent title, which ended with a multitude of nuclear bombs setting the United States ablaze, forcing survivors to retreat to underground bunkers. With the human race essentially wiped from the earth’s surface for several years, mother nature has reclaimed everything, with bright violet, orange, and yellow flowers blanketing the rolling hills of fictional Hope County, Montana.

Most buildings are half-swallowed by dirt and inhabited by all manner of animals, some mutated by radiation. The bright colours of the encroaching vegetation are mirrored by neon pink and yellow graffiti, making for a surprisingly vibrant and wondrous vision of the post-apocalypse. While Far Cry 5 impressed with cohesive art design that captured the majestic beauty of the evergreen midwest, New Dawn offers a brightly stylish reimagination of the Hope County game map.

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Throughout the game, you help a group of survivors rebuild Hope County, operating out of their base of operations, Prosperity. Sadistic twin sisters Mickey and Lou lead the Hope County chapter of an opposing, oppressive group, called The Highwaymen, who survive by bleeding smaller communities dry. The remnants of the hypnotically charismatic cult leader Joseph Seed’s flock, now called New Eden, represent yet another threat to Hope County’s future. Characters from Far Cry 5 like Seed, Kim Rye, Carmina Rye (who was a newborn in the last game but has now grown into a courageous young woman), Pastor Jerome and Hurk return to continue their respective stories, which lends the game a nice sense of weight and history for those who played the previous title.

The main way you fight off The Highwaymen is by taking over outposts scattered about Hope County, but once you do take one over, you’re faced with a decision. You can either hold onto the outpost and use it as a base of operations, where you can access weapon and vehicle crafting, accept missions, and use as a fast-travel point, or scavenge what you can from the place and let The Highwaymen reclaim the outpost with stronger defences. If you overtake the outpost again, you’ll be handsomely rewarded. You can scavenge outposts up to three times, with the difficulty increasing with each turnover. This simple system lends the game extra replay value and is a fun way to test your skills, and it will be a very welcome addition for fans that love base-based battles.

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Developer Ubisoft Montreal has touted a “light RPG” element for New Dawn’s gameplay, and while there is a four-tier ranking system for both weapons and enemies, this doesn’t add as much to the experience as some players might want. Human and animal enemies alike are ranked from weak to elite level, but even the strongest baddies rarely seem all that imposing, mostly because the gameplay is so open and flexible that you can either take most opponents down or dance your way around them. While the weapons rankings feel similarly unremarkable, some of the actual weapons – particularly the gruesomely satisfying ‘saw launcher’ – are great fun. The game does feel RPG-like when you’ve got a number of higher-ranked enemies bearing down on you all at once, which can make readily apparent just how underpowered you are, but these RPG elements would’ve given the game more dimension if they weren’t so “light.”

Some added depth does come in the form of the town-building mechanics surrounding Prosperity. Ethanol is the rarest, most valuable resource in the land, and you can use it to upgrade Prosperity’s different divisions, from the training camp (which upgrades your companions’ stats), to the infirmary (increases your health bar), to the helipad (improving fast travel options). You can find ethanol in enemy outposts, on Expeditions, or driving in Highwaymen trucks across Hope County. It’s a simple progression system, but it does give you another reason to dig into the nooks and crannies of the map. The challenge of every open world game is to convince players that the world is worth exploring without making exploration feel like busy work, and in this respect, New Dawn does a decent job.

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As in Far Cry 5, you can choose from a variety of guns and fangs for hire, human and animal companions with varying skill sets that develop as they kill more enemies. The elderly Nana specializes in sniper fire, Pastor Jerome blows enemies away with his shotgun, and the adorable dog Timber helps tag enemies and locate special items as you level him up. The absolute show-stealer among the companions is Horatio, though, a chunky boar who absolutely demolishes any grunt that stands in his way (a super-cool, stealth-based companion you find later in the game is also pretty rad). The sidekick system isn’t as compelling as the more flexible version we saw in Far Cry 5, but it’s still fun feeling out which partner best suits your personal play style.

You can also choose to play the game with a friend backing you up in lieu of your AI companions, though the invitee’s participation will not affect their own playthrough. But where co-op really shines is when you embark on Expeditions, which are essentially gigantic enemy outposts that exist outside of the main map. These missions see you infiltrating Highwaymen strongholds across the country, from a theme park in the Bayou, to Alcatraz in San Francisco, to a bridge in New Mexico.

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You’ll likely make great memories with a co-op pal if you tackle these intense, smartly designed levels and experiment with different approaches. In each level, you’re tasked with extracting a package and then scrambling to get out of dodge and fight your way to an extraction point, where a devilishly handsome (if he does say so himself) Quebecois helicopter pilot whisks you away to safety. Finding different ways to sneak or blast your way into enemy strongholds is indeed a blast, and it’s absolute mayhem fending off waves of baddies as you hold your ground at the extraction point. Expeditions are, by far, the best thing New Dawn has going for it.

Perks again serve as a cornerstone of gameplay. Perk points are gained by completing missions and a variety of challenges (kill five bears, catch a rare fish, etc), and you can spend them on a wide array of abilities, from crafting a wingsuit, to adding weapon slots, to sabotaging vehicles. There’s nothing new to speak of in this respect, but if it ain’t broke, why bother fixing it? When it comes to the basics of first-person, action-adventure gameplay, the core Far Cry gameplay formula doesn’t leave much room for improvement.

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One of the keys to the fluidity of the gameplay is New Dawn’s excellent performance. The game hums along at a solid 30 fps on PS4 Pro (and the PC demo we tried out a while back), and no matter how much mayhem and destruction you unleash onscreen, the framerate remains rock steady. Visually, there’s a lot to admire in the aesthetic that Ubisoft Montreal went for here.

The rendering of the vegetation is as lush and detailed as it was in Far Cry: Primal, which is really saying something, and enough can’t be said for how much the pops of colour splattered across the environments help the experience, even in subtle ways. Far Cry 5 struggled to strike a tonal balance with its storytelling – it was a dreary, post-modernist, religion-based critique of America but flaunted a goofy, almost cartoonish sense of irreverence and silliness at the same time, which just didn’t work. In New Dawn, there’s a more cohesive narrative tone, and the colourful surroundings more aptly reflect the tone of the story.

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Blood Dragon and Primal were both terrific spinoffs, and New Dawn meets their standard. The campaign’s story was much improved over Far Cry 5’s, with a more focused tone and some truly fascinating developments surrounding both the twins and the enigmatic Joseph Seed, who feels like something of an anchor for the game world. It’s impossible to stress enough how fun the Expeditions are, and even though it’s a straightforward concept, the doors it opens up for future DLC are tantalising to say the least.

Far Cry New Dawn launches on February 15th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Rating:

4 out of 5