Release Date: February 15, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Open-world FPS
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 new and unique to the table to justify its existence while also not abandoning the series’ tried-and-true formula. Far Cry 5 sequel/spinoff Far Cry: New Dawn thankfully introduces enough new ideas, concepts, and game modes to indeed justify its $39.99 price tag and carve out its own niche in the larger Far Cry catalog. 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.
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 essentially half-swallowed by dirt, inhabited by all manner of animals, some mutated by radiation. The bright colors 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 stylized reimagination of the Hope County game map.
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, and 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 (or do they?). 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 defenses. 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 for me, conquering outposts has always been one of my favorite things to do in the series, so the extra layer of difficulty is a welcome addition.
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, I didn’t find it added as much to the experience as I wanted. Human and animal enemies alike are ranked from weak to elite level, but I never found the strongest baddies to be all that imposing, mostly because the gameplay is so open and flexible that either they were easier to kill than I expected, or I could easily dance around them and pick away until they were felled. While the weapons rankings feel similarly unremarkable, some of the 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 I felt like the 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 (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.
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 fools away with his shotgun, and the adorable dog Timber helps tag enemies and locate special items as you level him up. My absolute favorite companion is Horatio, 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 my second favorite). 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. My best memories of playing New Dawn are of me and my co-op pal tackling these intense, smartly designed levels and experimenting 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 a blast, and it’s absolute insanity 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), 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, don’t fix it. When it comes to the basics of first-person, action-adventure gameplay, the core Far Cry gameplay formula doesn’t have much room for improvement.
One of the keys to the fluidity and general butteriness of the gameplay is the game’s excellent performance. The game hums along at a solid 30 fps on PS4 Pro (and the PC demo I tried out a while back), and no matter how much mayhem and destruction you unleash onscreen, the framerate remains rock steady. Visually, I loved the aesthetic the team at 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 color 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 colorful surroundings more aptly reflect the tone of the story.
Blood Dragon and Primal were both terrific spinoffs, and New Dawn meets their standard. I found the campaign’s story to be much improved over Far Cry 5’s, with a more focused tone and some truly fascinating developments surrounding both the twins (whose backstory changes your perception of them completely) and the enigmatic Joseph Seed, who feels like something of an anchor for the game world. I can’t stress enough how fun the Expeditions are, and even though it’s a straightforward concept, the doors it opens up for future DLC is tantalizing, to say the least.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.