From Tusk ’til Dawn
Far Cry’s semi-instalments are often where you can find Ubisoft letting loose and exploring the more ridiculous side of their shooter franchise. From the prehistoric Primal (From TUSK ’til DAWN… get it?) to the madness of Blood Dragon, they’ve come across as a chance to make a series that already had no problem flirting with daftness to a new level.
Far Cry New Dawn is, by comparison, one of the more sensible ones. As close to a direct, follow-on sequel as you’ll likely get from these .5 entries, the game takes place after the (SPOILERS) nuclear blast that rounds out Far Cry 5. As is always the way with these things, roaming gangs have taken over and everything has gone a bit Mad Max.
The story is not exactly Marvel’s Spider-Man, but it’s just about enough to propel the action. After a fairly serious introductory sequence on a crashed train, events are loosely tied together by the appearances of the excellent twin villains, Mickey and Lou. Along the way, you’ll be treated to more of FC5’s pseudo-religious nonsense and everything will go a bit Wicker Man, and then there’s a fairly tough couple of fights at the end where the difficulty curve goes off a cliff. You know how these things go by now. There’s a nice reversal in who is good and who is bad following the nuclear explosion over Hope County, with antagonists from before now forming unlikely allies, but other than that it’s fairly one-dimensional.
Having played Far Cry 5, New Dawn felt instantly familiar. This was not a bad thing for me, but to anyone else who was expecting a radical departure here this may be disappointing, especially as the map is recycled from the previous instalment. Movement is still intuitive, and shooting still feels chunky and solid. There’s no particular surprises to find here as with the same mechanics from FC5, although there are the fun traversal options such as grappling hooks with a decent amount of control rather than simply being a ‘point, trigger and appear at desired point’ affair.
There’s also a strong range of vehicles that you can craft and spawn, although some of these are a pain to use; the armoured SUV in particular has incredibly poor visibility and I was constantly resisting the urge to crane my neck around in-front of the screen to see where I was going, something which would have obviously done nothing except made me look like an idiot. The physics for the driving are quite springy, which I always enjoy but isn’t to everyone’s tastes, and they do have fun names; see the spike-fronted Veloci-tractor for proof.
The game has a weapon ranking system that will be familiar to most now, with four levels starting at the most basic and leading to the Elite ranking to give a nice spread of possible death-bringers. What will also be familiar is how these weapons are sourced, via crafting at the workbench in your base following scavenging materials in the wilderness. There is a fun nod to something sillier here, as early on you’re introduced to the saw launcher (“the saw launcher launches saws”, as you’re helpfully informed by the menu). Firing spinning blades that ricochet off walls is great fun, but sadly the game never doubles down on this with further crazy inventions; from then on it’s a largely familiar array of machine guns, assault rifles and melee weapons, albeit with a homemade flavour as a result of the scavenging you’ll have to do to construct them.
Indeed, it’s this sense of fun and mischief that really elevates Far Cry New Dawn above other shooters with better mechanics. Call of Duty may have more refined shooting and TitanFall have better movement skills, but neither has as much character or personality as Far Cry. A game happy to not take itself seriously, the characters you’ll meet on your way are a good balance of being comedic without straying into ‘wacky’ territory. Sniping nanas, disco-loving hillbillies and cocky boxing promoters all make a lasting impression and make this more than another po-faced trawl through bumping off enemies. There’s also your companions that have various perks, from marking enemies to warding off animals and sniping. The best of these is obviously Timber, the incredibly good boy (and yes, you can pet him), but you can change these as you wish depending on the situation and what you need.
As with previous instalments, however, Far Cry doesn’t really have the AI to back up this buddy system it insists on implementing. Even in non-combat situations, it feels like you’re at the mercy of reviving them constantly, which oddly seems to consist of healing gunshot wounds simply by kneeling down and saying something reassuring. There’s also other minor but still frustrating goofs, such as your buddies following you up ladders so closely that if you then want to go back down you can’t. Well, the animals don’t follow you up ladders but the human ones do. On one mission where I had to rescue an NPC, they refused to get in the car I had stolen for that very purpose, and for some reason Timber the dog won’t get in boats with you even though everyone knows dogs would love that.
The game also shows its fun side during missions, too. There’s a couple of nods to doing something different with a tired genre aside from the usual stealth bits you’d expect, including a cage-fighting segment and a destruction derby. Due to the game’s relatively short span compared to its full-numbered brothers, the mission template of ‘go to place and find person’ never outstays its welcome, with much of the bulk of the journey being attacking enemy outposts to gain ethanol, which for some reason is the main thing you need to build and upgrade your base. You can take these by stealth or by force, but you’re pretty limited to the former once you get to the higher level outposts as things get fairly ridiculous, with bomb-wielding canines springing on anything that triggers the alarm.
Things get even more ridiculous with some of the perks you can pick up, from the practical and obvious like more weapon slots to the less obvious like double-jumps. It’s an easy way of giving your nameless silent protagonist a feeling of progression, but it’s still fun to get to the end feeling like you could fist fight King Kong.
The newly nuclear-renovated Hope County is far from huge compared to many of it’s contemporaries, but it is a gorgeous place to be. Ubisoft has used the nuclear fallout to make their environment more vivid, rather than Bethesda’s Fallout 76 which was more intent on using the apocalypse to showcase abject misery. Flowers and wildlife sport vivid neon colours, and there’s also a strange theme of the resident bad guys having decorated the landscape with halves of cars, stuck in the ground and painted pink, yellow and green. If you ignore how much effort it must be to mark your territory by sticking cars in the ground, it is at least very distinctive.
Performance wise, New Dawn does what it has to. It’s not totally polished, at times getting a little framey when things start kicking off, and I also found an interesting glitch that allowed me to walk through the bars of a cage at one point. The frame rate isn’t the only thing that can disrupt play too; the reload animations are inexplicably long, with your chosen character taking the sort of leisurely approach to changing magazines during a firefight as most do to washing up. People have raised families in the time it takes to reload the shotgun. This is probably a concession to realism, but it’s strange to have such a devotion to reality in a game where you can double-jump over pink cougars that are on fire.
Yes, in the end it’s still Far Cry. You’ll finish a mission successfully only to get chased for 1km by an angry lion. There’s a section where you fire a mounted gun from a moving vehicle, even though those sections in games are always terrible. You fight a bear while on drugs. Y’know, Far Cry.