There's a not-so-small, cynical part of me that just wants to copy-and-paste my Far Cry 5 review right here and be done with it.
Far Cry: New Dawn boasts many of the same faces and places you'll remember from Far Cry 5, but they're spun through a different story. It's the same map - albeit a little truncated - but much of Hope County's still-recognisable landmarks lie in ruins and are now daubed a gaudy, neon pink. It plays in an almost identical way, offering an almost identical menu of story and side missions, along with an almost identical selection of prepper stashes, outposts, and... well, you get the idea. Even recurring character Hurk Drubman Jr. can't help but comment that it feels as though we've somehow been here before.
I don't even know who New Dawn is for, either. If you like Far Cry games - and I resoundingly put myself in that very camp - the pleasing rinse-and-repeat of combat and craftin' and collectin' means you've likely as not already picked up Far Cry 5, in which case it's hard to recommend what is essentially a carbon copy of it (albeit a smaller, neater one). And if you don't like Far Cry? Well, if you weren't tempted by Far Cry 5, there's nothing new for you here, either. Which circles me back around to the original predicament: just who is Far Cry: New Dawn for exactly?
Despite that, I can't help but love Hope County this time around. Ubisoft's open, larger-than-life storied worlds always tickle a part of me that many other games just can't reach, and I'm a sucker for those sniping-outposts, wrestling-wild-boars, oh-look-another-prepper-stash balls-to-the-wall adventures. The Far Cry series - like its stealthy sibling, Assassin's Creed - is particularly effective at bundling in all the things that make me play compulsively too late into the night, sending me scouring for collectables and looting stashes and liberating "just one more" outpost until my eyes burn. And Just like Far Cry 5, New Dawn offers an abundance of chiefly well-balanced story and side missions, missions that involve fetching and fighting and bombastic chase sequences and spectacular cut-scenes. But it's a well-worn template now, one we've seen plenty of times before, both within the Far Cry series and beyond it, so if you're getting tired of it? Well, I wouldn't hold it against you.
But if you're not? Look, I don't want to send you out to buy a game that, in essence, already exists - that you've maybe already played - but... but it's possible that New Dawn's smaller, simpler package just might be the perfectly proportioned Far Cry offering some of us were hoping for with Far Cry 5.
Set 17 years after a global nuclear catastrophe - yeah, that one - civilisation re-emerges into a post-apocalyptic world. In a land with no law there is no consequence, and soon the survivors find themselves... well, struggling to survive. I know; it's a story we've heard dozens of times before, and even Mickey and Lou - New Dawn's charismatic antagonists - and their band of not-so-merry Highwaymen aren't quite enough to make this oft-told tale unique.
Maybe it's as a result of its more manageable size, but New Dawn feels considerably more balanced than Far Cry 5. I never quite clicked with the latter's story and while, admittedly, I still feel dangerously untethered from the former's protagonist - once again, there's little emotional connection with your mute, gormless avatar - but this cast is warmer somehow, and their plight all the more engaging for it. And while you'll see many one too many flashes of Vaas and Pagan in them, Mickey and Lou, too, are curious antagonists. Everything's much the same as Far Cry 5, but smaller in size and scope, with fewer bells and whistles yet all of the charm.
I spent the first dozen or so hours just waiting for the game to disappoint me, by the way. I was waiting for the bugs or the budget to bite, to remind me that this was a budget title, a title that almost everyone I'd spoken to had, like me, mistakenly categorised as DLC rather than a full spin-off in its own right. It didn't happen, though. Don't get me wrong; there were occasional glitches, and on a couple of occasions I had to reload a checkpoint, but there was nothing substantive - nothing to worry about. It's shorter, yes, but not unacceptably so. And while we're rarely far from Ubisoft's aggressive in-game purchases, I never felt the urge to pay-to-progress, either; I progressed just fine in my own time.
Interestingly, New Dawn introduces a small, stripped-back homebase, too. Prosperity is upgradeable, which means you can take the spoils from your captured outposts and decide where best to invest and improve. Anxious to get your hands on that Rank 3 silenced sniper? Better upgrade your weapons bench and expeditions facility, then. Fancy laying hands on some fancy maps that'll help you locate hidden resources? Cartography's the place for that. Best of all, though, it's not overly complex.
Last time around, there was little fun to be had with the perk system or homoeopathic stuff; I found the former bloated, and the latter essentially useless. New Dawn's streamlined this now, though, and this too is to the game's benefit. You can instantly choose from a modest but satisfying selection of perks right from the off - it's not a skill tree as much as a skill menu - and the latter is used to resurrect your fallen Guns for Hire. Oh, yeah - they're back, too, by the way, but even these seem a little less clunky this time around. Yeah, Nana's muttered musings about "hoodlums" grate sooner than I might have hoped, but I can live with that given she touts an astonishingly powerful - and silenced - sniper rifle...
There's a segment part-way through - it's okay, I won't spoil it - in which I spent most of the time gazing open-mouthed at the scenery rather than concentrating on the task at hand, delighted to be trekking across such familiar territory. And I get it; for some, that might be outrageously repetitive, but for me, it reminded me of why - away from the story and the mayhem - I loved my time in Hope County. Just like its parent game, what I love most about New Dawn isn't its story or antagonists, but rather the rich, vibrant world that's been constructed around the bones of that story - a world that's just begging to be explored.
It's true that without Far Cry 5, we'd never have had New Dawn, just as it's true that if you've played the former, you could give the latter a miss. Yet I can't help but feel my gaming equivalent of a spark of joy every time I happen upon a decimated New Eden shrine, or stumble across a familiar landmark. Far Cry 5 was my least favourite of series thus far; New Dawn, conversely - and perhaps bizarrely - just might have stolen the top spot.
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