When Doomsday finally comes, remember Ubisoft warned you it was going to be seriously gaudy.
Despite the fact an A-bomb decimated Hope County in Far Cry 5, two decades on, the only real environmental impact are things are a bit salmon-coloured.
The inner cynic in you would almost think Ubi was trying to cost-cut by reusing the assets from last year’s Rural American sandbox. Spoiler: you’re right!
Yet though this standalone spin-off shamelessly reheats the map and overhaul mechanics of Far Cry 5, it introduces enough new ideas and winning missions to make its apocalyptic mark just about worth it.
Is the map as expansive as its parent game? Not quite. The edges of last year’s cultist county are cut off by an irradiated forest that pings you back into a habitable territory should you venture too far into the no-fly zone. But when you look at the overall chaotic sandbox experience New Dawn serves up, the cynical components this rejigged chapter offers is still likely to win you over.
Taking place almost 20 years after Big Daddy Seed correctly predicted an entire US county going kaboom, the latest Far Cry has all the narrative excuses it could ever need to make every character you encounter somewhat loony.
Take the missions that ask you to sign up for sidekick Specialists. Whether you’re recruiting Naan - the potty-mouthed, geriatric sniper - or a stoner who demands you dive into a croc-filled, subterranean silo to recover the wackiest of baccy, mission objectives are rarely less than certifiable.
That’s not a complaint. Over 22 central story quests, and a clutch of side objectives, New Dawn is surprisingly good at throwing up varied tasks. One minute, you’ll be taking part in an Apocalypse Now-aping sail up a river, lighting pyres to keep the hallucinations at bay while Mr Seed does his best Colonel Kurtz. The next, you could be uppercutting a dog in Far Cry’s version of Fight Club… if Brad Pitt was replaced by a pit bull.
The act of clearing out strongholds is still a delight, and when you upgrade your snipe-happy companions and silent rifle arsenal to the appropriate level, death can be dealt out with the briefest of jabs. New Dawn’s customisable captain may go without a name, but when it comes to killing sprees, only a certain slaphead assassin and a fine piece of fibre wire could do better.
In spite of its winning pacing, there’s a mission halfway through New Dawn’s campaign that’s as awful as any in Ubisoft history. I won’t fully force you to indulge my frowny-faced misery; let’s just say it involves several obscure visual puzzles, lining up shiny pink artefacts in an overly obscure style, and more than one vague tutorial. In conclusion: F**k. Off.
Ubi could have also done more with the setting. Do a few tumour-covered grizzly bears really constitute an extinction level event? When so much of the expansion’s map feels like it’s cut costs at every turn, it becomes increasingly hard to buy into the fantasy of a society on the verge of collapse. Shooting albino elk is fine and all, but all too often it comes across as if you’re starring in an ultra-low production version of Deep Impact… with added post-apocalyptic wolverine.
When it comes to the meat and potatoes shooting, there are several key changes from last year’s parent game. For one, enemies come in ever escalating layers. Yes, this is one of those games where numbers pop out of enemies when you fire hot lead into them. To match these increasingly tough bad guys, there are different levels of weapons.
This system ties into the new outpost feature: once you clear out a stronghold, you’re given the choice of leaving it so you can fast-travel back to that point at will, or giving it up; immediately claiming the resources needed for ammo and weapon development. It’s a fundamental decision: one that defines whether your scavenger’s brand of survival is going to be based on scavenging or slaughter.
Despite the samey nature and uninspired objectives, there’s a core appeal that lies at the heart of Far Cry that can’t be ignored: it’s really friggin’ fun. Whether you’re ghosting an outpost with a silenced SMG or punching pyromancers in the throat during a particularly hectic late story mission, New Dawn rarely bores.
Expeditions are another excellent addition. While the solo campaign map may play it close to the chest, this ‘catch the cargo’ mode is far more cavalier with its cards. The premise of this bonus is simple… kinda: head for the pink smoke, swipe the valuable, defend your position for 90 secs, then get the heck out of dodge. Survive, and some serious goodies await you and your newly blinged out home.
These high-risk quests help upgrade your various enforcements – which affect troops, ammo, buddy training, vehicles, and health generation – should you be given the choice to prioritise which subset. Word to the wise? Concentrate on your defences. This is a deliciously strategic game that rewards canny minds.
Distract yourself from the man-mowing pleasures of online, and your survivor’s killing sprees can span more challenging outposts, with the likes of snap-happy, hooded and mysterious evil-doers (yes, Eden’s Gate marksmen) servicing a slaughtering, subversive style.
With a core campaign you can polish off in co-op, the latest Far Cry is doing its best to stay relevant in a market clogged by heavy shooters like Anthem and The Division. Can Ubisoft tap into the universal appeal that made the original Destiny such a hit? The publisher is betting the farm (and several herds of golden fleeced sheep) on the prospect.