Ubisoft’s Far Cry series has followed a strange path. The first two games are products of their time, games that don’t show their age well, but were also full of unique, strange ideas that some people still love. Then the next two wholly embraced what is now the Ubisoft open world style and were almost universally praised by the general audience. Sure, there were people who (rightfully) took issue with their themes of exoticism and white meddling, but other than that, they “did well.” But then, Far Cry 5 happened. While it “did well” again, things got weird. But at the same time, the new pseudo-sequel New Dawn is getting a lot of attention. Can its post-apocalyptic charms right the ship?
It’s important to talk about (again) why Far Cry 5 was such an odd release. It seemed like more of the same Far Cry stuff like before, with a massive open world map and enemies with big personalities. Of course, there’s the tower climbing. Everyone loves the tower climbing, even if a bit ironically at times. But Far Cry 5 almost seemed like a chance for the series to take the next step, to become a little more than the next big sandbox toy for young adult men who like to blow stuff up.
Far Cry 5, as it was being revealed, took the gaming space by storm when it seemed to lean on current American themes for its setting. It’s a small, rural city, taken over by flag-waving, bible-thumping, gun-waving religious leaders. It looked like it was based on current American political tensions, such as the whole Bundy family siege in Oregon that really saw a cultural divide flare up in a violent way. Discussions moved to Donald Trump and the current White House administration, and even things leading up to that. People thought this Far Cry had something to say, and were either really excited or really upset about that prospect. There were petitions, arguments galore, and a sense of uneasy anticipation. Then it came out and nothing happened.
Reviews were all over the place, because people either loved it for the corny open world shooter it was or hated it for pulling a fast one on the audience with its false bravado and thematic deception. Either way, it sold super well, there was loud shouting on the internet for a solid month, then everyone forgot about it. Arguably, it could have been more, and some people were turned away from the series, possibly forever. But New Dawn looks a bit different.
New Dawn is a spin-off, sort of. It clearly nods to one of the endings of the previous game and seems to directly follow it (including a possible returning character). But there’s also a sense of tonal shift, with bright colors, loud noises and more personality. (It will be hitting around the same time as Rage 2, which will be fun for everyone involved to deal with.) But at the same time, it doesn’t go as far as, say, Blood Dragon or Primal did. It doesn’t feel as clear of a spin-off as the others.
To boot, the main villains appear to be a pair of women of color who seem like they might be placed in their position by realistic (relatively) motivations for being the villains. What else happens when a bunch of white supremacist-like cultists take over a rural area, but then get shot up by the hero before being nuked? You might see some revenge happening, and that seems (not confirmed) like it may be the case here. I’m curious to see how that angle is handled by the creative team, and if there’s more eagerness to take a stance on something, or have some kind of underlying message to it.
Ultimately, I don’t have much skin in this race. I’ve mostly watched Far Cry from a distance, as open world shooters don’t do a lot for me in terms of gameplay. But I am curious to see how New Dawn plays out, both in the game’s storytelling itself as well as the reaction to it and eventual discourse. Maybe it’ll reveal itself to be more of a breezy spin-off in the end, or maybe it will end up being more narratively ambitious than the title its following. Either way, people are talking about it, which means the Far Cry train has plenty of opportunity to keep rolling.