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Leaner And Meaner, ‘Far Cry New Dawn’ Leaves A Bright First Impression

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Leaner And Meaner, ‘Far Cry New Dawn’ Leaves A Bright First Impression

First impressions in modern video games matter. Such is the release schedule of today's AAA contenders that should one fail to connect within its first few hours, there's a good chance of it being cast aside for whatever's next. Factor in the raft of incredible indies that come out with even greater frequency, and none of us are particularly time rich when it comes to our favourite form of interactive entertainment.

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So it's a relief - and kind of impressive, to be honest - that Far Cry New Dawn doesn't mess about in the slightest when it comes to putting the player in the thick of it. True, Far Cry 5 did likewise, with the player character fleeing a cult compound* only to be shot out of the sky; and past mainline titles have opened in a manner best described as "deep end". But there's a cleaner execution here, less noise and more purpose. And for a while at least (as it's not like I see it all), that's how New Dawn continues.

The setting is familiar, but changed - this is the Hope County of Far Cry 5, but 17 years after nuclear bombs scrubbed what was humanity's way of life from the region, and so much more of the northern hemisphere. There is wildlife, some of it ever-so-slightly evolved from today's North American fauna; and colour, too, spilling from every vista, cascading from every horizon. An ugly grey shooter in the mould of so many other post-apocalyptic adventures, this is not.

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And humanity isn't struggling so helplessly here, either - well, for a while there, at least. After an introductory cinematic sets our widescreen scene - you, the player, have arrived to Hope County to play your part in its rebuilding; unfortunately, some invasive antagonists with motocross fashion sensibilities and effing big knives, the Highwaymen, want to strip the area of its resources - you're set on your way with just a few markers on the map (including unlockable specialists).

Here's you, in the small settlement of Prosperity (population: a matriarchal leader and her daughter, aka your first gun for hire, Carmina; a helicopter pilot and his fuel-dry chopper; some jabbering NPC kids; at least one dog), and here's that: a waypoint. No overkill, no throw-a-load-of-stuff-and-see-what-sticks messiness. One main objective. Save the guy who can help turn the tide.

Usually, "save the so-and-so", the day's princess stand-in, is the driving plot point of a complete game experience, the End Objective; so to have it asked of you inside the first few minutes is certainly something. No tip-toe here, peek there, steal this intel, take out that second-in-command sort. Just: here he is, go get him.

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Far Cry New Dawn
Far Cry New Dawn

And as it turns out, you don't even have to really help the fella. He - he's called Rush - has almost escaped already, much to the chagrin of his (mostly dead, now) captors, so the pair of you team up on a motorcycle-meets-machine gun vehicle thing (handlebars, turret, totally standard in these games) and race back to Prosperity, blasting Highwaymen cannon fodder as you go.

And then, it's really all about making Prosperity prosper. The walled, um, hamlet can be upgraded by bringing various supplies back from nearby Highwaymen outposts (be warned: they can be retaken), foremost amongst them ethanol, which fuels almost everything in New Dawn. Haul back enough springs, bolts, metal strips, chunks of titanium and that all-important flammable stuff, and you can level up Prosperity's herb garden (medicines!), laboratory (explosives!), and use what's left for your own needs.

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Far Cry New Dawn
Far Cry New Dawn

New Dawn features, in the words of its makers, light RPG mechanics - you can improve your guns and armour with half-inched bits and bobs, to best suit the level of opposition out there, all of whom are clearly ranked based on the clothes they wear and the number/lethality of guns they carry. Ethanol is also essential for keeping Prosperity running, and for getting that chopper flying again.

Achieve the latter, and you won't only get a wicked smile from the French-Canadian pilot (Roger, maybe?), but you'll also open up Expeditions, a new feature of this Far Cry. Here, you'll leave Hope County entirely, heading instead to Highwaymen camps elsewhere in the USA, such as Louisiana and Arizona.

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The first drop-off is on the Florida coast, where the villains are occupying a massive shipwreck. Bagsie the pink smoke-marked package and make it back to the extraction point, and it's quids in - a bountiful buffet of brilliant bonus gear. But Expeditions are designed to be challenging, so are best taken on either in co-op - which is also a fine way to tackle those pesky enemy outposts - or with a gun for hire beside you. Early on, that'll be the keen shotgunner Carmina; but later, you'll have access to further friends of varying skills, both two- and four-legged.

Far Cry New Dawn
Far Cry New Dawn

Yes, dog friends return in New Dawn. Not even an hour into proceedings, I'm on the way to a new marker when I see some cages, kind of clumped together to form a shelter. Inside I find dogs, alive and dead, and a couple of bad guys plotting entirely bad things. I murder them, pow bang, dead. I find the key for the cages - it's in the vomit of a sadly deceased labrador. And I let all the furry friends out. Hold square to pet, yes please. Most vanish, but one, Timber, sticks with you, jumping into your vehicle's passenger seat as a Very Good Gun for Hire. He'll let you stroke his face one minute, and then tear someone else's clean off the next.

With a quicker turnaround between starting quests and accomplishing them, a tighter sense of narrative purpose and a pair of unsettling adversaries in the form of Highwaymen leaders Mickey and Lou - the first time you meet these sinister twin sisters, all knee-jerk violence and in-your-face vitriol, get ready for some fireworks - New Dawn feels free of the open-world weight that can slow down 'core' Far Cry games.

And because it still feels familiar, environmentally accessible, in contrast to the 'inbetween' and out-there precedents of Blood Dragon and Primal, it clicks with near-instantaneous efficiency. As first impressions go, it's a moreish one, indeed; a blossoming of brilliant pinks and deep purples, of spilled blood and gunfire thunder, to usher in the springtime.

---

Far Cry New Dawn is released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on 15 February.

(*Ah yeah, about that cult. Watch the trailer and you might see a familiar face. I didn't come across Joseph Seed in my preview, but he's out there, still active in Hope County. An ally to be trusted? Only time will tell.)

Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft

Topics: Far Cry, Ubisoft, Preview

Mike Diver
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