Post-nuclear combat adventure Far Cry New Dawn offers plenty of amusement. Its open-world exploration, over-the-top guns and colorful environments are all part of the Far Cry series’ charm.
But the game is let down badly by a dreary campaign. Its main story is a mangle of tiresome, linear missions tied to a senseless narrative that relies heavily on two-dimensional characters.
Far Cry New Dawn is just the latest in a number of big budget, open world games that offer rich, detailed physical worlds, which are also emotional deserts.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a good game, but its story is a dire collection of clichés. Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story somehow manages to misplace its heroine. Despite some great characterization, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey continues that series’ woeful reliance on sci-fi nonsense.
Far Cry New Dawn’s various stories share a common theme, on the subject of fatherhood. At various points it threatens to critique cosy patriarchal idealism, but these ideas fail to coalesce into a coherent message.
[Far Cry New Dawn Spoilers after this point.]
The whole daddy thing comes in three arcs: a traditional “good” father figure, an unseen “bad” dad, and an unhinged, authoritarian father who emotionally poisons his child.
The Good Dad
Seventeen years following a nuclear apocalypse, the surviving residents of Hope County in Montana are struggling to survive. They emerge from their bunkers to find that nature is reborn, but that human nature is little changed. While some work to forge self-sustaining communes, others steal, enslave and murder.
Tom Rush is a man who travels the United States, helping folks re-establish society. At the beginning of the game, player-character The Captain escorts Rush to a utopian base-camp in Hope County. Rush is portrayed as a kind of savior, who arrives to help the people protect themselves from raiders.
This feels to me like a rebuke to the camp’s natural leader, a competent woman called Kim Rye. But she’s just as keen as everyone else to have Rush come in and restore order and security, even though he doesn’t seem to do much.
Rush is a regular all-American frontier organizer, corralling his charges in their efforts to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. But his main role in this story is to die, so that the camp can learn to stand alone. So, in due course, he’s kidnapped and murdered by New Dawn’s villainous twins (more on them later).
The game ends with Rye’s teenage daughter Carmina and The Captain, attending Rush’s grave, and looking forward to the future. Rush’s grave is marked with Old Glory, and he seems to represent the final dying of federal governance, a theme that goes back to Far Cry 5.
Tom Rush’s stark, Anglo-Saxon name and his no-nonsense, practical demeanor speak of old-fashioned American values, as embodied by any number of this country’s pantheon of white, male leaders, political or otherwise.
The best that can be said of Rush, is that his passing allows the post-societal denizens of Hope County to enjoy the juvenile, libertarian dream of No Government. But he’s merely an appetizer for the bigger daddy-stories to come.
The Bad Dad
Lou and Mickey are twins who’ve rolled into Hope County on a mission of pillage and control. Like many Far Cry villains, they are hyper-smart, verbose and psychotic. They enjoy intricate cat-and-mouse games, and are given to outbursts of murderous violence.
Apparently, surviving a nuclear war isn’t enough to explain their fury. In fact, this aspect of their past is hardly touched upon. Instead, their dialog repeatedly harks back to the sayings of their absent father, who evidently subscribed to a dog-eat-dog view of human existence.
Dad’s sayings have instilled in the twins an ethos of power-above-all-else. It seems to me that this isn’t the worst kind of education for young women entering a post-nuclear landscape, but the game never addresses this specifically.
The twins have certainly taken his teachings on board. Everyone they encounter is either a problem, or a solution. They refer to the Captain as “Rabbit,” with the obvious implication that they are ravenous wolves, topping the food chain.
In one cut-scene, we see Lou and Mickey as children, choosing to leave their caring, sharing mother for the harsher education Pa has to offer.
Later, in a dinner party scene, an extremely foolish man jokes to the twins they might end up crazy (and, we presume, dead), like their dad. The jester is rewarded with a jagged piece of crockery slammed into his throat. Rarely has the phrase “dude, read the room” felt more relevant.
Finally, just at the point when they’re defeated and on death’s door, we’re invited to feel sorry for Lou and Mickey. In a confusing swan song, the terrifying twosome celebrate all the laughs they’ve had, carving people up. But then they wish they’d stayed with mom instead of their father.
None of this makes the least measure of sense. All we really learn is that (a) the twins are damaged, and (b) their father made them that way. His motivations are never discussed. Was he preparing them, Sarah Connor-style, for the world to come? Or was he just an ideologue? We are left without answers.
The Crazy Dad
The center of Far Cry New Dawn’s exploration of fatherhood is, of course, Joseph Seed, otherwise known, literally, as “The Father.” This deranged cult leader was the main villain in Far Cry 5, on which this spin-off game is a quasi-sequel. Now, he has a son, with whom he suffers a distant relationship.
As The Captain, I go in search of Seed, looking for help in my fight against the twins. This takes me on a bizarre river journey, in which I’m subjected to the hallucinatory pyrotechnics of Bliss, a drug that was featured in Far Cry 5. When I find Seed living a hermit-like existence, he leads me on a spirit-journey.
Having gifted us with a rich landscape shaped by nuclear war and a post-apocalyptic battle for survival, the game’s designers decide that’s not interesting enough. So, I endure a boring dream-world section that’s mostly about wearing down a mad bear’s defenses and eating a blessed fruit, Adam and Eve-style.
This is the story’s turning point, because back in the real world, Seed’s son Ethan has been running the cult, and finds the throne to his liking. So when I return with Seed, as his new favorite, Ethan is furious.
We delve into a lot of tiresome blather about fathers and sons, God’s will (Himself, a father-figure) and Seed’s failings as a father, and as a son (to God). Ethan’s ambition turns him into a monster, which I have to kill. I am the chosen one, the true heir to Seed’s madness.
This collection of tired tropes and clichés marks the campaign’s end, and none too soon.
Joseph Seed is a deluded psychopath, who somehow acts as a conduit for the game’s musings on parenthood. His son is a prize shit, who gets his comeuppance. We can feel no sympathy for him.
My best guess is that we’re supposed to surmise that Seed really ought to have spent more time playing with Ethan, rather than murdering people.
On the whole, I’d have been happier to come away from this game with even the faintest sense of its position on the role of parents, in an age when all authority has been blown away by the end of the world. Here we are, in a world ruined by older generations, and yet the game has almost nothing to say about this, or, indeed, about the holocaust which provides its setting.
Instead of exploring what might have been a story about generations divided by apocalypse, it serves up a dog’s dinner of daddy-stories, none of which have much to say about anything.
Perhaps we can hope that game companies in the future put as much effort into their stories, as they put into the lovely trees, meadows and mountains that make up their fictional landscapes. Far Cry New Dawn is just the latest blockbuster to be betrayed by a thin story-line.