In June of last year, a few months after the release of Far Cry 5, Terry Spier (Creative Director, Red Storm) said that the Division 2 would not be making a political statement. The game takes place in D.C. after a plague decimates the population. D.C. is in ruins, and the trailer released at E3 last year says “A remnant of a corrupt state lurks in the shadows, ready to engage in a new civil war. Agents of the Division are the only one standing against it.” So how…what the…?
I brought up Far Cry 5 earlier and I need to explain why these two are inextricably linked. Far Cry 5 could have been very political. The first Far Cry game to take place in the United States dived deep into satirizing what makes America tick: Guns, preppers, piss tapes, and fanatical religion. There was a little Trump, a little Alt-Right, a little religious violence, and for the first time ever, mostly white enemies. Who would have thought people actually would be upset by any of these things (definitely not the author of this [fake?] Petition?).
What is most interesting about the setting and cast of Far Cry 5 is that, despite the ample material to draw from, it tried so desperately to remain apolitical. In fact, Ubisoft didn’t make a true political statement about the title’s contents, publicly or in the game itself. Something that reviewers and critics would hold issue with as literature began to be written up. So do you side with the petition and get angry at how political it is? Or do you side with the reviewers and get angry at how hard it tries not to offend anyone?
3 months later…
[The Division] is not a political statement? “Absolutely not.”
See, the line isn’t hard to draw here. Extremely mixed response from undecidedly political/apolitical game = Nope. No politics here. But boy would you look at how great D.C. looks?
Enter Far Cry New Dawn. The first direct sequel to a Far Cry game.
At the end of Far Cry 5. Nukes detonate all across America, making the big, bad, religious creep Joseph Seed “right” (ugh) and then the game rolls credits. New Dawn picks the reins back up seventeen years later. The wildlife has been altered, the flora is colorful, the world is overgrown, largely untouched by the hands of man. In the time that has passed, people have rebuilt, or at least they have begun the process. Within seconds of New Dawn’s establishing shots (you are the hero, you travel the wastelands and help small settlements get back on their feet, you’re on a train full of people and supplies) the antagonists show up. Colorful dirt bikes, wacky attire, fireworks, smoke grenades.
Essentially you get rolled on by patrons of the post-apocalyptic (regular?) Burning Man and, well, it is kinda awesome.
Here is where I realized Far Cry New Dawn would be different: in the introduction of its antagonists, two black women, Mickey and Lou. For the first time since I played Far Cry 3, I didn’t hear an ounce of allusion in their intro. They weren’t the personification of anything but post-Collapse, cut-throat survivors that took the dark path.
This isn’t to say that New Dawn is without its own politics. There are plenty of story beats that lean into corruption, bribery, and religious fanaticism, but there is one key difference: this game doesn’t fee like it is about those things.
Outside of the return of a few of Far Cry 5’s characters, New Dawn largely stays away from what made its predecessor such a split-decision for most people. And while the setting and execution is familiar (think Mad Max, Rage, or a little Borderlands), there is something fresh about playing this setting in Far Cry’s formula, despite Far Cry’s formula being more than a little played out.
That perhaps is my biggest, and only real, gripe with Far Cry New Dawn. It just feels like more Far Cry.
In many cases this isn’t a problem. When you love the mechanics of a game, when the studio changes those mechanics up it can be disorienting. Even disenfranchising. The thing is, Far Cry 3 released in 2012, and while I absolutely loved that game and its reimagining of what Far Cry was, those changes have remained largely unchanged in its successors.
Outposts still operate the same way: Kill everyone silently for a large bonus, knock out alarms and go loud for a small bonus, or throw caution to the wind and kick down the door, no bonus added. The vehicular mechanics remain the same, the shooting feels the same, the hunting and wildlife feels the same (except this time you are getting attacked by Wolverines, not Honey Badgers), and the bow is still the best weapon in the game. Though I want to make sure I don’t knock (get it) the bow - it fucking rocks - I need Far Cry remember how to change again.
The new mechanics introduced to this game are largely inconsequential. You can build up your base by collecting Ethanol, adding a bit of functionality to taking outposts beyond just shooting (or stabbing) people. But that neither feels adequately rewarding, nor does it explain how Prosperity (the base) builds a farm with…Ethanol. Once you upgrade the Workbench to make Epic weapons, you can completely ignore upgrading the rest of the base outside of the story mission that requires it.
I should make it clear that New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5, and is likely built with the same exact engine and tools. Appropriately, Ubisoft priced the title at only $40. These things together make complaining that New Dawn feels like more of the same, feel a little obvious. That is literally what it is.
Minus one thing: Painfully irreverent and borderline overwhelming political overtones.
There is a part of me that wants Ubisoft to not be afraid of having political commentary in their games. Then, there is another part of me that believes that there is some kind of political commentary in New Dawn. That perhaps this title feels better because it doesn’t appear to be commenting on current events, but that doesn’t mean it exists without a message.
Then I come back to Spier’s response to the question about The Division 2 making a political statement: Absolutely not. Perhaps making a political statement means something different here. New Dawn had a message: Do everything it takes to make the world a better place. And that message could be seen as having political applications. But a direct political statement, that forces players to choose a side or fractures your base? Maybe that is what he meant to steer away from.
New Dawn appears to be the result of that decision. It wipes the political slate clean with a few dozen nukes and tells a surprisingly human story devoid of Alt-Right mouthpieces and trumpeted up stereotypes.
I want games to have a political voice, to take a stand on something, if they want to. But maybe this isn’t the worst thing ever.