Back when Ubisoft announced Far Cry Primal it was met with furrowed eyebrows by one and all, along with occasional 'Ook?'. Was this another Blood Dragon? Was this is a full Far Cry sequel? We just didn’t know. As it turns out its neither of these things. Far Cry Primal straddles the divide between sequel and expansion with a certain degree of timidity, afraid to be too much of either. What we’ve got on our hands is a reasonably chunky experience, but a big question mark hangs over whether it can live up to the recent greats in this very same series.
Far Cry Primal loses the shackles of gung-ho military warfare and takes a very different tack - 10,000BC. Which, as the very laborious countdown in the opening cinematic will let you know, was a very, very long time ago. Guns, helicopters and even the humble wheel are but a twinkle in these cave dwellers’ eyes. It’s man versus beast and things are about to get primeval.
Playing as Takkar, you must battle to restore your obliterated tribe once more to greatness. Two rival tribes attempt to be the thorn in your side as you high-tail it across the lush lands of Oros, completing machines and recruiting more people to your cause. It’s that familiar Far Cry loop but in an altogether different setting.
A few of us been busy ploughing some time into this prehistoric adventure, and here are our thoughts.
Very few games have managed to make a melee first person single player game fun through the use of a close-combat game mechanic. Far Cry Primal is no exception. The melee is pretty much mash the button a few times and hope you have struck a cannibal across the head with your spiky stick. Ubisoft knows this and its game design delivers much more than a one button mash-athon.
A day in the life of a Neanderthal - You set your spiky club alight, throw it at a building in an enemy camp of straw huts, then watch the blaze strike chaos across the outpost as the flames jump from building to building.
From your hiding place you aim your crudely fashioned bow and pick off a few of the outlying enemies, their backs to you, as they step away from the raging blaze. You cup your hands and coo. The call summons your owl to swoop across the settlement tagging any unseen enemy. You select one that will make a meal for your animal companion; a rare Black lion you tamed a few days earlier leaps from a bush. Finally you drop down from your hiding place, a low cliff that borders the settlement, and swing your club furiously amongst the remaining enemies, while your lion pounces from one cannibal to the next.
As the quiet returns to the forest you pull a lump of meat from your knapsack and throw it to your lion.
The beauty of the forest provides the immersion and the animals within act reasonably well within it. It gives a sense that the woods are alive. When night falls I couldn't help but feel a little nervous as I heard the howls of the wolves, spotting them prowling from tree to tree on the edge of my visibility. A great touch is that once you acquire your companion, depending on where it sits in the food chain will depend on whether or not other approaching animals flee on sight or stick around to have a go with their wolf pack before fleeing when they are reduced in numbers. A hearty growl from your powerful lion can send other animals running, making you feel a lot more confident.
So far with the progress I’ve made I’m really enjoying the game and would give it a solid 9 out of 10. It is unfortunately missing the ability to climb trees which would have been awesome, and at times it felt a little too generous with the speed the companions were acquired, but other than that I'm having a total blast.
The biggest change for Far Cry Primal is undoubtedly the setting. In an age of modern warfare it’s become a bit of a rare treat to get our hands on something like this. While Ubisoft’s not exactly famous for stringently adhering to historical accuracy, in Primal they do at least go some way to building a believable world, even going so far as using a team of linguists to create a prehistoric language just for this game. Suck on that, Klingonese.
It harks back to a time when man and beast lived side by side and humans weren’t yet the dominant force on Earth. The Stone Age was clearly a time of great brutality and Far Cry Primal really doesn’t pull any punches. If you found the animal skinning in Far Cry 4 a little gross, this is a whole different kettle of fish. Cannibalism, body hacking and grimly realistic slayings, and that's before you've popped the kettle on for your morning brew. Violence is an everyday and unavoidable part of life in Far Cry Primal.
Usually you'll be the arbiter of this justice, whether taking down rival tribes or of course getting your hunt on. At its core Far Cry Primal is the hunting mechanics from Far Cry 4 blown up to the proportions of an entire game, and it means you’ll need to constantly be on the lookout for predators. You can’t just hop into a jeep and high-tail it out of there, so instead you’ve got to creep about, listen for audio cues, and try not to trip over honey badgers.
Yes, the honey badgers are back. For everything in Far Cry Primal there is an analogue to Far Cry 4. Towers are replaced by bonfires. Guns are replaced by spears. Grenades are replaced by sting bombs. It’s a reskinning in practically its purest form, but the fresh and unique setting will be enough to drag plenty of people kicking and screaming through to the campaign’s conclusion.
However, if you found yourself tiring of Far Cry 4, as I did, then I’d probably advise giving Far Cry Primal a wide berth. If you were still itching for more then this will most definitely be your bag, and at its finest serves as a survival game for the time light. Where the likes of Rust or ARK: Survival Evolved demand hundreds of hours of your life, Far Cry Primal is the process boiled down to its absolute essentials. To that end you’ll will be working your way along a linear upgrade path, which in some respects feels as if Ubisoft copy / pasted the unlockable skills from Far Cry 4, but there’s certainly something addictive to be found in becoming the ultimate tribal warrior, building up a mighty village and commanding a zoo-full of lethal wildlife. That's not to say it's always fun, but Ubisoft sure knows how to dole out those dopamine hits to keep you chugging away, regardless of the task.
I absolutely adore the Stone Age setting and applaud the dev team for stepping outside it's comfort side there, but for a theme so fresh it’s a pity Ubisoft has applied a formula so stale. There is plenty to love here for those of an inquisitive nature, but the usual over-abundance of repetitive side-missions and pointless collectibles will quickly leave you feeling more like a checklist ticking bore than the primeval hunter you should be. For me this is a solid but unspectacular 6/10.
Ubisoft has become notorious for its copy and paste shenanigans and the Far Cry series has been a forerunner example of this alongside Assassin’s Creed, as Far Cry 3 and 4 are almost identical in the way they had you level up, take down outposts and hunt animals for upgrades. Far Cry Primal is an attempt to shatter this image of the series by stripping back the vehicle and gunplay to a mostly melee experience with a bit of Pokemon collecting thrown in.
There’s plenty of moments where the game really shines outside of the standard Far Cry formula. Running through the jungle with nothing but a bow, a club and spear with a bear hot on your heels looking for it’s next lunch only to run straight into a pack of wolves is the kind of gameplay the Primal setting was built for. It really makes the setting feel as dangerous and as uncivilised as you’d imagine it to be and you feel a lot more a part of the world unlike in previous games where you usually played an outsider. It’s a great feeling and it adds a lot of weight to the story which is obviously crucial in a story-driven open world experience.
The problems of the game come from the inescapable fact that we’ve been here before. If you’ve played Far Cry 3 or Far Cry 4 then you’ll more than likely find yourself in a state of deja vu as Primal repeats the exact same gameplay mechanics of its predecessors. Once you reach the main body of the game, you are tasked with finding flowers for healing and as you start to explore the world you have to find locations which unlock fast travel.
It’s a shame that Primal didn’t make more of an attempt to streamline its game design to fit with its new theme with factors like the melee gameplay being more of a clickathon than an intuitive system (think more Skyrim than Dark Souls) and that’s what keeps the game from truly standing apart from the rest of the series.
All in all, if you’re even remotely interested in the Far Cry games then you’ll be right at home with Far Cry Primal, but if you’re looking for a completely fresh experience you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Graphically the game could be a lot better when compared against other titles such as The Witcher 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider but the prehistoric setting remains a fresh and exciting addition that I find myself excited to explore further. On the current basis I'd have to give it 7/10.