I’ve always wondered what humans did before video games. I’ve tried to ask my parents but I tend to get bored after a few words and stop listening. I don’t think I’d ever make it in a primal, survival based scenario. I’m far too used to the luxuries of modern life. Far Cry has always been about taking players away from modern comforts, and throwing them a far cry (get it?) from civilization, perhaps on a tropical island or somewhere in the Himalayas.
Changing the location wasn’t good enough for Ubisoft anymore, and Far Cry Primal throws you about 10,000 years from any modern luxuries, back to a time when our basest of instincts ruled, and each day was a fight to survive in a world that was often quite literally chomping at the bit to make you its next meal.
Takkar is the hero character this time around, a member of the Wenja (pronounced ween-juh) tribe. We’re treated with a very brief history lesson about the Wenja being scattered across the land of Oros, and a short scene of Takkar and his hunting party tracking a mammoth, which predictably concludes disastrously when a saber tooth tiger enters stage left and proceeds to maul everyone to bloody shreds.
Well, not everyone. Takkar escapes and and this is where Far Cry Primal begins, with absolutely nothing. Takkar must build his way up from this nothing, starting with crafting a bow, hunting for food, and then reuniting the Wenja together to defeat two rival tribes, the Udam — a vicious tribe of flesh eaters — and the Izila — an agile tribe with a fire fetish. This is the intrinsic narrative to Primal, and it doesn’t get any more complex, which both lends credence to the primitive feel and makes the entire thing feel like it’s missing something.
Ull and Batari, the leaders of the the Udam and Izila respectively, are both savage and bloodthirsty, but neither is given enough screen time to achieve the brilliantly psychotic levels of Vaas or Pagan Min. In fact, their ruthless nature is to be expected in a prehistoric setting, and as such, does not stand out as anything near as interesting as Vaas’ genius psychosis or Pagan Min’s calm and collected brutality.
Primal’s mission structure was designed to be more open and to avoid a narrowly told story, but it undermines the ability to have an engaging narrative. To help sell the primitive world, Ubisoft created a language for the Wenja, and it is spoken throughout the entire game, with English subtitles for those of us who failed to study fictitious dead languages. The language barrier creates authenticity, but also pushes the player out. We’re not given anything to relate to Takkar. The basal set up for the rest of the game is thin and we know next to nothing about Takkar, his history, or the Wenja as a people.
One of the most interesting series of story missions comes from a character that is more of a meta joke side story than a genuine part of the Wenja culture, and the intrigue comes from breaking off of the serious primitive nature and embracing a little goofiness. Urki is obviously a primitive parody of Far Cry 4’s Hurk, and I would always rush over to his mission marker as soon as a new one would pop up, even if he only hands out fetch quests.
Putting the extremely basic story aside, Ubisoft have created a faithful recreation of 10,000 BC, as much as we can know that anyway. The soundscape is engrossing, and the visuals are amazing, particularly the way that the light filters through the trees and mist covered landscape. Tiny details combine to paint a picture of a time that we can only imagine and make it feel real. It’s easy to get caught up in the world, before a roar cuts through everything and you’ve got a pack of wolves or a cave bear at the other end of your spear. 10,000 BC is palpable in Far Cry Primal, and it’s a unique approach that hasn’t been tackled successfully in many games that I can think of.
This unique setting offers a chance to get up close and personal with weapons like spears and clubs, rather than guns. Even long range, there’s something extraordinarily satisfying about hurling a spear through two enemies standing 30 feet away. In addition, the resource management required to make sure that you can craft replacement weapons never feels overbearing, but adds a sense of survival and connection to the environment that simply looting bullets doesn’t quite provide.
It amazed me how much I loved being in this world, shirking technology, guns, and magic, and embracing sticks, stones, and fire. Unlocking abilities to make Takkar even more capable helps to promote the power fantasy of ruling in a time where humans were struggling to stay on top of the food chain.
After just over 20 hours, I had finished the main story missions, a healthy portion of the side missions, and more than 100 of the 184 collectibles. Looking at my completion percentage sitting at 78%, I realized that the remaining 22% would be more of the same, with little variation to everything I had done up until this point. The same structure of missions, side quests, and collectibles in any other open world game would be dull, but the excitement of the prehistoric setting does help to mask some of the generic nature of the underlying structure.
A Change of Clothes
If you played Far Cry 4, it quickly becomes apparent that someone hurled that Blu-ray disc 12,000 years into the past to gather some prehistoric cave paint. Bows have always been a staple of the Far Cry games (arguable the most fun weapon to use). The woolly mammoths are essentially just Far Cry 4’s elephants. The animations of skinning animals and looting bodies haven’t changed, but they can be thankfully turned off in Primal. Even mission types are basically reskinned versions of the 2014 model. Underneath the shifting glaciers and mud huts, much of Far Cry as we know it has been copied over. Primal maintains a good disguise, but riding a mammoth through an Izila fort would have more impact if we didn’t do the exact same thing in Kyrat a little more than a year ago.
The biggest alteration aside from the setting and removal of guns is the ability to control animals, at least the predators. Taming beasts is a fun mechanic early on, but once you’ve tamed each different creature, there’s no reason to tame anymore as you can call each one in from the beasts menu. Even if they die, you don’t have to tame a new one. You can just revive the beast using easily found red leaves. After that, it’s all about controlling the beasts. In some ways it feels a bit cheap to send in a saber tooth tiger to take down an entire outpost but Primal balances this out by making even the top tier predators fall with relative ease if not managed properly against late game enemies.
It seems that jumping back in time 12,000 years is both a step forward and a step back for the Far Cry series. Far Cry Primal evolves the series through devolution, bringing an incredible prehistoric landscape to gamers in 2016. Consequently, the focus on authenticity draws a disconnect from the player and fails to offer relatable characters or a meaningful narrative.
In terms of gameplay though? Far Cry Primal is a shining example of how a game series should advance, with meaningful and broad changes to the status quo while retaining the characteristics of the core game. A better backstory for Takkar, the Wenja, or even a stronger interwoven narrative may have helped, but it’s still a lot of fun to ride a saber tooth tiger and launch spears at cannibalistic primitives for no other reason than we can.
Far Cry Primal review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.