Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey has some fascinating ideas in it. You’ll need to try to take your small clan of apes through 10 million years of evolution. Every action you take can influence the survival of your species and it’s up to you to try to ensure that future generations can thrive. Even with the exciting setup, it’s a shame that the final result just ends up feeling a bit too repetitive.
The game starts off with a dramatic cutscene which shows the harsh realities of the world you’re about to be thrust into; a jungle filled to the brim with deadly predators. You’ll witness one of your clan members meet an unfortunate end and will then be tasked with rescuing a baby ape that’s been left behind. This should be about easing you into the game and teaching you how it all works, but even with the tutorial switched on its ridiculously opaque.
The game tells you an objective but doesn’t really show or tell you how to do something. Whenever a tutorial box did flash up on screen it normally seemed to be at the worst possible time. It’s quite difficult to read when a warthog or snake is busy trying to chow down on you! This all leads to a really slow and frustrating opening few hours where you’ll be stumbling around not really knowing what to do. The first time I played I ended up leading quite a few of my adult monkeys to their untimely deaths before I eventually managed to find the poor youngster.
Ancestors seems to take great pride in withholding information from you. It means that you’ll have to experiment and try to figure it all out yourself. Rather than feeling a sense of achievement from this I just felt myself getting more and more frustrated and wishing that the game could be a bit more helpful so that I could have got on with exploring and enjoying the game far sooner.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
To begin with, your little clan is fairly useless and they don’t have many skills. You’ll need to explore your surroundings to earn Neuronal Energy, which is this game’s version of XP. You can then use this energy to unlock neurons in your brain which gives you new abilities and improves your skills. Gaining this energy gets repetitive pretty quickly as you’ll end up having to do the same kinds of things over and over again. I spent so much time sniffing every plant I came across, walking back and forth through water, and climbing up and down trees that it quickly began to lose its novelty.
It probably would have helped if the apes didn’t feel quite as helpless as they do. You even have to learn the ability to switch items between your right and left hand, or to drop things while moving. There’s also not a huge amount that your apes can eat without getting ill, but thankfully they don’t seem to require much sustenance to keep them going.
Exploration can be a bit of a pain in the arse. Rather than feeling like the King of the Jungle, swinging between trees is more likely to lead to a shattered leg as the controls feel clunky and a lack of a targeting system means you end up just jumping and hoping for the best. Traveling along the ground can be a pretty dangerous experience as there are so many different predators who are desperate to take a chunk out of you. An awkward dodging system and cumbersome camera angles do little to help you avoid trouble.
You’ll start to feel a bit more able to survive once you start to learn how to make tools and weapons. It feels like a pretty sweet victory when you’re finally able to turn the tables on an aggressive crocodile or saber-tooth tiger that’s been stalking your poor clan.
It’s best not to get too attached to any of your apes as you’ll probably end up losing quite a few of them. If the one that you’re controlling dies then you’ll instantly jump into the body of a different clan member. You’ll soon realize that even though they all have different names they’re very interchangeable. If you unlock a skill for one ape then you’ll unlock it for the whole clan which means that there is very little difference between them all.
As each member of your clan is someone that you can control if your current ape kicks the bucket it’s important to keep the size of your clan up. You can do this by making lots of babies. You’ll need to court another fertile adult by picking bugs out of their fur before taking them back to your bed of leaves and getting down to business. It’s not a particularly sexy or interesting thing to do but at least you have the option to skip forward 15 months to see the adorable new addition to the family.
Let’s do the time warp again
As well as being incredibly cute, babies can also have genetic mutations which can be hugely beneficial to your clan but you will have to wait until they grow up before they’re unlocked. The time system is fairly interesting and you’ll have a couple of options for how to jump forward. You can skip forward just a generation which instantly turns all your babies to adults, adults to elders, and elders to skeletons (sorry Grandpa ape…). You can also take an evolutionary leap that can skip you forward hundreds of thousands of years through time.
The exact length of time is dependent on the things that your current generation has achieved. It’s pretty fun that the game gives you bonus years if you’ve managed to discover things earlier then our real-life ancestors did. If you go far enough through time, you’ll also end up in a different area which will give you a whole new environment to explore.
Skipping forward through time does, unfortunately, have a pretty big negative effect. You can only “lock in” a certain number of neurons before you leap forward and you’ll lose access to the rest of them. This means that you’ll end up having to spend time re-learning how to do basic things in order to reactivate them.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Review - Monkeying Around (PS4)
While the idea of being able to influence the evolution of your clan of apes seems novel and exciting the reality is that it’s a bit of a repetitive slog. Through bad decisions or sheer bad luck, it’s far too easy to wipe out your whole clan which means that you’ll have to start all over again from the beginning. It’s an interesting experience but one that’s tough to recommend to anyone but the most patient of gamers.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey PS4 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.