Can you imagine a time before Twitter?
Crazy though it might sound, there was one. In fact there was even a time before Google, before iPhones, before showers and cars and all of the modern extravagances we take for granted. And it’s this time that Far Cry Primal mines for gaming riches.
No, not the 1960s – Primal takes us all the way back to 10,000 BCE. And while it may not be a perfect addition to the Far Cry stable, it’s definitely a trip worth taking.
THE BEST PLACE FOR IT
The setting actually makes a lot of sense. Primal is the fourth Far Cry game in as many years, and great though every previous effort has been, 4 did leave you with the feeling that you’d seen it all before, just with a bit less snow and in a slightly lower resolution.
By pitching this one in the Mesolithic, though, Ubisoft has been forced to tweak the gameplay a little too – and that’s no bad thing.
So, what’s the deal? Well, you play as Takkar, a member of the native Wenja people in the fictional land of Oros, who is left stranded without resources after his hunting party is attacked. Fighting both the Izila and Udam tribes throughout the land, your goal is to lead your people into victory against your foes and make the world a safe place for the Wenja to roam.
Far Cry has always been all about staying alive and that’s why setting such a game in a primitive time works so well. With no distractions to keep them occupied, Mesolithic people only really needed to worry about one thing: survival. Ditto you, here.
In turn, that makes the game’s dangers all the more obvious. Having no vehicles to rely on is the biggest source of peril as it forces you to move around the forests by foot and gives you a real sense that you’re risking your life every time you step out of your cave. The lack of firepower only adds to the danger.
TAME LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW
We lied a bit in the last section. There are vehicles in Far Cry Primal after all – it’s just that they tend to have fur rather than wheels.
Yes, just as you could tame elephants in Far Cry 4, you can tame and (eventually) ride mammoths, bears and saber-toothed tigers here. In fact, that’s not even the half of it – there are actually a whole host of animals you can tame and convince to do your bidding in Primal. It’s a major part of the game and one of its biggest points of difference from the preceding titles, with a whole skill tree dedicated to levelling up your bestial befriending talents.
Once you have the right skills, putting them to use is easy: simply chuck some bait towards an animal, then woo them once they start chowing down. Then the real fun begins. A single D-pad click enables you to call upon any animal you’ve tamed. From here you can order them to attack foes, keep other predators at bay and much more.
Cornered by some angry types waving spears at you? Just set your cave lion on them. Want to take out that settlement? Send an angry badger in ahead of you.
You can only use one tamed animal at a time and you’ll need to top up their health via meat you have stored in your pack, but having a four-legged chum will make combat much easier, and once you’ve gained the Beast Master perk you’ll find them a boon when it comes to travelling around the forests at night too.
BE THE HUNTER
If control over animals represents one of the big changes to the Far Cry template here, the other concerns combat. In short, you’d best like hunting.
Sure, it was always possible to dig out the bow and arrow in previous games, but doing so always felt like a chore when you knew that you could instead be using a gun. That’s not an option in Primal, of course – automatic weapons being about as common in 10,000 BCE as in-ear headphones or 4K action cams.
Instead, you have to make do with the hand-crafted weapons at your disposal and the relative lack of choice actually makes the challenge all the more exciting. Going out at night is especially exhilarating, as you send packs of wolves running from your ignited clubs and spears.
There’s also more reason to want to hunt, because as well as crafting materials for yourself you have to upgrade the huts of the main characters in your village. To do this you typically have to seek out certain animal hides and materials – like the Fashion Week quests in Far Cry 4 – and some of these critters require a fair bit of hunting.
The whole process is lots of fun, and finding the animal or material you’ve been searching for is genuinely satisfying. Animals come in lots of use here too: unleashing a trusty cave lion on a more pacey target is tremendously entertaining, while owls are helpful when hunting humans, with the bird being able to spot enemies way before you can.
It’d be easy to approach the game expecting the lack of guns to be A Bad Thing, but in reality it gives the combat a much-needed shake-up.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT
Those changes aside, Primal is essentially the same Far Cry game you’ve been playing for years: the gameplay has been tweaked and expanded rather than totally revamped.
For some, this lack of innovation may be frustrating. Mounting mammoths is basically the same as mounting elephants in Far Cry 4, and you can also move bodies to hide them just as you could in the last title. Claiming outposts has been a staple for a while, as have the player skill trees and the addition of random world events that you can stop.
Arguably, Ubisoft could have taken more chances with Primal. Then again, it’s a formula that works and while the core elements haven’t changed much, there’s enough difference in Primal to make it a fresh and exciting experience.
MORE STORY NEEDED
What would have really helped, though, is a bigger story and a touch more characterisation.
Primal‘s core narrative is best described as simplistic: you basically have to kill everyone in the two tribes that you are at war with. What deeper elements there are come from your interactions with the shaman Tensay, and he’s a genuinely interesting character. With Tensay, you can explore what scares the opposing leaders and take on some truly crazy missions.
The other supporting characters aren’t quite so well defined. Sayla, for example, is an interesting woman and it would have been good to see her back-story looked into. That’s not to say the other characters they’re boring: on the contrary, they’re all memorable and the amusing moments that a few share with you are all the more endearing because of their elusiveness. But given that the main story arc can be completed in a mere 15-20 hours, it feels like a missed opportunity.
On the plus side, Ubisoft has really tried to give Primal an authentic feel, in so much as you can be authentic about a time before written history, with a completely new language and several dialects devised for the game, and a fairly self-consistent spiritualism which adds to the tribal atmosphere.
FAR CRY PRIMAL VERDICT
Far Cry Primal isn’t perfect, but thankfully it’s not boring either.
The story could have been longer and more in depth and the basic concept of the game hasn’t changed a lot since 4. Essentially, it’s the same old Far Cry formula but adapted to a Stone Age surrounding.
But while that may not seem very exciting, there are enough changes that you’ll get plenty of entertainment from it.
Taming and hunting beasts is great fun and ordering them to kill enemy soliders never gets old. The reliance on prehistoric weapons proves that guns and gaming don’t have to go together the end result is well worth leaving the modern day world behind for. Just don’t expect to want to stay for ever.
Yes, it’s just Far Cry 4 in prehistoric times – but that’s still a massive amount of fun
Being the Beast Master
Stone Age setting
Missions are often too easy
Supporting characters too shallow
Gameplay too similar to 4
Original article first appeared on Stuff.tv on 23/02/2016