Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey sees the player take on the role of an early hominid species from approximately 10,000,000 years ago. Simply put, this game tasks you, as the player, to recreate the process of millions of years of evolution, ending around 2,000,000 years ago.
Starting out a new lineage, the daunting task of going through an 8 million year evolutionary process already hits you. Being able to choose between a combination of HUD and tutorial options, it might not be the best idea to go into your first play through with a chip on your shoulder saying, “I don’t need any help, I got this.” For my first lineage I decided I would go with the most tutorial and display help I could, with the plan to follow-up with no help at all on my next lineage. Pressing the button to start that first lineage, the player is pleasantly confronted with a message saying that the game would not be offering much help.
Following a very “circle of life” style cut scene, you are immediately thrust into the role of a terrified, seemingly orphaned, early hominid ape-baby. And, true to the game’s promise to offer little help, your screen simply tells you that you might want to find a hiding place for your defenseless little self, as well as a challenge to see if you can do a better job than our ancestors did at evolution. Horrifying sights and sounds confront the poor little thing as you try to navigate the alien environment and desperately try to find the rest of your tribe. While the controls are limited initially, mostly consisting of the ability to jump and use various senses for exploring the environment, from the start the controls seem somewhat clunky and awkward. Most of the control are context-based, with some buttons having different usages depending on what was pressed prior to it or where in the environment the player is at the time. While this is understandable from a game play perspective, the controls are further complicated by sometimes needing to hold the button down for a period of time with little indication to which is which in certain contexts.
Finally meeting up with the rest of your initial tribe, Ancestors seems to find it’s own a bit and become a more approachable game. After being able to swap from controlling a baby to an adult of the tribe, my next task was to start exploring the environment. Much of the game consists of exploring and identifying random items until you know what they are, then doing it again with other random items. Upon making a few neuronal advancements this becomes slightly more complex by giving you the ability to swap hands with an item. At first this seems a bit silly, of course you could put something from one hand to another hand. I mean come on, is that even an evolutionary trait? However, the hugely useful bit about swapping hands is the ability to alter or combine items using both hand, thus dramatically increasing the number of interactions in game. However, even this simple task of trying to alter items, such as cleaning twigs off of a stick, can be frustrating due to the control scheme.
Once sufficient mastering of the starting area is done, the terrors of being a little baby returned by venturing away from relative safety and exploring the horrible world around. Terrifying creatures, like that awful bird-thing that killed part of your tribe in the opening cut scene, pop out of nowhere requiring quick reactions which usually lead to a foolish accident like falling off a tree. While the game does allow you to grab on to trees and limbs for climbing and swinging purposes, due to the poor camera angles and random placements of trees at times, surviving a tree fall without a broken limb or disturbing bleeding fit was more of an exception than the rule. That being said, should you experience one of these injuries or other random de-buffs, the lack of information or direction from the game makes it virtually impossible to know what to do to correct said awfulness. In fact, my first tribe member’s death was due to having a bleeding injury, progressing to my poor ancestor being covered in blood with absolutely no clue what to do to remedy the situation.
Contradicting everything I just said, I believe that Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey could be an incredible game. Even with all of these negatives, I found myself wanting to progress further just to see if things smoothed out a bit. The unforgiving nature, though, will be hard to digest for many players, myself included to a certain degree. For example, should you accidentally lose all of your tribe members, whether due to a game quirk or poor planning on your part, the game is just done. No checkpoints, no retry, nothing. While this absolutely makes sense in the context of the game and trying to evolve and survive, it can become a bit tedious and frustrating to play hours of the game, lose a tribe, and have to start back at learning what a stick is. With the current state of the game, my opinion would be that most casual players need not apply. I do, however, plan to continue following this game’s progress post-release and how to see some of the rough edges smoothed out a bit.
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