It’s 10,000 BCE, the Ice Age has just about ended and the world is entering the Mesolithic period. Humans are not at the top of the food chain; in fact, dear human, you’re vulnerable in so many ways. If we then told you this was a Far Cry game you’d likely be surprised. After Far Cry 4 played it ultra safe it seems Ubisoft figured they’d prove that the formula for these games would fit just about any situation. So it’s out with the machine guns and wingsuit riding and in with bow, arrows and clubs. Question is, does Far Cry Primal shake up the series enough to warrant a purchase and moreover does it make sure it isn’t “just another” Far Cry game?
You play as Takkar who, after finding yourself stranded in the land of Oros with no weapons, stumble across a lost member of your tribe, the Wenja. You soon learn that your people, who were once a proud tribe, have now been scattered across Oros thanks to battles against competing Udam and Izilia tribes. Determined to unite his people, Takkar sets out to liberate them from the domination of these tribes and make the Wenja a proud civilisation once again. The journey will not be easy and the opening sequence to the game puts into stark perspective how fragile a human is when you’re mixing it with large woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. It’s a welcome change and makes wandering the open-world of Oros one fraught with danger even when you’re further into the game with upgrades.
One thing that grabs you from the outset is that Far Cry Primal’s prehistoric world is beautifully realised. From the many animals associated with that period to the made up, but heavily researched, language that the three main tribes speak (meaning subtitles are required), you get the feeling that a lot of love was poured into this game. Even though there is no-one living from that era it just looks right. One of the reasons given for Far Cry Primal not having multiplayer/co-op was so that the team could focus on creating this world. Whilst some liberties have been taken with some of the weapon upgrades attainable later in the game the setting is very much believable and Ubisoft Montreal have to be commended here for what they’ve achieved.
Whilst co-op may have been removed you don’t have to wander Oros alone. Probably the marquee feature of Far Cry Primal is the beastmaster ability which enables Takkar to tame many of the large beasts of Oros. I challenge anyone not to smile when you charge into an enemy's camp mounted on the back of a sabre-toothed tiger. Along with eyes in the sky via your Hogwarts’ style owl each of the tameable animals have their uses, and the rarer types like the black jaguar, can take out enemies without raising the alarm. This adds an extra dynamic when deciding how, exactly, Takkar is going to eliminate his enemies when trying to capture bonfires which act as useful fast travel locations. With the right decisions made it’s entirely possible to take out every enemy without being anywhere near the action. For those who like to stealth their way through a game this is a very rewarding way to approach things.
Whilst being visually stunning Far Cry Primal also nails the sounds of the wild. Swinging a two-handed club into your enemies has a real heft to it. Arrows make hardly a sound past the quick swish as they leave your bow. Oros itself comes to life thanks to how well the game sounds. As you travel through this wide and open land you hear nearby animals and it’s one of the main ways you can get an early alert something is about to get the jump on you. If you listen carefully nearby enemies will make themselves known due to their loud talking. At night time wolves howl and their eyes glow as the crackle of the close fire offers a little protection. The time and effort made by Ubisoft Montreal is commendable, as it gives the patient player that takes the time to pause and listen an extra advantage and a more immersive experience.
It also helps you ignore the occasional glitches. Whilst playing we slipped down and in between scenery we weren’t supposed to. We were able to wriggle free but were then catapulted vertically and landed with a thump which did a decent amount of damage. Later in the game we came across a repeated bug with the audio which meant that through the entirety of a specific mission we heard the growls of our animal companion despite the fact we’d sent them away. These glitches, however, were few and far between and really didn’t do much to detract away from the game itself. However the story does its best to bring the game down.
It’s not that there isn’t one (because there is), it’s because in the end, it disappoints. From the outset the story tries to make you care about Takkar and the plight of the Wenja. Woven through quests and random encounters Far Cry Primal hopes to build on this and make you care. Unfortunately, Takkar is rather bland as a character. He doesn’t seem to move on and is, well, just Takkar. Whilst he somehow ends up being the de facto leader of the Wenja people he doesn’t seem to change because of it. I know we’re talking about a time when humans were still finding their feet in evolutionary terms but we were expecting a little more from the titular character. In fact of all the characters you meet, Ull, the leader of the cannibalistic Udam tribe, is probably the most interesting of all - but little is revealed as to his motivations for trying to wipe out the Wenja people. He comes across as a rather tragic character but we never really got to learn much about him.
There’s also an emphasis on saving and helping the lost Wenja of Oros but beyond increasing your village’s population and subsequently how much you receive in your stash, there’s little use for them. Why can’t you use them to storm an enemy’s camp or have the ability to call in reinforcements if you’re having a particularly tough time taking control of a camp? It seems odd that something which could add an interesting dynamic to the game is overlooked. Imagine having to make the decision between calling in your last batch of reinforcements or leaving them where they are because your population will be too low to sustain production. As far as stories go you could take any semblance of one from Far Cry Primal and you’d still end up with pretty much the same game.
Mercifully it’s what you can do outside of the story that really helps make this game. Whilst in previous Far Cry titles hunting was essentially something to do on the side it takes centre stage here. This is not surprising considering the era but it’s executed well and makes you want to keep heading out into the expanse of Oros. Thanks to your “hunter vision”, which you have from the outset, you see animals and other collectibles in yellow and the rarer animals put out a mystical looking yellow trail. In a sort of homage to Pokémon you almost feel compelled to tame and collect ‘em all. The rarer beasts are also key in upgrading the huts at your Wenja village as well as crafting the better weapons. It’s this reliance on the environment for crafting that really puts the onus on you, the player, to manage your items carefully.
Everything you collect has a purpose and puts an emphasis on the survival theme of the game. Need to heal? You need meat. Fired off all your arrows? You’ll need some wood and flint for that. You’ll also need to craft heartier clothes for the times when you need to venture in the cold expanse that exists and the cold will kill you. It really makes you keenly aware of your surroundings and what you’re carrying. Even your tamed companions take their toll on your supplies and in a pinch you may find yourself making the decision to let your animal battle to its demise so that you can heal yourself. Village upgrades also require you to gather materials from Oros and if you want to fully upgrade them you’ll need to hunt down the rarer beasts that it contains.
It’s this push to make you explore Oros where you’ll get a real appreciation for the work that’s been put in. Sure the game is chock full of collectable quests and achievements but by venturing out to complete them you’re exploring such a beautiful world full of life. As we traversed the world we noticed wolves hunting down deer, bears battling for supremacy and mammoths plodding around defending their young when a predator gets too near. It’s these little touches that makes you believe you’re inhabiting a living, breathing world. One in which you could just pick a spot on the landscape and watch as this world lives out its day-to-day happenings without any intervention from you.
Far Cry Primal is far from perfect but the world that it is set in is spectacular to say the least. It’s the care and attention paid to its setting that helps overcome its shortcomings in the story department and the occasional glitches encountered whilst traversing the open plains. If this is a sign of things to come from Far Cry as a series then things are looking promising. However impressive surroundings alone won’t always make up for a threadbare story. It’s mostly thanks to its historical setting that Far Cry Primal can get away with this and still be a considered a good game.