You can’t fault the Far Cry franchise for not trying new things. After two games of Joseph Conrad-esque explorations into man’s dark heart, the franchise has taken a somewhat wacky detour to the Stone Age. And why soon becomes apparent; it’s a survival sim for people who think survival sims are too much work.
Far Cry Primal (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Far Cry Primal follows Takkar, a member of the Wenja who finds himself forced to wipe out a tribe of cannibal Neanderthals, the Udam, and another tribe of arsonists, the Iliza, in order to help his tribe thrive and take over Oros. As you might gather, while there’s definitely a ton of research that went into it, don’t expect anything resembling historical accuracy. Ubisoft Montreal put entertainment ahead of history, here.
That said, it looks good and sounds better. Particular attention was paid to the sound mix because that’s pretty crucial to success; the game is filled with animal sounds, whispering water, rushing precipitation, and other sounds that often take the place of music, which is limited to the usual flute note and bongos. It’s almost soothing when you’re walking through a glade, and then your ear catches the grunt of a cannibal, and you’re off to the races.
Despite the Stone Age setting, little about the basics of Far Cry have changed, to the point where the dev team has recycled things like animal AI and random events. Mostly the game has shifted the focus to put crafting, hunting, and stealth first and foremost, although there is a light sim aspect in the sense that you need to expand your tribe’s population and build huts for your various special residents if you want the best weapon upgrades and skills. It makes the random events more worth doing, as the people you save join your tribe.
The game also has adds animal companions as a new mechanic, which in grand Far Cry style gets ridiculous fast. Just wait until you can equip your owl buddy with bee bombs to drop on unsuspecting enemies, or use it to command your wolf friend to eat some guy.
This side-step in the franchise owes quite a bit to the survival sim genre pioneered by games like DayZ and Rust and feels a lot like them, especially in the early going where finding resources and hunting down animals will make the difference between life and death. That said, the game does take it easy on you relative to the survival sim genre; supply caches are everywhere, resources are relatively abundant, and using ranged weapons like the bow isn’t as much of a task as it was in previous games. If you need more ammo, just find some wood and craft it, or pull it out of the enemies you just killed.
That said, despite stealth being necessary, at least for your initial attacks, it’s pleasantly a lot harder this time around thanks to the relative lack of range in your weapons. You can’t really crouch in a blind and just pick suckers off from 500 feet, you’ve got to get in there and get your hands dirty. Even though the game is generous with skill points and upgrades, sneaking around is going to be the smarter, not to mention more rewarding, strategy. While there’s nothing quite like the elaborate, nasty traps, because you lack explosives, sneaking up on your enemy and getting a carefully placed headshot has never been more fun. Or, you know, just killing them with a bear, which is if anything even funnier now that you can do it at will.
As for the story, it’s almost too simple, which is disappointing considering Far Cry 4‘s surprisingly thoughtful look at the ethical murk of civil war. But the game is entertainingly goofy enough and there’s enough to do that you’ll forgive it.
While it doesn’t lay on the collectibles or random events too thick, there’s enough here for twelve to fifteen hours of gameplay, especially if you get distracted by hunting down rare animals, clearing every outpost and lighting every bonfire, or finally showing that damn mammoth who’s boss once and for all.
For a major release from a major publisher, this game is surprisingly light on the DLC. So far, the only DLC announced is a pre-order bonus where you can play a handful of missions as a woolly mammoth. If you didn’t preorder, you won’t miss them.
Far Cry Primal is definitely an oddball game, and in some ways a bit limited compared to its predecessors. But it’s a surprising amount of fun, and a refreshing change of pace for the franchise. If you’re looking for an open-world game with a slightly different twist, this will be right up your cave.