Since time immemorial, mankind has pondered its own existence. Where did we come from? How did we get here? Why do men have nipples? To answer at least two of these questions, paleontologists (and apparently now Ubisoft) have studied our evolutionary beginnings. Our ancestors. In laymen’s terms – cavemen.
Far Cry Primal is the latest entry in the long running FPS franchise, and is the first to take a proper departure from the series’ origins (not counting the super-neon Blood Dragon, since that was classed as an expansion to Far Cry 3). Primal is less first person shooter, more first person spearman. If you’re a fan of Far Cry games then Primal is going to be right up your alley, as it’s the typical open-world adventure fare with plenty of levelling-up, upgrades, and hammy acting to boot.
The game takes a swift leap back from the main series, with its 10,000BC setting in the mysterious land of Oros. You play as Takkar – a hunter who is the last of his tribe trying to unite the dwindling Wenja into something worth talking about. Naturally, it’s not going to be that easy. He’s got stiff competition from the cannibalistic Udam tribe let by the barbaric Ull, and the fire-mad Izila tribe who both fancy claiming ownership of Oros.
Oros itself is undeniably breathtaking. Walking through the lush, green undergrowth as bronze sunbeams dapple through the trees is an absolute joy. The team have done an amazing job of creating something that really feels like an ancient world – and one where humans are not yet top of the food chain.
Naturally, since there are no guns and evil rebel groups to combat, Primal turns to mankind’s original predators for a killing good time. Wolves, saber-toothed tigers, bears, eagles and wild dogs all spring out at you as you go about your caveman-y business. Combat is exactly what you’d expect from something with the pre-historic backdrop – clubs, spears, bow and arrows – which all feel decently weighty in your hands, even if their usefulness feels a little underwhelming.
Weapons must be crafted from the world around you by collecting up various sticks and stones to break bones. You can find everything you need by using your hunter-vision which shows up pretty much everything of note in an obvious, yellow or red hue. It’s a nice little touch that keeps in check with the theme, if a little annoying when you have to travel half-way across the sizeable map to pick up a specific rock for your new spear.
For a game based on melee combat (there are no guns after all) the combat feels decidedly average. You flail your club/ spear/ bigger club/ better spear at an enemy until they’re dead with no decent hit connection or sense of bad-assery. The long range weapons are definitely more fun to wield, but when a jaguar is up close mauling your face off, the last thing you want is to be trying to pull off a carefully placed headshots.
Outside of combat, Oros is brought to life by your fledgling Wenja tribe who go about their daily business. As you progress through the story, you’ll grow your village and base of operations, adding more and more people to the tribe. It’s quite fun to take a few moments to look around and see the sights of village life – kids play in the mud, tribesmen beat logs as crude drums and I even saw one cavewoman taking a massive dump behind a tree. Immersion.
Speaking of immersion, the game’s story is far too shallow – even by Far Cry standards. If you were expecting a badass caveman Vaas to square off against then you will be bitterly disappointed. The leaders of the rival tribes – Ull and Batila – are reasonably evil but you’ll end up feeling lukewarm toward them and their antics. It’s cut-and-paste stuff that takes a serious back seat to the game’s setting, and the fact that it took three people to write it is kind of embarrassing.
As mentioned, Far Cry games can usually be forgiven for their piss-poor story lines with engaging gameplay, and this is something that Primal offsets quite well. There’s plenty to do in Oros as you track and kill wild animals, capture outposts (yes, somehow there are still outposts in here) and find yourself animal buddies to tame.
Once you’ve captured yourself a furry companion they can be used to attack enemies and, after you unlock the upgrade, ride into battle like a majestic, pre-historic god. Yes, you can ride bears and saber-tooth tigers which is genuinely as cool as it sounds.
Outside of the story missions, there’s probably enough to keep the completionists busy for a good 6 hours or so, but you won’t likely feel the need to re-visit Oros once everything is done and dusted, though there is the option to reset all outposts to hostile if you want to shake things up a bit.
Far Cry Primal is a curious beast; despite its woeful story and poor combat, there’s still more than enough to have fun with. The novelty does wear thin but the foundations are solid enough that it almost doesn’t matter. What it really comes down to, is whether or not you enjoy Far Cry games. If you do, you’ll probably love Primal enough to keep you ticking over until Far Cry 5 inevitably launches in the next couple of years. If you don’t, then you might surprise yourself with this brief departure into the unknown.