I feel like it is fairly safe to say that, as far as innovative gaming ideas go, the Ubisoft employee who came up with the concept of an open-world, 1st person action and adventure title that does not feature a single gun deserves at the very least a pat on the back. Their previous offering, Far Cry 4, was so inundated with terrifying weaponry that one could not help but drop all sense of moderation, taking to the skies in a gyrocopter with a portable grenade launcher in hand, reigning fear and explosive shells down on the picturesque villages of Kyrat. Because after all, what fun would a modern game be without the ability to rip through enemy soldiers with some form of belt-fed monstrosity?
Far Cry Primal was designed to be the answer to that question, I suspect, and whilst I was certainly drawn in by the beautiful trailers and potential for some genuine, Stone Age marksmanship, I find myself, after a week of solid play, having to report some bad news. The game was released a little over one year after its predecessor, and it shows.
There are certainly some worthwhile changes to the standard Far Cry repertoire: the ability to construct and expand a village of fellow Neanderthals, for example, is a step in the direction that seems to be the future for open-world gaming, and a welcome one at that. The hunter-gatherer features that allow for the construction of a remarkably wide array of ‘sticks-with-things-attached’ (weapons, yes, but also traps and the primeval equivalent of the stun grenade and grappling hook) are equally satisfying, especially if you are the kind of hoarding gamer that insists on grabbing every last item.
To compensate for the lack of heavier weaponry, moreover, the player has the ability to tame a host of predators, who serve as invaluable personal bodyguards; a few of them even act as an adequate mode of transport, once the respective skills have been unlocked (skill points are earned with each level gained, as with Far Cry 4). I would also like to say that whilst the combat is slightly simplistic, it is still great fun, and I mean heck, it is 10,000 BC. Spear-throwing is the most fun you’ll ever have this side of the primordial sludge.
From a gameplay perspective, then, Primal cannot be faulted. But what about the storyline? Far Cry has a reputation for immersive plots that overflow with psychotic villains and trips into the subconscious, and so my hopes were certainly high. Sadly, however, this is where the first few cracks in the façade begin to show. A lack of substantial dialogue – not the fault of the developers, I know, but rather a drawback of the Neolithic period – paves the way however unintentionally for a resultant lack of the usual memorable moments that litter the series.
Redeeming features? The various other cave-men and women that you meet throughout the game are all certifiably crazy, which is refreshing insofar as you’re kept fairly constantly on your toes. You can never be sure when you might be shot at by an intimidating hunter-lady or peed on by a one-armed maniac.
Aside from cutscenes, the game barely has any dialogue. But your own character, Takkar, is no less charismatic for what he lacks in conversation, which does make for some humorous encounters with the other inhabitants of Oros. On the whole, though, I found myself struggling to cope with the lack of definite articles and similarly primitive plotline.
Your daily dose of hallucinogen.
You’d expect me at this point to launch into a rambling exaltation of the game’s graphics. And don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful. From the individual branches of a pine tree swaying in the breeze to the snow that dusts your feline companion’s back, the Dunia (2) engine excels in any and all of its tasks. However. Those of you who are familiar with Far Cry 4, as I am, will feel a slight twinge of déjà-vu: this is because you really have already seen a significant amount of the material used.
I’m a big fan of the phrase, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but Primal takes a little it too literally: after mere moments of playing, I realised that the fauna, if not the flora, that comprises the game is almost identical to that of its predecessor, albeit occasionally more hairy. I mean come on. The very same Dhole that was such a common sight in Kyrat has been copy-pasted into Oros, without so much as a rename; a similar story can be told of the rest of the abundant Far Cry wildlife, with the exception of the 2 animals that are depicted in the cover art. I was left with a slightly sour taste in my mouth every time I noticed an animal that clearly didn’t belong in the Stone Age, and whilst it may not affect many of you I felt a tad hard done by, especially with the previous game quite so fresh in my mind.
Bambi? Is that you?
The newest installment in the Far Cry series is, to find some sort of conclusion, great fun in small doses. Play for the sheer joy of sprinting through a primeval forest on the back of a sabretooth tiger, or for the satisfaction of seeing your flaming arrow find its mark; look too deeply, however, and you will notice that the game runs out of steam just before it reaches its full potential. I cannot say whether this is evidence of a title rushed off the production line, but I will say this: if you can ignore the occasional cut corner, you’ll soon find yourself rushing headfirst into a group of bad guys, club at the ready, wailing like a caveman possessed.