A lot of things about Far Cry Primal are unconventional. For one, it was announced in October 2015, just three months ago, and it’s out next month. I didn’t realise games could do that. Secondly, Ubisoft has also taken the popular shooter series and… removed the shooting. Imagine if the next Call of Duty did that. They’ve also taken out the vehicles (including the series’ iconic hang glider), towers, effeminate villains, diamonds, money, flamethrowers, and Trigens. Then just for the final dollop of insanity, they’ve wound the clock back 12,016 years and cast the player as a caveman who can tame tigers. I don’t know what Ubisoft have been smoking, but I want some. We got 2-3 hours worth of hands-on with the current build of the game, so here’s some honest impressions.
The player character is Takkar, a Stone Age hunter from the Wenja tribe. The Wenja have fallen on hard times and you are part of group sent to find an offshoot of the tribe who left in search of their prophesied home of Oros. Takkar is the only survivor following a sabretooth tiger attack, and finds a Wenja woman called Sayla (who collects ears, nice lady) along with the land of Oros. Far from the heaven on Earth they expected, the Wenja have been pushed close to extinction in the valley thanks to two tribes - the fire-breathing Izila, and the cannibalistic Udam along with their psychotic leader Ull. It falls to Takkar to restore the Wenja tribe to their rightful place as rulers of Oros.
Now I’m going to be the first to admit that I was sceptical about Far Cry Primal. Taking the shooting and vehicles out and making an entire game based around Far Cry 4’s weakest sections - the Shangri-La missions and the animal hunting? I’m a huge fan of the Far Cry series going right back to Crytek’s original, and I even loved Far Cry 2, but this sounded like a major misstep akin to the total gameplay change of Command & Conquer 4. As such I was curious to get my hands-on the game, my teeth gritted in anticipation of a hideous experience.
Fortunately it wasn’t anything like that, and was instead a unique, compelling experience with just enough of the Far Cry feel to make it straightforward to play. I enjoyed my 3 hours with Primal a lot in fact, which is probably because it seems built for a very specific type of Far Cry player: me. Being more specific: a stealth-focused player who enjoys taking enemies out with the bow, sneaking up to them and silently dispatching them, or letting wild animals loose on them. Guns are fun but they’re a last resort and frankly I could do without them, and I prefer to either walk or Fast Travel everywhere rather than use vehicles. If you hit this category then get Primal back on your radar, because it’s made for you.
While it’s possible to run into an enemy camp and smack them all to death with Takkar’s club with mauling backup from his tamed lion, and indeed beyond the first sneaky killing that’s what I mostly did as my time was limited, Ubisoft clearly intend stealth to be the main way of taking out Udam warriors. Without guns, mounted turrets, vehicles and the like taking on a bunch of bloodthirsty cannibals single-handed is a good way to end up a meal. Stealth works similarly to how it does in the last few Far Cry games, with crouching, hiding in long grass, distracting enemies with rocks, picking off individuals with an arrow to the neck, and if all else fails lure something dangerous over with bait.
In terms of weaponry available to Takkar there are only a few options, as you’d expect from the Mesolithic era (that of course we all know about). There’s a club, a bow (plus arrows), spears that can be thrown or jabbed, and various forms of grenade-type objects that can be thrown including one filled with bees. There are several varieties of each, including a meaner club and a Long Bow, but the weapons don’t start to get interesting until you add fire (like most things). Every weapon can be set on fire at any time for less stealth but extra amusement. This is particularly good news because Far Cry’s already excellent fire systems seem even more impressive this time, with any small brush fire able to become a harrowing inferno in no time at all.
In Primal though Takkar’s most important tool isn’t a weapon, it’s his animal companions. Clearly inspired by the magical tiger in Far Cry 4’s Shangri-La missions, Takkar’s role as the tribe’s Beast Master (given to me by a strange shaman near the start of the game) changes the Far Cry formula up a lot. At last we get a companion to order around! There are 17 animals altogether to tame, which is done by simply luring a beast with bait and then holding the ‘Tame’ button. Of course doing it without getting your throat torn out beforehand is another matter.
You start off being able to tame basic dog and wolf types, then can upgrade throughout the game to the point where you can tame giant bears and sabretooth tigers. This beast can be ordered to go to and stay at a certain spot, attack a target, or just generally hang around with Takkar and attack things. Furthermore when the player crouches your pal also goes into stealth mode, which is handy. You can feed them meat to restore their health, and pet them because of course you can. The other ability Takkar has available to him is summoning an owl, which the player can then use to scout the area, tag enemies, and - after an upgrade - attack. All very useful and makes combat a million times more exciting.
Of course there are many other things that we can talk about. One of the possibly more contentious introductions is Hunter Vision, adding Batman Arkham Asylum’s Detective Vision to yet another open world game series. It is useful, particularly when it comes to tracking, although it is annoying that it doesn’t show enemies in a different colour. Crafting and character/weapon upgrades are back in full force, and all require various materials or village upgrades to complete. Oh yes, you can help build up the Wenja village too, and as you do so Takkar gains access to better personal upgrades. There’s also the slightly anachronistic Grappling Claw but I’ll let that pass as it’s awesome.
If there was one overriding problem with Far Cry 4 it was that it felt too much like a polished version of Far Cry 3. It was too “safe” a sequel. Far Cry Primal feels like a direct response to that criticism. They’ve ditched the guns, vehicles, language and in fact our entire era of history. While it’s still got a bit of the Far Cry feel to it Primal feels pretty unique and I really enjoyed my 2-3 hours with it. There are still questions about whether the relatively simple gameplay and goals will get repetitive or dull after a few hours, and with only two tribes to fight against if Primal will offer the same amount of gameplay as its numbered forbears or will it be a short entertaining spin-off like Blood Dragon. We’ll be able to answer these questions when our review of Far Cry Primal drops sometime around its release date of February 23rd, and we’re sharpening our flint axes in anticipation. In a good way.
Most Anticipated Feature: Controlling a Sabretooth Tiger. Gotta love ‘em.