If you didn’t notice, Ubisoft are beginning to worry about their major franchises stagnating. Assassin’s Creed is missing a year for the first time ever. Ghost Recon is going open-world. Rainbow Six has dropped the OTT Vegas stuff and gone back-to-basics. Rayman, Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell have buggered off. And Far Cry? After the last game was met with “Far Cry 3.5” accusations Ubisoft have gone a little cray-cray. They’ve moved the open-world FPS series back 12,000 years and removed guns, vehicles, radios, gliders, and most of the other trappings of the series. Awesome, but will it still feel like Far Cry?
As Takkar, a prehistoric man and member of the Wenja tribe, the player must take their first steps into the dangerous but bountiful Land of Oros. But there Takkar finds the Wenja scattered and under siege by two powerful other tribes - the cannibalistic Udam and fire-worshipping Izila. He must reunite the Wenja, lead them to defeat the two tribes and tame the savage land of Oros.
And that’s basically the entire story of Far Cry Primal in a nutshell. There are interesting wrinkles but otherwise it’s “save your people, take over the land”. If you’re looking for a decent story or any sort of twists then Primal is not where you should be looking. There are a few really fun characters at least, such as drug-using shaman Tensay and the utterly mad Urki the Thinker, and on the writing front I do appreciate that Ubisoft actually created their own primitive language for these Early Homo Sapiens to speak. Still, the most meaningful relationship I had in the game was with my tiger. More on that in a moment.
Tensay, Shaman and Drug Dealer.
In terms of game though this translates to a large open world filled with roaming animals of many types, hunting members of the Udam and Izila clans, completing rather simplistic missions, and building up your skills, inventory, and village. Many people, myself included, thought that Primal was going to be a short spin-off in the style of Blood Dragon. That’s not the case - it is indeed a full game with many hours worth of content, although how much you’ll do is up to you. There are plenty of missions, 15 Outposts, 16 Bonfires (for Fast Travel and map reveal purposes), and a hell of a lot of Pointless Collectables to find for the obsessive-compulsive Ubisoft player. Despite the setting and the lack of guns, vehicles, or any sort of trading Primal still plays a lot like Far Cry.
As per usual with Far Cry (including Crytek’s original) there are two main ways to approach every situation: assault and stealth. The fighting is the most different since we no longer have the ability to send hot lead across great distances to murder folks. Instead you’ll be relying on three simple weapons: clubs, bows, and spears. All can be upgraded and set on fire for extra mischief. Clubs come in one and two-handed varieties and can be thrown if necessary. Spears are best thrown but you can only carry a few. The Bow is available in Short or Long forms but the arrows are straight wooden ones. There are some silly traps and bee grenades but otherwise attack means either firing arrows, flinging spears or battering enemies until they fall down. It can be quite satisfying, but despite the different types of enemies to face (such as armoured Elites or Poison Gas Bomb throwers) fighting alone would get boring fast since it’s not particularly complex. Fortunately there’s more to do than just clubbing people and animals to death.
Come and join my CLUB.
In the absence of instant-death-murder-weapons stealth at first seems generally favourable. It’s still good, with the Bow as in previous games being made for stealth and the mechanics being much the same, but the sneaking simply isn’t as fun as it was in Far Cry 3 or 4. The reason for this is simple: clutter. There is just too much shit everywhere in places like Outposts and it’s all the same colour, so enemies are easily overlooked when you’re scouting before an attack. That’s not to mention the gaming world’s worst attempt at yet another copycat of Batman’s Detective Vision. “Hunter Vision” is awful: it only highlights things close by and colours everything the same shade of yellow. Enemies, friends, plants, rocks, animals, they all look the same in Hunter Vision. Just forget about it in combat.
Fortunately what you can rely on is your trusty pet badger. While there are many varieties of wildlife in Oros there are 17 types that can be tamed to accompany Takkar, such as wolves, tigers, lions, bears, and yes, badgers. These guys have been cleverly introduced into Far Cry, and I can’t imagine Primal without them. After taming they can be called whenever you like, commanded to attack enemies or go to places, go into stealth when you do, protect you and your fellow Wenja, and eventually even allow you to ride them. I didn’t realise that Early Man rode Sabretooth Tigers and Cave Bears before horses. The only downside is that after discovering riding you won’t want to walk anywhere and suddenly the game world becomes much smaller. The only flying animal in your menagerie is the owl, which can scout the area, find and mark threats, drop bombs, and even kill single enemies.
Faster Sabretooth! Kill! Kill!
With animals at your side Primal becomes more fun, which is good because without them the gameplay gets old after a few hours. Despite the caveman setting it’s still the same Far Cry template that’s been in use since Far Cry 3: take over Outposts, expand your map with Radio Towers/Bonfires, hunt, craft, upgrade, unlock, talk to interesting characters, have drug experiences, the lot. Frankly it’s getting tiring now, and if anything it’s worse in Primal since the majority of your time you’ll be collecting resources.
Hunting animals, grabbing rocks, pulling branches, even picking flowers… why? This is not the fun part of Far Cry or Primal, this is time wasting. But unlike the various collectables it’s an actual requirement for progression! I don’t mind the missions, the constant random encounters, the outposts, roaming gangs of Udam or vicious wildlife, these are the fun parts! I do not want to spend another moment in a Far Cry game finding and killing rhinos to make a nice bag, and yet when playing Primal I find myself thinking “I could take on that Udam fort, but I need 12 more South Rock Dust to upgrade Tensay’s hut so I better do that first”. As fun as Primal gets, it’s this stupid design mentality that drags it down and stops me wanting to complete the entire game.
Regarding how Far Cry Primal runs on PC, since with Ubisoft that’s a requisite: fortunately fine. I had a couple of crashes during my playthrough but these occurred immediately, whereas most other times I could play it for hours without any sort of problem. On my mid-range PC boasting an Intel i5-4670 CPU @ 3.40GHz (4 CPUs), 8Gb RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 with 2Gb RAM I managed to run Primal with most options set to Very High, and I didn’t notice any slowdown at all. The options have a pretty decent range too, with my only gripe there being that Music didn’t have a volume control (it’s On/Off). Top marks Ubisoft, if only all your games were this well optimized for PC. It was worth the extra week’s wait.
FAR CRY PRIMAL VERDICT
Far Cry Primal has far more in common with previous Far Cry games than it seems on the surface, to both its gain and detriment. The caveman setting is novel and the total absence of guns, vehicles and people shouting in your ear every ten minutes is refreshing. Combat is simple but fun, and once the game brings a tameable animal companion in then Primal becomes entertaining enough to last you many hours. Unfortunately stealth gameplay is more problematic as enemies blend into the environment and Hunter Vision is useless, but worse is that the constant need to hunt and gather resources takes up the majority of Primal’s play-time and isn’t fun at all. Primal isn’t a runaway success and the Far Cry formula needs to evolve (preferably involving Trigens or Blood Dragons), but it’s not quite extinct yet.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Watching your Sabretooth Tiger rip an Udam to pieces and seeing his lifeless corpse dangle in its mouth. Beautiful. Oh, and Urki the Thinker’s Assassin’s Creed-style leap of faith.
Unique setting and refreshing feel in this gun-centric gaming world.
Animal companions are loads of fun and bring the gameplay to life.
Stealth is far more difficult now and much less satisfying.
Seriously, stop forcing players to spend hours hunting for pointless resources Ubisoft. It's boring.