Many would think taking a franchise known for its first-person shooting mayhem and stripping it of all guns, modern weapons, and recognizable language is a bad idea. However, Far Cry has established its entertainment and appeal through its constant man against nature conflict. While Call of Duty, Battlefield, and many other modern games pride themselves on precise and captivating gunplay, Far Cry has always been able to provide engaging environments, enemies, and experiences that go beyond the shooting and into the action of an open and unforgiving world. Far Cry Primal’s world just happens to be set in 10,000 B.C.E., where tigers and bears dominate the food chain and you have nothing but a stone club and the discovery of fire to light your path. Good luck.
What Far Cry Primal lacks in traditional first-person shooter mechanics, it makes up for in its beautiful scenery, rewarding combat, diverse and intriguing wildlife and an immersive feeling of both lowliness yet powerful potential through its progressive skill system and the simple native language of the story’s tribes. Don’t worry, subtitles will help you understand everything being said—if the body language and intonation doesn’t clue you in first. Furthermore, the plot and character development is actually quite thin. Some may view this as a negative, but the focus of Far Cry Primal is your own personal journey to rise to the top of the food chain and expand your tribe, and that narrative is best communicated in the gameplay and how you reflect on your own accomplishments. The memorable moments come from what you do, how you do it and the stories you make for yourself. Fortunately, Far Cry Primal sets a brutal playground for you to have fun with, and it would be a shame to pass on such an enjoyable ride.
You are Takkar, a leader of a broken tribe, the Wenja. If you are not too fond of his name, his beard, or “mammoth feet,” you don’t need to worry—most of Takkar is left ambiguous and the details of him are relatively redundant. Once again, a lack of a solid protagonist may come as a disappointment to some—but in a game like Far Cry Primal that excels in immersion and crafting your own story it is refreshing to have a blank avatar for you to invest yourself in.
In the past, Far Cry’s harsh locales have been personified in the game’s central antagonist. In Far Cry Primal you are at odds against other tribes, with no real nemesis in the forefront serving as your ultimate enemy. Pagan Min would taunt and tease on the Kyrat radio broadcasts in Far Cry 4, and then there is the memorable performance of the twisted villain, Vaas, in Far Cry 3, but Far Cry Primal doesn’t have that. This is a disappointment, as these bad guys compliment the despair and evil of the culture you find yourself dropped into in a Far Cry game. While a wasted opportunity, it does boost the threat and fear the player has for vicious animals such as charging mammoths and fierce sabertooth tigers. Perhaps Ubisoft intended nature, and the beasts that inhabit it, to be the true villain here.
Playing With Fire
Oros is controlled by two opposing tribes, the Izila and Udam. Takkar’s mission? Clear a path through the fields of flowing grass, towering trees, and frigid tundras to claim each and every outpost, cave, and bonfire for the Wenja. This can be done with a sharp stone club, a blazing arrow or a well placed spear that eliminates foes with a mighty piercing blow. If violence isn’t your forte, you can tame beasts as you expand your territory. These newly established allies can defend you or go on the offensive to, well, resort to violence. Taming animals serves as a new and intuitive gameplay hook in the Far Cry series that is surprisingly enthralling and practical.
As you conquer key points on the map, you settle new villages and homes for an escalating community of Wenja people. Not only do you see a noticeable shift on the map as enemy forces repel east, but you also receive perks as tribe members gather resources and offer shelter, making it easier to craft, progress, and conquer. It is an ongoing loop that doesn’t grow old thanks to simple yet significant changes to your arsenal and capabilities – such as gaining the ability to pull a beehive down from a tree and use it as a bomb of sorts. Before you know it, you’re sending a sabertooth tiger to silently take out an Udam guard while you quietly set fire to an encampment with well placed arrows. What could go wrong?
There are exceptions to Primal’s lackluster campaign. The supporting characters are lovable and eccentric, although they only appear briefly and then load you up with skill points and send you on your way to—you guessed it—kill, destroy, and triumph everything that doesn’t already belong to the Wenja. Ubisoft created characters and then failed to tap into their true potential and it is hard to understand why. Perhaps the intricate study of this prehistoric language and finding the vocal talent to portray such a dialect with fluency and real emotion put a strain on the writing process and freedom – thus limiting their dialogue and campaign presence.
That theory is supported by Ubisoft’s attention to detail in every other aspect of the game, specifically the character design. The contending tribes and their combination of animation and clothing depiction is nothing short of impeccable – offering a provocative and believable portrayal of primitive societies. The construction of these character models is so distinguished that it becomes very clear whom to discern as friend or foe. Those refined reflexes help produce epic confrontations as you recognize an enemy by the color of their garments before your in-game radar can alert you of danger.
Ubisoft also composed a delightful soundtrack with Far Cry Primal, opting for an earthly ambience embellished with the tunes of critters and birds that fill the world around you. There is a serenity and involvement in the gentle sound of a steady stream as you pass by a river, or a harsh hiss of a rattlesnake as you wander alone through a grove brimming with resources to harvest for your armory. These audio cues both relax and intensify your gameplay experience in the best way possible, preparing you for either tranquil travel or impending warfare.
If you don’t tend to side-track, the main campaign of Primal could last you about 20 hours, give or take. That being said, Primal is not a game to power through. There are secrets to discover, caverns to explore, and always one more objective to be done. It is a game that has the content available to you, you just have to do some work for it. If that isn’t what you’re looking for, Far Cry Primal doesn’t do much to offer thought-provoking twists, turns, dramatic scenes or deep historical/story-telling value. Although there are a few chuckles thrown in, it’s all pretty cut and dry.
There hasn’t been a game that captures the beauty of nature like Far Cry Primal does since The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in 2011. Back then, Bethesda wowed a generation of gamers with extraordinary and widespread vistas that ached of rexpedition and adventure. Unfortunately, Far Cry Primal bestows the barbarous and elegant state of our world 10,000 years ago but fails to give us a cast of characters to relate to – which makes the whole package seem rather empty and comparatively lifeless to the aforementioned Skyrim. A high level of fable and fantasy has become an industry standard, and for an action-adventure game to be deprived of such an expectancy is a serious hindrance to an excellently crafted game. For those who can look beyond that shortcoming can relish in an open terrain ripe for pandemonium and prehistoric fun.