Far Cry Primal
Is Ubisoft’s Stone Age jaunt prehistoric in the right ways?
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Warning! The owl is returning and will arrive in 35 seconds.” As ominous threats go, this is up there with Darius’s “A huge boss is approaching fast.” In Primal it’s no reason to panic, heralding instead the return of a feathery ally you deploy to scout out camps or rain down wasp nests on rival tribes. It is, in many ways, a more colourful take on Far Cry’s tactical camera; an evolution triggered by a de-evolution – the decision to relocate the series to 10,000BC. The owl is Takkar’s, a tribesman separated from his hunting party and forced to eke out a new life in Oros, a vast glacial valley.
The setting is such a, well, far cry from the military regimes of the recent games that you might wonder why bother tying Primal to the series. It doesn’t take long to fall into established rhythms, however, as Takkar maps the expanse by claiming enemy camps, then clears those revealed acres of collectibles, tribal bounties and rare prey. The returning interface is so invasively modern – all enemy markers and waypoint distances – that it feels like it might all be a ruse, a kind of caveman Westworld where sales execs in warpaint lob spears at the dweebs from accounting. Given
Far Cry’s love of the mid-game gear shift, such an outcome wouldn’t be too surprising.
In the meantime, we embrace the fantasy, which means working with the limitations of the period – a bow letting you thin the crowd from afar before your club and spear pull you into grisly close-quarters combat. Takkar is more of a blunt instrument than his modern counterparts which, while it feels authentic, could prove one-note over an entire game. Melee combat would benefit from blocks and counters, or at least some of the awkward heft that brought the firstperson fisticuffs of Condemned or Zeno Clash’s to life. As it is, fights are clumsy and flat, almost a punishment for fluffing a stealthier approach.
Fire adds a strategic hook and finds a more relevant application for the dynamic infernos that Ubisoft’s Dunia engine is known for. The way tiny sparks can be spread on the wind, fanning a smouldering shrub into a full forest fire, has more offensive potential in a period where most defences are wooden and encounters unfold in waist-high grass. Weapons can be set alight to add extra oomph, but the results are unhelpfully unpredictable – torching a woolly mammoth was ill-advised; as it pursued us, it ignited any cover we cowered behind. Fire is also said to factor into new survivalist elements, helping ward off the cold at higher altitudes and offering a place to recuperate when carnivores come out at night.
For all Ubisoft Montreal’s efforts to capture the spirit of the age, Primal is most successful when it abandons history for daft fantasy. As a beastmaster, Takkar can enlist animals to fight by his side by offering them a lump of meat and a scratch under the chin. Once tamed, the animals behave much like Fallout 4’ s Dogmeat, attacking targets you point out. But where he was an emaciated mongrel, here you’re ordering cave bears into the fray. Any animal you’ve previously tamed can be recalled into battle, reminding us of GTAIV’s friends minus the pool-hall invitations. As we set our wolf on an enemy’s throat only for it to attract the ire of a passing cave bear, we finally forget about Takkar’s combat limitations – Mother Nature trumps an AK-47 every time.
Taking Far Cry back to a time of primitive survival would seem quite daring had the series not already ransacked the practices of the past in its modern iterations. Having already forgone guns for neck-stabbing stealth, and crafted endless gear from herbs and animal parts, has Far Cry’s ancestor got any more to teach us? Perhaps the owl has the answer.
Torching a woolly mammoth was ill-advised – it ignited any cover we cowered behind