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

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