Far Cry Primal

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Ubisoft (Mon­treal) For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now


PC, PS4, Xbox One

Things were sur­pris­ingly ad­vanced in cen­tral Europe circa 10,000 BC. There were min­imaps and craft­ing recipes; fast travel and long-dis­tance de­liv­ery ser­vices. They may not have got around to in­vent­ing the wheel yet, but they’d got the grap­pling hook sussed, and had dot­ted the land­scape’s moun­tain­sides with handy grap­ple points, marked out by a crude draw­ing of an ea­gle on the rock­face at ground level below. And around it all was a land hand­ily par­celled up into the ex­act tem­plate of an Ubisoft open­world game: loot caches, col­lectibles, rest­ing points and count­less ques­tion-mark map icons de­signed to en­sure you’re never too far from some­thing to do.

All that may sound as if the pre­his­toric era is a jar­ring fit for Far Cry – and if you think about it too much, it cer­tainly is. But there’s plenty of ev­i­dence to the con­trary, too. Our go-to weapon in Far Cry 3 and 4 was the bow, hunt­ing lo­cal wildlife for craft­ing sup­plies. Ubisoft’s Du­nia 2 en­gine has won­der­ful fire-spread­ing tech­nol­ogy, and where once we watched as the flames spread across a Skrillex-sound­tracked drug field, here we marvel as a woolly rhino stam­pedes fire through a for­est af­ter it strayed a lit­tle too close to our flam­ing club. Mean­while, ne­an­derthal man’s fond­ness of spirit walks – and get­ting high on the mulched-up eye­balls of his en­e­mies, ap­par­ently – proves a fine ve­hi­cle for the now-stan­dard drug-trip mis­sions.

Ubisoft has thrived on hav­ing a rather loose grasp of his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy, and in that con­text it’s fair enough that we look past Far Cry Primal’s lib­er­ties with the source ma­te­rial. Be­sides, there is a more press­ing con­cern, a fun­da­men­tal is­sue with the very con­cept of set­ting a Far Cry game this far back in his­tory. De­spite the sur­pris­ing tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tions the Winja tribe have made, and the fa­mil­iar cho­sen-one setup that fames pro­tag­o­nist Takkar as the man who can save his clan from ex­tinc­tion, Far Cry Primal never makes you feel par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful, and as such isn’t much fun.

The seeds of a de­cent sur­vival game are here, though the se­ries’ re­cently es­tab­lished com­mit­ment to make you feel like an all-pow­er­ful, bor­der­line psy­chotic badass means Ubisoft stops short of putting you at the mercy of your sur­round­ings. You hunt, scav­enge and gather up plants and ma­te­ri­als, but there’s no need to sus­tain your­self in an era where sus­te­nance was the endgame of ev­ery­thing. In­stead you’re sat­is­fy­ing a check­list of ar­bi­trary cri­te­ria – the ma­te­ri­als needed to craft an ex­tra spear, a big­ger quiver, or an upgrade for the Winja set­tle­ment. Ar­riv­ing in the frozen north, we’re warned that pro­longed ex­po­sure to the cold will see us freeze to death, an icy blue me­ter tick­ing down to our demise. You feel im­me­di­ately threat­ened, though it quickly evap­o­rates when you re­alise that any source of flame will warm you up in sec­onds. Campfires are gen­er­ously placed, road­side torches are ev­ery­where, and if you’re re­ally in a pinch you can sim­ply set a club, ar­row or spear on fire and keep your­self warm while you move. Bleed­ing? Just eat some meat and a leaf – you’ll be fine. And while early on you’re at the mercy of the lo­cal wildlife, be­fore long all but the big­gest beasts of the mesolithic era will flee the se­cond they see you.

Where Far Cry 3 and 4 sought to put all the power in the pro­tag­o­nist’s hands, Primal sur­rounds him with it in­stead, since Takkar is able to tame an in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful suc­ces­sion of an­i­mals. At first, you’ll have a white wolf at your side; later, you might grad­u­ate to a cave lion or brown bear. All can be brought un­der your con­trol by sim­ply stay­ing out of sight, lur­ing them close with some bait, then press­ing a but­ton while they chow down. More pow­er­ful al­lies of­fer perks – au­to­mat­i­cally tag­ging nearby en­e­mies, skin­ning and loot­ing corpses, and, in one es­pe­cially odd case, grant­ing im­mu­nity to fire. Each can be sent off to at­tack spe­cific tar­gets, and some can even be rid­den into bat­tle. A hand­ful of high­level hunt­ing mis­sions – in­volv­ing The Witcher III- style scent-track­ing and trap lay­ing – yield the most pow­er­ful beasts, and once we get our ne­an­derthal hands on the Blood­fang sabre­tooth tiger, we don’t look back, since only the big­gest en­e­mies put up a fight against it.

Then there’s the owl, which plays the role of the pre­vi­ous games’ cam­era. Off it goes, sur­vey­ing the ground below, per­ma­nently mark­ing on your min­imap the lo­ca­tion and type of en­e­mies in the vicin­ity. Spend a few skill points and it will gain the abil­ity to swoop down and kill a sin­gle tar­get; later, kills be­come even eas­ier. It may seem churl­ish to com­plain about not feel­ing pow­er­ful enough in a game where your tac­ti­cal owl can drop bombs full of bees, but when that and a one-but­ton tiger kill are the most ef­fec­tive tools in your arse­nal, you’ve got a bit of a prob­lem. We empty out one snowy fort by hun­ker­ing down next to a fire, wait­ing out the cooldown be­tween owl as­sas­i­na­tions, and send­ing the tiger af­ter any­one that comes to in­ves­ti­gate, be­fore head­ing in to mop up the strag­glers and put the boss to the spear.

While the prim­i­tive tools in your arse­nal can be up­graded over time, the en­emy threat scales in kind, so you never quite feel like the all-pow­er­ful war­rior the story por­trays you as. It’s dread­fully po-faced stuff, too, with none of the like­able lev­ity of its pre­de­ces­sors. That’s a nat­u­ral con­se­quence of the set­ting, per­haps, but the re­sult is a game that falls awk­wardly be­tween two stools – a sur­vival game where your sur­vival is never re­ally in ques­tion, and a power-fan­tasy play­ground where you’re never made to feel es­pe­cially pow­er­ful. The Winja may treat you like a king on your re­turn, but the ac­claim rings rather hol­low. If you’re go­ing to put a crown on any of us, it’s prob­a­bly the owl that de­serves it the most.

We empty out one snowy fort by hun­ker­ing down next to a fire, wait­ing out the cooldown be­tween owl as­sas­i­na­tions

SET­TLE DOWN In the far west cor­ner of the map is the Winja vil­lage, which starts out with a pop­u­la­tion of two – Takkar and fe­male hunter Sayla – but in­creases as you com­plete story mis­sions and sid­e­quests. As the pop­u­la­tion grows and the set­tle­ment ex­pands, more abil­i­ties and up­grades be­come avail­able, and you’ll even bring a few van­quished en­e­mies back to pass on ri­val tribes’ knowl­edge – to the oc­ca­sional cha­grin of the lo­cals. As a way of con­vey­ing the progress of your one-man mis­sion to save the Winja from ex­tinc­tion, it’s fair enough, but de­spite your grow­ing num­ber it’ll only ever be you and your bes­tiary do­ing the dirty work. A few tooled-up vil­lagers would make fortress as­saults a lit­tle more in­ter­est­ing.

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