Title: Far Cry Primal
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: February 23rd, 2016
Platform: Playstation 4
Time Played: 50 Hours
Concept and Execution:
Far Cry Primal is the fifth installment to the Far Cry series. This time instead of a tropical island full of dangerous predators and hundreds of natives trying to kill you just for being you, we venture back in time to the Stone Age—10,000 B.C.E. to be exact. Developer Ubisoft takes us to central Europe to show us what it was like to be early man. Far Cry Primal starts with a short narration spoken in a language created for the game, that is subtitled in English. You play as Takkar (a tribesman of the Wenja) a nomadic hunter who is searching for the legendary land of Oros. Oros is the ancient hunting ground of his people, and finding it will bring great prosperity to him and his band of brothers. Too bad everyone but Takkar gets killed in a mammoth hunting accident. A Sabertooth tiger shows up, rips everyone apart, and knocks you off a cliff. Suddenly alone, you are left to find Oros by yourself. Luckily, the legendary land just so happens to be through a cave down the cliff you were knocked off of. You might have lost everyone you love, but now you can at least revel in the splendors that this bountiful land provides.
Much like the previous Far Cry games, you are a relatively unstoppable killing machine who has to save X from Y. In this iteration Sayla “The Gatherer,” whom you save from the same Sabertooth tiger that knocked you off a cliff, tells you that the Wenja in Oros are in danger. The tribe was scattered and many killed (then eaten) by an invading tribe known as the Udam. The very paradise you set out to find is now an arena of blood and it’s up to you to save the day. To do so you’ll have to go and track down specialists who can give you access to new benefits and weapons, hunt down each animal and it’s rare counterpart multiple times to upgrade your base and weapons, and master a variety of skills, of which you’ll probably use only a few. Quickly the nuances of the game will grow repetitive and dull in moments such as skinning your tenth Rare Black Jaguar™. There are 37 different animals to choose from for your hunts, and most of them are more than eager to kill you back. One of the new features added to Far Cry Primal lets the main character Takkar tame up to 17 “unique” animals to aid him in combat, granting him the title “Beast Master”. While this list covers the primary groups like dog, cat, and bear, you’re also outfitted with the rare or in some cases super rare versions of the base animal. The Bloodfang Sabertooth is not only the strongest companion in the game, but also can be tamed very early on, which raises the question, “Why would I use anything else?”
You quickly being to suspect that there is a reason why the Wenja people were so easily uprooted from their paradise: the fun in the sun must have made them so utterly helpless that they were easy pickings for the Udam. Every two minutes in the game I was sidetracked from my current goal to help another Wenja. Random “Wenja Events” were constantly popping up every 50 steps, indicating another Wenja who found himself on hard times. Most of these issues were resolved in under a minute, and I then had to backtrack to my original path and continue on my adventure, only to be interrupted again by another Wenja in distress. To mix things up, every minute in the game you are attacked by a wild animal. While most were easily dispatched and skinned, I found myself cursing everything avian when an Eagle decided to ruin my day. These giant birds attacked unprovoked and were incredibly difficult to hit. They would circle overhead until the time was right for them to drop down and peck at your face. The same enemies could sometimes be seen carrying away goats for no particular reason, other than to drop them from a high distance.
With an overwhelming amount of repetitive tasks to complete, Far Cry Primal is bogged down with too many unimportant side tasks. While the main story quests tend to be interesting, they are few and far between the burden of saving everyone.
Concept and Execution Score: 10/25
Fortunately, saving all those Wenja lives does have some payoff. The more missions you complete, and the more random Wenja you save, the larger your village grows. There is a day and night cycle in Far Cry Primal that dictates a number of the game’s mechanics. Every new day, you receive daily rewards from the tribespeople in your village. These can range from easy to find but useful items like Hardwood, or difficult to obtain and extremely beneficial items like the pelt of a Rare Two-Horned Rhino. Anything Takkar can find the Wenja can find. This system makes crafting items and upgrading your village much easier, but undermines the value of some of the harder-to-obtain items. The same villager that was a day ago the prisoner of two Udam managed to track down and kill a Rare Two-Horned Rhino? Seems like a bit of a stretch. The night half of the solar cycle increases the difficulty of the game. More animals are present at night, and the darkness makes visibility a lot worse. Fire becomes your best friend at night as most animals fear it, and your sight isn’t quite as hindered. Rarer animals are seen throughout the night so hunting in the dark hours is more beneficial. Players can find bedding located at every waypoint in the game, which they can be used to fast forward time to just before night, or just after the sun rises.
Far Cry Primal has a relatively straight-forward combat system. Clubs are used in melee combat to hit multiple foes with wide sweeping arcs and heavy damage, or thrown at enemies to stun them – prompting a quick takedown ability. You could also just sit back and send in your Bloodfang Sabertooth to take your target out. Bows are excellent medium-to-long range weapons that eliminate foes with one well placed shot. Alternatively the Bloodfang Sabertooth can run down and dispatch the enemy without wasting arrows. My personal favorite weapon, the spear, is exactly what you’d expect it to be. The long weapon holds its own as a melee weapon, but also doubles as a strong short-to-medium range projectile. The Bloodfang Sabertooth makes quick work of enemies no matter the distance they are from Takkar. You’re also given a few gadgets like the Sting Bomb, a bees nest coated in an explosive compound that bursts open on contact. While the Bloodfang Sabertooth may not be able to sting your enemies to death, its razor sharp claws and massive teeth are more than enough to handle most foes. Are you sensing a theme here? As mentioned earlier, the Sabertooth definitely devalues a lot of the other pets, and even weapons.
Any of the innovation that the weapons may hold are trumped by how easy it is to tame an animal and use it to kill your opponents. There are no penalties to using the animal, and even if they die there’s no real penalty to you. To tame a wild beast, chuck a hunk of meat at it and tell it to shut up until it is your unquestioning ally. From that moment on you and nameless animal are inseparable, unless you tell it to return to your inventory. Most fights cause some damage to the beast, which it will either naturally heal by eating fresh kills, or you can lob some meat at it and make it feel better. If your poor furry friend does manage to die, a few of the easily gatherable red leaf item and it’s back to fighting perfection. If you’re somehow running low on the red stuff, just find another animal of the same variety and tame that. There are times where you may be forced to use a weapon, such as when an enemy is standing atop a cliff just begging to be fired upon by your barely used bow, or if the mission restricts the use of your animal. However, these instances are few and far between, making the animal companion the weapon of choice in this game.
Far Cry Primal functions well and I never feel like my inputs are slow or mistimed. While the weapons are cool and feel dynamic, the animal companions are just so overwhelmingly powerful that there’s little reason to not rely almost solely upon them.
Mechanics Score: 20/25
The land of Oros is home to many scenic views and many more deadly enemies. Aside from the jungle-like regions that make up most of Oros, the northern portion is drastically colder and mountainous. Survival there requires the crafting of winter clothes and the use of fire. North Oros is home to new resources like the appropriately named North Cedar and North Stone. Travelling in the tundra you can, perhaps surprisingly, find all of the same animals as in the warmer climates, but with the added benefit of more Mammoths. There are slight differences, but the average player most likely wouldn’t see these new resources and say, “Oh, wow, what is that?” One might realize that the flavor text was slightly different than before, and upon further inspection realize that this wood is slightly browner than its southern counterpart, but overall there is not much contrast. There is a wide variety of local flora scattered around Oros, but they all get clumped together as either Red, Blue, Green, Purple, Violet, or Yellow Leaf. The plants are used for healing wounds, curing ailments, and get rid of your boo-boos. The stones you can gather come in exciting varieties of gray and black. The rocks are used for crafting buildings and weapons. Each of these gathered resources also have a rare version that can only be distinguished by the Shiny-Pokemon-esque sparkles shooting from it. With such a lush, tropical environment, one would hope for a more interesting palette of gathering materials that stand out and feel necessary to gather rather than mandatory.
There isn’t an ambient overworld soundtrack, but in my opinion, that is to the game’s credit: it would take away from the natural, feral feel of the game. Instead the player is serenaded by the sounds of the vicious wildlife and neighboring tribespeople. These serve not just as atmosphere, but as a cautionary element to help you from accidentally stumbling into mortal peril. When one does engage in combat, an intense song starts up to alert you that Takkar has been spotted. During the start and completion of a mission one hears the elated voices of what one can assume are fellow Wenja and the beating of a drum. Personally this took away from my immersion as I was unable to move and everything in the world stopped as the mission name flashed on screen.
Takkar also has access to a bird eye’s view of Oros, with the help of the very first beast he trained: an owl. Unfortunately, from the air Oros looks exactly the same but with the added obscurement of treetops. As the owl, the player is limited to exploring in an area close to Takkar, and a red text will remind you anytime you might be straying too far away. While it would be amazing to fly through the clouds and scout out a few things around Oros, the player is limited to just a small square patch.
As you log more hours into the game, the jungles of Oros blend into the background, and the snowy terrain into the north just white nothingness. I found myself focusing more on the minimap to tell me what goodies might be nearby to snag up, and where the baddies who were trying to kill me were. After a while, the sounds of the animals all blend together, textures begin to become unremarkable, and one might mistake a Yak for a rock like I did. Running around in a jungle or tundra for hours on end with little indication of where you are without backtracking to the same waypoints or constantly stopping to look at the map feels tedious, and adds to the monotony of Far Cry Primal.
Atmosphere Score: 15/25
The most redeeming factor about Far Cry Primal is the named NPCs you meet through both the Wenja and of the other tribes. Takkar’s crew consists of: Tensay a crazed Shaman found in a cave, Wogah the Crafter who lovingly calls Takkar “Piss Man” after drenching him with the liquid during their first meeting, Jayma the Hunter who dislikes Takkar at first calling him “Mammoth Feet” believing he is unfit to call himself hunter, Karoosh the Warrior who instantly befriends Takkar as they withstand a massive ambush of Udam warriors.
Tensay, the wolf Shaman, is by far the best of the characters you meet in Oros. Tensay not only serves as a pseudo-narrator, telling the player the story of Takkar as a lead-in to Far Cry Primal, but he is also one of the major quest givers throughout the game. The Shaman is seen caring for the Wenja people after they were brought back to the village. He Also creates blood-based cocktails that cause those brave enough to imbibe the concoction a vision. Takkar is just mad enough to drink these mixtures and as a result learns many things: He learns how to tame the beasts of Oros, the history of the cannibal tribe Udam, the story of the Izila (a new tribe invading Oros, that burn everything in their path), and even the plight of the Mammoths as his spirit takes the form of one for various side missions.
While most of the Wenja NPCs are vengeful against the Udam and their monstrous leader Ull, Tensay focuses on the Izila: their leader Batari, once was Tensay’s captor, and burned so much of his body he no longer feels the pain of fire. These characters are so well-developed and-designed, that even though they are speaking another language, I can understand and easily interpret their emotions and body language. Unfortunately, Takkar is as fun as a playing with a tongue depressor, save for a few moments of uncharacterized humorous actions.
While there are hours upon hours of gameplay to be sunk into Far Cry Primal the game can easily be described with the adage, “Same crap, different pile” – or, to be more specific – “Same crap, bigger animal.” For each new named NPC you talk into to joining you at the Wenja village you must build a hut, and then a bigger hut to get access to new weapons and abilities. This requires you to track down certain animals and natural resources, unless you already have the specific material. Once you’ve built a structure for your new friend, you gain access to new weapons, abilities, and upgrades…, which requires you to go and track down another set of animals and resources.
While the named NPCs do give you some pretty interesting quests (normally involving the other tribes) after a time even those grow redundant. In both the Udam and Izila quest lines I was captured by their leader and left for dead, only to fight my way out of the prison. Some of the cooler quests, like taking on the persona of the Krati (the warrior God that the Izila feared) were captivating. Getting to blow up the moon with my arrows (that summoned meteors!) during a vision was awesome, and like the other satisfying missions was over far too soon. After the destruction of the Moon, the mission ended with Tensay and Takkar talking about the vision for a moment only to bring up the need for Takkar to find a Krati mask in a future mission. Your power trip ends there, and the deeds are barely referenced again from that point on. For every fun quest that lets you show off the skills of the Beastmaster, there are at least two where your prowess is required to help the mostly-pitiful Wenja people. I’ve been asked by a frantic Wenja gatherer to clear away debris from a river; another time a hunter told me he needed help fighting off a pack of Dhole, which, by the way, are the weakest aggressive animals in the game. While Takkar is the hero of the Wenja people, he runs into the same issues many MMO god-slaying champions face: you may be the most powerful person in existence, but don’t be surprised if someone asks you to deliver their mail for them. It feels as if after the developers at Ubisoft came up with main plot points, they grew bored and just slathered on hours of busy-work for the player and declared Far Cry Primal to be finished. About twenty hours in, I had to make my own fun, which in my case lighting everything around me on fire. Even the frozen tundra in the north was surprisingly flammable under all that snow.
There are a few redeeming qualities to Far Cry Primal, but after the first ten hours or so, any fun one might have been having has generally faded away leaving one wishing that the millionth pesky Jaguar would just bugger off. No longer are you fighting for your life in the jungle, but swatting away pests as you try and run to the next quest over and over again. If you were interested in a gathering and building game, I would suggest Minecraft or picking up a set of legos and trying to build a city next to a hyperactive cat.
Entertainment Value Score: 10/25