Bash heads and shatter ribs on a quest to reclaim your tribe’s homeland.
PC Release: March 1, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Once upon a time, in the distant past, mankind flourished in a golden age. An age without murder laws or sanitary guidelines. An age in which men and women were free to don the skins of their fallen enemies and bash people’s heads in with rocks. An age that predated all of this modern “civilization” and “judiciary” nonsense that man now suffers under. That age is, sadly, long gone… but video games have brought it roaring back to life in the form of Far Cry Primal.
Released in the spring of 2016, Far Cry Primal is a spin-off of the Far Cry series that takes the franchise a whopping 10,000 years back in time. Rather than killing foes with AKs and machetes (as is customary in Far Cry games), players take up a spear, unleash a mighty caveman battle cry, and charge into combat at the head of the most unwashed horde of warriors gaming has ever seen.
Far Cry Primal begins when a mammoth hunt goes south and all but one caveman in the hunting party gets mauled by a saber-tooth tiger. Forced to journey to his ancestral homeland alone, player character Takkar arrives to the Land of Oros expecting his fellow Wenja tribesmen to be everywhere. Instead, all he finds is a handful of survivors and a land ravaged by war (proving that the vaunted awesomeness of bashing someone’s head in with a rock is really a matter of perspective).
Luckily for what remains of his tribe, Takkar is good with animals… some might say that he’s unnaturally good with them. Whether it’s his shining personality or some kind of voodoo, Takkar has the ability to befriend Oros’s many animals and lead them into combat. Players start out small by taming badgers and dogs, but can move up to bears and lions before too long. Takkar can also use an owl to mark targets and places of interest like the drone in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.
Even though a few tamed bears make for quite the intimidating posse, Takkar has his work cut out for him navigating Oros. The game world is populated by dangerous ice age-era wildlife, including saber-tooth tigers, gargantuan cave beers, and woolly mammoths that’d sooner stomp on a caveman than look at him. Most of these beasties can be hunted for valuable materials, but think twice before taking on that huge rhinoceros (and check Takkar’s quiver for extra arrows).
Bloodthirsty animals aren’t Takkar’s only problem. Two unfriendly tribes have invaded Oros and whittled the Wenja’s once-expansive empire down to nothing. To the north reside the Udam, a tribe of cannibalistic neanderthals led by the biggest, baddest warrior of them all. To the south can be found the Izila, a matriarchal tribe that likes burning people alive (but it’s their sincerely held religious belief so it’s totally okay).
Players can only secure victory in Far Cry Primal by systematically reclaiming Wenja territory and, ultimately, wiping both enemy tribes out. Each tribe has its own combat challenge: Udam warriors are huge but slow, while the Izila compensate for their slender size by using advanced weapons like fire bombs. Each tribe also has its own slate of combat specialists who wield different weapons for Takkar to contend against.
Far Cry Primal certainly has a greater emphasis on melee combat than other Far Cry games. Players can craft and upgrade spears, clubs, and other weapons to take the fight to the enemy directly. Ranged weapons still have a place in the player’s arsenal, though. Bows, longbows, and slings help round Takkar’s weaponry out and give players some long-distance options. Most melee weapons can be thrown if the player is out of ammo (or is feeling particularly pissed).
In lieu of cars, players can get around Far Cry Primal using the animals they tame. As amazing as it would be to ride a honey badger into battle, Takkar can only ride beasties larger than himself. Primal‘s riding controls feel smooth and most of the animals that Takkar can ride can also leap over obstacles. Ridiculous and unrealistic though this mechanic may be, nothing feels more badass than leading a tsunami of cavemen into battle from the back of a saber-toothed tiger.
Even though Far Cry Primal gives players a spear and a tiger instead of a gun and a jeep, the game still plays a lot like the mainline Far Cry titles. Just like in those games, players take outposts from enemy factions, search the world for medicinal herbs, and hunt animals for their hides. The combat’s shifted focus and the whips are a little hairier, but beneath that caveman stank is a good ole Far Cry title.
Far Cry Primal does make a few shakeups to the Far Cry formula, though. Because cavemen have no understanding of money, players have to make their own weapons and tools from materials found out in the world. Some materials are only a stone’s throw away; others are much harder to find. Still others exist only in certain regions of Oros. Players may also happen upon animal skin bags that contain a random assortment of goodies for Takkar to sort through.
Players out looking for crafting components should take some time to enjoy the view. Far Cry Primal goes beyond being pretty by being the most visually sophisticated Far Cry game ever made (at least as of writing). Far Cry Primal succeeds in delivering a, well, primal environment, covering Oros with exotic-looking plants, huge redwoods, and cavernous rock formations. All of these objects are brightly colored and accented with volumetric light.
Far Cry Primal boasts impressive visual effects in other areas of its design. The title’s in-game character models are gorgeously animated and detailed, more so than those of other Far Cry games. Primal‘s facial animations are scarily lifelike; never before has spotting a dead bug between a caveman’s two front teeth been so easy! Primal‘s visuals succeed at capturing that primeval, untamed vibe that could only come with the Stone Age, which makes the game more immersive.
Far Cry Primal‘s characters may look stunning, but there isn’t much more to say about them. Each one occupies a fixed niche in the caveman community: there’s the witch doctor whose jokes fall flat, the aged huntress who makes fun of Takkar for no apparent reason, and the chick who’s obsessed with collecting ears. For some reason Ubisoft elected to shoehorn Hurk (err, “Urki”) into Primal. As with all Far Cry games, the antagonist is the most interesting character. Ubisoft elected to make the neanderthal war-chief a sympathetic villain instead of a comedic one, and it works surprisingly well.
The reason why Far Cry Primal‘s characters aren’t all that memorable is because they only get so much screen time. This game devotes very little time to conversations with NPCs… or, really, character development of any kind. The reason for that, in turn, is almost certainly because all of the characters speak in an artificial language that sounds like vulgar Latin. Ubisoft probably only had so much time to develop words and syntax for such a dialect, which would explain why it’s spoken so sparingly. For some reason there’s an option to turn Primal‘s subtitles off; y’know, for all those millions of gamers who can speak made-up caveman lingo.
So, what do Far Cry Primal‘s archaic weapons and nonsensical animal powers mean for players? The game doesn’t have much going for it in the story department, but it offers up a, aha, meaty slice of gameplay. Primal‘s combat and exploration both feel like deconstructed variants of the main Far Cry series’ gameplay, but in a good way. The game’s stripping out of vehicles makes exploration feel more organic, while the combat’s focus on melee fighting is elegantly implemented.
Couple these simpler gameplay emphases with excellent system performance, and the result is a game that captures the fierce spirit of its modern-day forebears despite being presented in a different format. Far Cry Primal may be set in the Stone Age, but its focus on smooth exploration and open-ended combat is not lesser for that setting. Players who enjoy open-world games and lots of brutal melee combat will likely enjoy Primal; just make sure to take a break if all that combat starts to feel repetitive.
You can buy Far Cry Primal here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.