Our collective image of a caveman is a person walking around either half-naked on the savannas of Africa or buried in furs while trundling through ice and snow in the mountains of Europe. Obviously, there are plenty of scenarios that fall between those two extremes, and every so often we get hints of what it might have been like for our very primitive ancestors. But what would we face in their place? Subsistence existence, surrounded by dozens of different species that could and would kill you in the blink of a eye whether you were food or simply an annoyance, rival tribes looking to wipe you and yours out, it probably wasn’t much of a picnic in real life. For those of us who don’t feel confident in our ability to match our ancient forebears, there is always Far Cry Primal.
At its heart, this is very much a Far Cry game. It’s an FPS albeit with a considerably reduced opportunity for shooting. While there’s plenty of chances for throwing spears and bludgeoning people with a club, actual shooting is limited to a bow and arrow. For the period, that’s about as close to a sniper rifle as you’re going to get. On the plus side of that, you can recover your arrows. Try doing that with your favorite Dragunov or M1A.
Being an Ubisoft game, the term “hunter/gatherer” has never been more literal. As a member of the Wenja tribe, your days in the Oros Valley are going to be spent primarily hunting animals for their meat and fur, killing off brutish Neanderthals of the Udam tribe or members of the oddly more advanced Izilia tribe, and picking up nearly every sort of rock, tree, or plant that you can find. All of that is piled on top of recovering hanging bags of loot, shiny stones with hands painted on them, and uncovering various cave paintings scattered everywhere. It’s a big valley and virtually everything in it is going to try and kill you one way or the other. Fortunately, you do have members of your own tribe scattered around the valley which you can rescue or recruit to take back to your camp. More tribesmen lead to bonuses for materials needed to survive, while specific characters grant you new abilities and weapons. Possibly one of the most interesting and occasionally frustrating mechanics to learn involves taming various wild animals to act as your backup while you roam the valley. When it works, you get a force multiplier that can be incredible, particularly with the larger predators. However, the process of actually taming the beasts is hit or miss, particularly if you have a pet already or you don’t notice that there’s other predators or enemy tribesmen nearby. It can be akin to the worst Pokemon battle you never wanted to have. In the areas of the valley where you’re dealing with cold, there is a feeling of tension, making sure that you can get from campfire to campfire without freezing to death, but even this feels more like you’re gathering safe spots than trying to keep warm.
True to the series name, Far Cry Primal has a gorgeous visual presentation. The particle effects are top notch, lighting and shadows are done excellently, and the textures are highly detailed. The fire effects in particular are well done, and with fire being one of your more important tools in the game, it’s probably one of the best representations of what is a notoriously difficult effect to pull off currently out there. The game’s efforts at representing animal fur, another difficult effect, isn’t quite as successful. There’s a slightly grainy appearance to certain animals when you’re up close to them, where the fur doesn’t look precisely like fur. It doesn’t completely kill the suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t help sustain it very well either. The visual design is definitely the biggest box of eye candy in the game. The three tribes have distinctly different looks and it’s easy to tell friend from foe even without the handy little pips that show up to mark targets or the way your target indicator lights up when aiming a weapon at them. Character designs for the various “elders” of the tribe that you’re gathering and the named enemies you face are unique and memorable. You expect a Far Cry game to look good and this one does not disappoint.
The game’s audio is another area which does pretty well, though it is somewhat overshadowed by the visuals. Being that this is set during the Mesolithic period, you’re going to be hearing a lot of percussion and “natural” instruments like animal horns. The soundtrack is not really symphonic, which in this case helps out with the immersion, but it’s also much too easy to sort of dismiss it in the back of your mind as you’re playing through. The voice actors for the game deserve a big tip of the hat for going through what can at times sound like very silly dialogue, not because it’s badly written, but because it’s delivered in one of three constructed languages. Oddly enough, if you keep the subtitles on, you pick up on the language the same way that you would when watching a good foreign film. Sound effects, particularly of the meaty and bone-crunching kind, are very convincing and have the right sort of visceral punch that the game really needs.
For an open world game, Far Cry Primal does the job pretty well, though there are just enough hitches to keep it from being a perfect experience. The overindulgence in gathering-related activities kind of diminishes the feeling of needing to hunt for food. Taming beasts isn’t quite the same as domesticating them, particularly when almost all of them are predators. Finding cave paintings isn’t the same as making them. And gathering up tribe members isn’t the same as growing the tribe. There are just too ways where the game could have gone one way and instead went the other. As a representation of the dawn of Man, there are too many times when it feels like an evolutionary dead end.
Far Cry Primal was reviewed on the PS4 using a copy purchased at retail.
Far Cry Primal$59.99
- Gorgeous visuals
- Interesting array of weapons
- Immersive audio
- Too much gathering; not enough hunting
- Too many ways to die finding you all at once
- Questionable design choices throughout