I have an interesting relationship with the Far Cry series. I have never actually played any of the main numbered games in the franchise. However, I absolutely loved Far Cry Blood Dragon and count it as one of my favorite games of all time. History is repeating itself once more with another Far Cry offshoot as I’m completely obsessed with Far Cry Primal. I was pretty hyped for the game since it was announced but after having played it extensively, I have to admit that the final product is even better than I could have imagined. This is one of the best experiences I’ve had this generation.
Eschewing modern conventions like firearms, global positioning satellites, or even civilization as we know it, Far Cry Primal takes us back 10,000 years to the Mesolithic Era. This was a time when man didn’t occupy the top of the food chain and had to struggle each day just to survive. The beauty of Primal is how authentic and true it is to this time period. There are no dinosaurs or overtly magical elements. This game lets us experience what it was like to live as our ancient ancestors and it does a fantastic job in this regard.
The story centers around a man named Takkar who is a member of the Wenja tribe. His people have decided to settle in the land of Oros which is located somewhere in Eastern Europe. However, this land is also home to the Udam tribe who are a barbarous, cannibalistic people. Your main goal is to rid the land of the Udam and the equally dangerous Izila tribe so that the Wenja can live in peace.
The main narrative itself is rather straight forward but it’s authentic to the era since every day life was purely about survival. What makes this game unique from a story standpoint is that the characters aren’t stereotypical “cavemen.” These are still human beings who experience the same emotions and desires that we do, only without the fancy technology that makes us “advanced.” Despite the fact that all dialogue is subtitled and characters don’t use proper grammar, you still feel a connection to them and view them as human beings.
Being that this is set in the Stone Age, all of the weapons at your disposal are era-specific. Arrows, spears, rock slings, the game has the arsenal of our forebears. Stripping things back to basics means that killing enemies isn’t simple. This takes away from the impersonal feeling of modern day combat (in games or in real life) as each enemy must be killed individually and up close. Sure, you can kill from a distance with arrows and spears, but even this is more personal and satisfying than killing someone with a gun. Much like the time period, combat is visceral and brutal.
As true to the era as Far Cry Primal is, it does take some video game-ish liberties. The centerpiece mechanic of the game is the ability to tame animals. With this supernatural power, you can command animals (mostly predators) to do your bidding. The only animal our ancestors tamed back then were wolves so this is an extension of that. Yes, we never tamed wild cats or bears but this is one unrealistic aspect I can let slide since it provides the most fun aspect of the title.
During the early parts, you experience a true sense of dread of the world around you. Seeing as how every wolf, big cat, bear, and even eagle wants to kill you, this feeling is justified. However, after you get your first animal companion, things change. The satisfaction of having a pack of wolves come up on me only for them to quickly turn back when my animal pal growls at them is one of the things I never get tired of in the game. This made me feel like a true beast master.
Your animal friends aren’t just there to keep you safe from predators. They will actively help you when you have to face off against man and beast alike. Admittedly, your beastly pal is a bit overpowered and can dispatch most foes easily (this becomes more pronounced when you have a sabretooth tiger or bear with you). However, your furry friend can be hurt or killed so you have to be careful with it. Thankfully, reviving them is as simple as whistling. It’s a bit cheap, but it saves you the hassle of having to tame another of the same animal.
Speaking of animal companions, you will also get a pretty bad-ass owl that has a number of uses. The principal job of your owl is to scout the immediate area around you for enemies, resources, and more. After upgrading it a bit, you can even have the owl attack foes individually or have it drop one of your area of effect weapons like bee hives and berserker mist.
The owl can also use Hunter Vision like you can. Hunter Vision makes it so that you are able to see things in the world more clearly. For example, if you shoot an animal with an arrow, you can use Hunter Vision to follow the trail of blood it leaves. This vision is also helpful in seeing if any Udam or Izila foes are around you and also aids in finding secrets as well. Though it does saturate the colors and makes the world look a bit unappealing, its importance is vital.
As you progress, you will be able to upgrade your abilities. This makes it so you have more health, are able to tame different animals, craft different weapons and clothing, and much more. You can upgrade yourself and your village with materials you find across the land of Oros. As your village population grows they will provide you with plants, animal hides, and stones that they deliver to your various settlements, thus cutting down on the amount of scavenging you’ll have to do. Thankfully, upgrades and crafting are both painless and don’t bog the game down with needless minutia.
Unlike Blood Dragon, which was comparatively small in scale to the main Far Cry games, Primal is a full, robust open-world experience with a large map to explore. As is standard for most open-world games, there are a ton of hidden secrets and a variety of sidequests that litter the land. You can spend many hours doing anything but the main story. This title may not have a multiplayer mode but it packs enough content to satisfy players for a long time.
Being that this takes place in the Stone Age, you see nature as it was before man scarred it with his technology. Forests are lush and overgrown, the northern lands are covered in snow brought by the constant storms, and the night sky is full of stars (which are now obscured by our major cities). This is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen and I constantly stopped to just drink it all in. Though the world of our forebears was a cruel and dangerous one, it was also was full of beauty and awe. Far Cry Primal does a wonderful job of properly conveying this.
Complementing the visuals is the sound design. Most of the time, the only way to know that you may or may not be safe is to pay attention to the sounds around you. Different animals make distinct noises so you have to be able to distinguish docile beasts from dangerous ones. You can also hear fellow humans (friend or foe alike) in the distance, letting you know if you should stay away or help. Even the musical soundtrack (which contained no metal instruments) is fantastic and heightens the primitive feeling this game has.
Although it is only late February, I feel confident in saying that Far Cry Primal is one of my early contenders for game of the year. I’ve played many titles that took place in prehistoric-like settings but never one that was truly set in the Stone Age. This is one of the most compelling experiences I’ve had and I’m hoping that those who pick this up will have the same feeling as well. Ubisoft has done an amazing job with Far Cry Primal and should be commended for developing such a thoroughly enjoyable and enthralling title.
This review of Far Cry Primal is based on a digital copy for the PlayStation 4 which was provided by Ubisoft.