From modern day to the prehistoric times, so goes the Far Cry franchise. The series evolved tremendously from Far Cry 2 to Far Cry 3, but it seemed to be gliding along when fourth installment released. Of course, that glide was still fantastic, but it was clear that something different had to happen for the next iteration. What is more different than making you a caveman (of sorts), giving you a spear, and populating the world with Wooly Mammoths that you can ride? I got hands-on with Ubisoft’s newest adventure, Far Cry Primal for a few hours. With such a new setting, I was very curious if the Far Cry series could retain its momentum.
I was doing all of this in the shoes of the new main protagonist, Takaar, a hunter-gatherer from the western part of Europe. During a trek across the continent, he loses the people he was traveling with and finds himself alone. He may have lost his allies, but as you expect, there are enemies all over to take their place. Left to fend for himself, Takaar begins to use his mystical abilities to tame different animals and order them to perform attacks on the nefarious enemies surrounding him.
This prehistoric setting works flawlessly in the Far Cry visual style. The series has always done well will lush, green environments, and it continues to do that here. There are a decent amount of open brown plains as well, where you will find enemies huddled around campfires just waiting to be attacked. The same mountainous terrain returns from Far Cry 4, and there seem to be a few more grapple points than before to help you climb those mountains. Primal does a very respectable job of capturing such a unique and beautiful setting, which is topped off by some spectacular sound design. As you stealthily crawl through leaves, you can hear them crumple under you while animals prowl all around, just looking for some prey to pounce onto.
Taking over animals, or “taming” as the game calls it, is one of the biggest differences found within Far Cry Primal. With no large cities, roads, or cars, you will find yourself interacting with various species all throughout the world. To put these animals under your control, you have to throw out bait to draw them away from attacking you. After that, you approach them, hold down square, and they will then follow you. While this concept may seem a bit odd, narrative director Jean-Sebastien Ducant recalls a story the development team heardthat made them want to include this mechanic.
“We found traces of a [kid] that walked alongside a wolf for 100 meters in the south of France in 12,000 BC,” says Ducant. “They were obviously friends and bonded together. That was around the time when wolves began to work with man, because they realized they can get more food that way.”
Owls also make an appearance in Far Cry Primal as you can take one over and scope out the landscape before. This makes surveying mission areas easier as you can get a look at every enemy, and mark them simply by looking at them. You can then launch your bird at an enemy and watch it jam its talons into their neck.
While the change of scenery is drastic and well appreciated, there are still some things that feel very familiar in Far Cry Primal. The menu design, skill tree, and basic objectives on the map are things you have seen before. You will still be hoofing it between different liberation locations and clearing out camps. Thankfully, the aforementioned owl does add a new layer to keep things interesting, and there’s secret areas to keep you prowling around locales as well.
Something that is most certainly a welcome difference is the lack of climbable towers (or something equivalent) in order to unlock portions of the map. DEVELOPER said the team ditched the idea in favor of increasing exploration. As someone that has played a lot of Ubisoft games over the past five years, I extend a hearty thank-you for that.
Far Cry has always been known for its random, open-world insanity that produces great YouTube clips. While Primal is a lot more contained, these instances are still present. There was a moment when I was riding a wooly mammoth, as you do, and ended up turning the corner to see a leopard sprinting at me. In my flurry of fear, I somehow made the mammoth attack before the leopard got to us. His tusk connected with the tiny enemy and flung him about 50 feet in the air. The unintentional Far Cry goofiness has yet to be eliminated from the series, which is for the best.
Knocking people over the head with a burning club is something I never expected to do in a Far Cry game, but that is just what happened during my time with Primal. The new weapon set is about what you would expect, bow and arrow, club, spear, etc., but that doesn’t make it any less fun to use. The gunplay was always one of the more enjoyable aspects of the Far Cry series, so expectations are high that this up close and personal combat can succeed. It’s something that will be judged after 15 to 20 hours of playtime, but after a quick burst of use, they were enjoyable. It brings about a new feeling to interacting with enemies, although the act of bashing a man with a club can become tiresome after a while. In which case, try tossing a spear.
After seeing what has happened to other franchises upon annualization, I was very worried about Far Cry Primal. After such fantastic predecessors in Far Cry 3 and 4, where would they go? Although these worries have not been totally eradicated, they have died down. Ubisoft is capitalizing on the prehistoric setting very well, injecting detail into every bit of the environment. Far Cry Primal is definitely another Far Cry game, but there seems to be just enough unique flavor to make it feel new.