Evolution is a funny thing in video games. The balance for developers to make grand changes to beloved franchises, without diverging too far from what the series stands for in the first place is a tricky tightrope that studios and publishers have to walk.
Ubisoft decided to take a massive risk with the latest instalment into the Far Cry series, Far Cry: Primal, stripping away the first-person shooter franchise’s, well… shooting, swapping the pew pew of modern weaponry for spears and arrows, and sending the series back to the Stone-Age, literally.
Let’s be honest about something: this clearly won’t be Ubisoft’s future direction with Far Cry, as Primal, by all accounts, appears to be an ambitious spin-off experiment for the franchise, but is it an experiment which produces something magical? The short-answer: kind-of.
While players take control of a new character named Takkar, the game plays out like any other Far Cry entry. Fans of the predecessors will be immediately familiar with how things work in 10,000 BC, albeit with some more beards and a fictional language created specifically for the game. The large open-world, main missions, side quests, points of interest, random enemy encounters, and lighting guarded bonfires (replacing the radio towers from previous Far Crygames) are all standard fare, but what differs is how you actually play the game.
Weapons cannot be bought (because, arms dealers didn’t really exist in 10,000 BC), and are instead crafted. You’ll have to hunt down the items needed for the spear, bow, trap or bomb you’re trying to create, much like the unique crafting system of Far Cry 3 and 4 for weapon and ammo upgrades). The scavenging helps fashion that survivalist feeling, as you do require an even greater observation and relationship with the animals and environment around you, rather than stocking up on shotgun shells from some sketchy gun dealer.
And that relationship is further enhanced by Takkar’s quasi-supernatural ability. Players can tame wildlife such as prehistoric badgers and saber-toothed cats by giving them food to eat. These animals serve as a companion for players and assist them in combating enemies after being tamed. Players can also issue commands to them and different companions have different abilities. This isn’t just a novelty of Primal, as you should always keep a beast by your side, as they will help protect you by chasing off other predators that approach. Depending on their abilities they can also tag enemies or warn you of their presence, as well as revealing more of the terrain around you in the main map as you explore. The addition of beast-taming gives Primal a new dimension of gameplay that makes you think even more about how you approach a situation.
The story is serviceable but doesn’t do too much than provide a pathway for you to kill everything in sight. There’s no lovable bad guy (like Far Cry 3’s Vass) or any outrageous tyrant. Instead, the enemy-in-focus is the Neanderthalic cannibals, the Udam and technologically savvy farmers/firebombers, the Izila. Takkar’s job to tip the balance in favour of his own tribe, the Wenja. The quest to gather the scattered remains of his tribe to build a future for the Wenja is an admirable one, but it doesn’t really hit home or leave any memorable moments as past Far Cry games have managed to do.
Playing Primal is a one-of-a-kind experience; not an unforgettable one, but a fun distraction from shooting people in the face with machine-guns. Perhaps if Ubisoft made Primal its own separate franchise, gamers would be more invested in it. However, seeing the oh-so-familiar Far Cry menus, story structure, map, HUD, and quests, it’s hard not to feel like something is missing from the usual Far Cry milieu… like shooting people in the face… and is that such a bad thing?