Far Cry Primal is, to date, the latest installment in the 14-year long open-world FPS series and represented a chance for Ubisoft to provide some variety. The other titles in the series followed the "I'm trapped in a remote jungle location" theme, and it was somewhat refreshing to explore the primitive landscape as a local. With its 2-year anniversary almost upon us, I thought it worth jumping back in time.
Far Cry reinvented. Well, sort of
Primal was the first game I booted up on my PS4 Pro back in 2016 and it was the third game in the series I had played (Far Cry 2 completely killed my interest). Unlike the other titles, it is set in 10,000 BCE. After being somewhat reluctant to invest my time into Primal, I was pleasantly surprised when the intro ended and it was time to take control of Takkar, Primal’s main protagonist.
The incredibly detailed environment that surrounds the starting area was simply stunning to behold. If there is one thing Ubisoft cannot be faulted for, it is their ability to capture a scene and draw you in. The immersion, or at least the idea behind full immersion, was breath-taking, as everyone spoke in a primitive language with dialogue subtitles. Unfortunately, this is where everything good about Far Cry Primal ended.
The Far Cry games have never been great at providing compelling protagonists but they are masters in creating incredibly powerful and memorable antagonists. Pagan Min is my personal hero - his sarcasm, polite tone, and constant messages over your radio make him far more terrifying than a villain you only see every 45 minutes. In theory,
Primal has plenty of scope for great villains as there are two tribes waging war against each other and your Wenja tribe, with Batari commanding the Izila tribe, and Ull leading the Udam tribe.
Despite having two 'baddies' after you, they were utterly flat and forgettable. Although, in Primal's defence, it's hard to be super-scared of someone when you can’t even understand their tone. The concept of playing the entire game in another language is cool, however, you spend most of the time reading the text at the bottom of the screen and not focusing on what is happening in the scene; framing and animation during dialogue are often ignored.
The world of Oros is packed with craftable materials and all manner of wildlife for you to hunt or tame. Ubisoft’s notorious crafting systems are implemented but they've made it far more tedious compared to other games in the series, and even in other franchises they publish. Crafting is not something I relish but I don’t mind it so long as it remains a nifty aspect of each IP. In Primal, however, I found myself having to salvage an entire branch and stone to craft a single arrow; a task that leaves you grinding out 20 minutes just trying to refill your quiver.
A redeeming mechanic is the ability to tame wild animals and use them as allies. The grunt work needed to gain the ability to tame each beast is well worth it, particularly when you get to dominate the bigger, more powerful creatures, allowing you to fulfill your dream as a real-life Ace Ventura, just deadlier.
The biggest problem with Primal is that the ladder-progression system for your abilities is basically what comprises the storyline. Periodically, you will be attacked or join a hunt but that’s really it. Your time will be spent forcing yourself to look for materials you need to build up your own camp, a task that is fun in the beginning but quickly becomes tiresome.
It would be interesting to examine the plot of Primal if there were one to look at. There are no heart-stopping moments of trauma, no dramatic scenes of tension, and not even gleeful moments of victory, outside of taming a saber-tooth tiger. The characters alongside Takkar appear well-developed during cutscenes but barely engage the minute gameplay is resumed. They are easy on the eyes though, with phenomenal colouring and physical features, which makes them appear to be more interesting than they are.
Takkar is given some drive in the form of growing his village, achieved by completing side quests and rescuing lost members of the Wenja scattered across Oros. The repetitive style of "go there and kill that" isn’t new, which can make Primal just another face on the shelf, but there is an addictiveness to killing and continuously upgrading. These tasks reduce your grinding time by providing additional resources you probably would have to have gone out and searched for.
Coming back to the wondrous array of creatures you will encounter in the wild; they are definitely the most appealing aspect of Primal. To others, it may not be so great, but nothing else makes me feel more alpha than taming bears, leopards, and, yes, even a badger. That may not sound intimidating but it can revive itself after dying. Yeah, exactly, no other animal can resurrect itself and what’s cooler than that? Riding the aforementioned bear comes pretty close, as you get to become Vladimir Putin for a short while. However, for me, taming the beasts was far more satisfying than riding them.
Their abilities provide strategic advantages in combat and there are a variety of playstyles you can employ to take down enemies and destroy outposts. You can adopt a brutish strategy and charge right in with your bear, or take a stealthier approach. If you prefer a passive approach, you can use your trusty owl to drop toxic gas, fire bombs, or pots of bees. When it comes to encountering animals in the wild, it is quite the spectacle to discover two behemoths crashing into each other, and your heart stops when you are casually strolling along and you hear the grumble of a saber-tooth right next to you.
Far Cry Primal did a fantastic job of transporting us back 12,000 years. Ubisoft came up with some innovative ideas, such as the dialogue being completely primitive, the complete removal of any modern technology, and created an incredibly immersive atmosphere. However, the barely-there plot, the repetitive quests, and the serious lack of a compelling villain left Primal with a Telltale-esque feel, which is a shame when both its predecessors are vividly memorable. Primal should be a learning curve for Ubisoft should they wish to explore the idea again, and place greater emphasis on the storyline and character depth. The best takeaway from Primal was that it got me to enjoy the other titles that much more, so, a silver lining.
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30 November -0001
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