Far Cry Primal Review
Stone Age beauty and the tamed beast
Homo sapiens that lived 12,000 years ago faced adversity that is difficult to comprehend. Harsh weather, rival tribes, deadly predators and inadequate medical care is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Despite their strength and tenacity, we will never know their names or what they did on a mild spring night after a successful hunt. Thanks to their heroic actions, we can now experience crude representations of their lives in the many survival games that have exploded across the video game industry in recent years. Although not really a survival game, Far Cry Primal capitalizes on the trend with a minimalistic approach. Far Cry Primal brings a Stone Age twist to the shooter franchise—a lightweight survival experience with high intensity action and refined stealth.
You are the Beast Master, Takkar, who finds himself alone after his hunting party is killed by a ferocious sabre-tooth tiger. You head for the land of Oros, in search of the Wenja tribe and a new life. Unfortunately, the Wenja people are scattered across the land, driven apart by two enemy tribes and a slew of wild beasts. You must bring the Wenja people back together, but making the tribe strong again will take more than just one man. So you set forth to find key individuals—a warrior, a hunter and a crazy one-armed man. These characters have their own missions and unlock a unique set of skills and crafting upgrades.
As the Wenja tribe grows, more travellers roam the village nestled beside a waterfall. Tribal huts can be improved with simple upgrades, although this construction element is criminally underused given the satisfaction of watching the village flourish. Cave paintings that depict your adventures are continually added to nearby rock walls and are the perfect thematic representation of progress. While the story opens strongly, the main thread goes dormant for a time until difficult locations are captured deep in enemy territory and additional characters join the Wenja tribe. If there was more consistent story content, it would have driven the adventure more thoroughly.
The Wenja village will grow as you gain strength
Far Cry Primal sells its Mesolithic (10,000 BCE) theme exceptionally well and makes appropriate tweaks to the series’ formula. You will be using tools from the Stone Age such as wooden bows, bone clubs, stone-tip spears, and bee grenades—I’m not sure about that last one either, but it sure is fun. Most of the combat consists of short to medium range encounters, with a somewhat clumsy melee system. Hurling spears into meaty targets is just as entertaining as firing those modern-day projectile weapons from other Far Cry titles. Even the drug sequences from the last few games have been repurposed, with guidance from a maniacal Shaman. Most of the adventure has Takkar exploring Oros, hunting animals, crafting items and taking down hostile tribes to make Wenja great again.
The weapon upgrade system is similar to the last few games in the franchise, but the curve is more gradual and consistent. Spears can be strengthened and arrow quivers expanded, all via a streamlined crafting mechanic. Weapons and ammo can be instantly produced in a quick-menu while the world slows down. Collecting thrown weapons and stray arrows reduces the need to consume resources. In combination with the skills, Takkar undergoes continual improvement with upgrades like extra health or larger inventory space. You won’t suddenly have all the good tools, nor will you be waiting to have fun. For example, the bow is a proficient ranged weapon that is later swapped for a long bow that shoots more accurately with its superior draw strength. Likewise, basic clubs can be switched with two-handed monstrosities that deal more damage with a bigger swing. These upgrades keep pace with the increased challenge encountered the further you venture from the village. The progression is slick and freeform enough to focus on areas that may seem lacking.
Udam tribesmen are cannibals, so double the arrows, just to be sure
If you played the last few games in the series, then you are already familiar with the basics of the Far Cry Primal open world. Outposts are standard enemy encampments that must be captured by killing all enemies, and these are still probably the best part of the experience when it comes to stealth gameplay. They can be infiltrated at night, when enemies are clustered near huts, or conquered in broad daylight as the guards expand their patrols. There are over a dozen varied and well-designed outposts to clear. Bonfires are smaller versions of outposts, but also require lighting a massive fire that creates respawn points at nearby camp sites. Fast-travelling to these conquered locations becomes essential in such a large open world. Additional side quests might require escorting Wenja warriors, exploring caves, tracking beasts, or rescuing hostages from a tribe that are nice enough to wait for you to attack. Much of this is extremely similar, if not identical, to recent Far Cry games. That does not change the fact that it functions well in the setting. There are hordes of collectibles to find but at least some excess has been trimmed—no climbing towers to expose areas and no need to buy weapons or ammo from a specific location. Most of the objectives and side missions are entertaining like before, just with a twist.
Some good changes come from the Stone Age setting. Instead of using binoculars or a camera to tag enemies from range, you fly an owl that can swoop over camps. Although clunky at first, the owl is vastly superior to its modern-day counterparts because it provides a complete layout—accurate enough to plan routes with minimal chance of stumbling upon an untagged enemy. No need to get to higher ground; just get close enough to fly the owl in for a looksee. An upgraded owl can even take out enemies or drop firebombs. It makes for much better stealth encounters because unvisited areas can be fully unveiled before the action begins.
The owl helps to clear outposts undetected
More tweaks to the formula are inspired by the survival genre. Night-time can be dangerous as predators are numerous and aggressive. Creating a torch can keep them from pouncing, but the flame will eventually burn out. Although previous Far Cry games had a lot of resource gathering, Primal jumps this up a notch because they are used for just about everything—village upgrades, new weapons, and ammunition. Unexpectedly though, Primal does not force tedious collection just to progress. Collecting during exploration will usually provide enough for the various upgrades. Regenerating camp sites and supply sacks also provide a chunk of useful resources. The survival elements are light, but important for the atmosphere and progression.
As expected, hunting is a major component in Far Cry Primal. Many animals roam Oros, most are docile until threatened. Predators can be seen chasing goats or deer, and then deciding that you look tastier. Combat versus some animals, like Woolly Rhinos, is clumsy. These tough creatures have a lot of health and usually run faster. So you throw a spear, dodge, run, get smacked down from behind, heal and start over again. Using meat to distract predators is a bit strange; it can make a jaguar withdraw just as it was about to rip into your jugular. Escaping animals in pursuit can be done by exploiting their limited navigational skills—jumping over ledges or dancing around boulders. This is not always fair, but it was neat to see an Elk having trouble getting its large antlers between adjacent trees. Animal combat (and melee action in general) is often messy and not as satisfying as fighting human tribesmen with a bow or spear.
Commanding tamed predators is perhaps the most iconic feature in Primal and more enjoyable than hunting them. The origins of tamed animals trace back to the introduction of bait in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and, later, the summoned beasts in Far Cry 4 multiplayer. In Primal, an animal companion can be at your side for nearly the entire campaign. There is a broad range of beasts to tame across Oros, from leopards to badgers. Swapping between tamed pets—and dismissing them—is done via a simple menu and the animals are quick to respond. Each of the seventeen tameable animals has different stats and perks, to make them more suitable for stealth, hunting, or defense. Unfortunately their viability in stealth is limited, even for those with a maximum stealth rating. They cannot follow over uneven ground and consequently tend to pass right through an outpost of enemies that will see the beast as a threat. Letting the animal fight, and possibly die, preserves Takkar’s anonymity but this wastes resources and time. Even if your pet manages to avoid enemy patrols, it might inadvertently draw attention to your location. Beasts are more of a liability in stealth and should be sent away before trying to quietly slice through enemy patrols.
My tamed beast providing the appropriate distraction while I stab from behind
While poor in stealth, the beasts are great for many other tasks. At night, call a bear and have it play bodyguard as wolves encircle. When freeing Wenja prisoners from two-man escorts, send a powerful sabre-tooth cat to maul one enemy while you spear the other. And, of course, most tamed creatures are fast enough to make hunting less of a marathon through the savannah. You can even ride certain beasts, which have no trouble weaving through the dense jungle. The only technical mishap for beasts is a brief and annoying lock-on effect created every time they are sent to attack. Taming predators is part of progression, and collecting each one might become a side task worth pursuing given its relative ease and numerous benefits. Despite some issues with stealth, the beast component is an interesting and substantial addition to the franchise.
Far Cry Primal is powered by the versatile Dunia engine. It capitalizes brilliantly on the Stone Age setting with great visuals and varied sounds. Environmental variety is healthy, from the desolate alpine regions to the crocodile-infested swamps. The ancient redwood trees in temperate zones are enormous and dominate the skyline. Dense undergrowth and careful lighting adds a lot of volume to the immediate environment. The setting is absorbing, especially as mammoths become aggressive in open fields and other hunters join the fray. Sometimes the beautiful world can make it hard to see targets. Humans blend because their clothing features the earthy browns of skinned animals—the Izila tribe stand out more with traces of blue war paint. This impeded target acquisition slows the game down at first, although this is not a bad thing. It does transfer a lot of emphasis to the mini-map though; the amount of time spent watching it just to locate objective zones, plants and predators is a little excessive. Takkar does have an alternative vision mode to track scents and footprints, but it does not distinguish clearly between a harmless deer and a pesky wild dog from a killable distance. Many interface elements can be turned off, including the mini-map, but newly-discovered location messages occasionally interfered with combat. Despite a few interface issues, Oros is one of the most engrossing video game worlds in recent years.
It may not look hygenic but it tastes great
Far Cry Primal is a good twist on the franchise and a game that encourages respect for the nameless Stone Age warriors that lived before recorded history. The game’s basic survival mechanics give it an edge while still retaining the fun associated with the franchise. The world of Oros is absorbing and the progression system is nearly perfect. There are plenty of good changes that come with the setting, like an observant owl or tamed predators that assist during combat. Despite initial appearances, it does not suffer from the tedious aspects of resource collecting. It is more concerned about giving players a progressive sandbox of satisfying encounters. The lack of multiplayer might be a problem for some, but it was never the franchises’ strength and is not missed. Far Cry Primal is an enjoyable depiction of hunter-gatherer prehistory, and it is just what the witch-doctor ordered.