Far Cry Primal on PlayStation 4
It is 10,000 BCE. There are no engines, no computers, and no radios. It is a time when nature holds dominion over every being, the unforgiving period into which Far Cry Primal thrusts players.
In an effort to move the series forward, Ubisoft Montreal has looked back, taking the art of survival to its roots. While technology and modern weaponry once gave players a muddied sensation of power, here in Oros, land is not dangerous because of those who seek power, but because it is untouched.
After a brutal introduction in which Takkar, the protagonist, must hunt a mammoth with his tribesmen, players are dropped into a world of dense forestry, pristine rivers, crystal blue lakes, and treacherous mountain cliffs. Soak in the beautiful scenery, because everything here is trying to kill you.
Far Cry Primal demands you learn the rules of the world, not change them. Fauna is thriving, and it won’t allow anything as inconsequential as mankind slow it down. Run through the forest, and the sound of twigs snapping or leaves rustling will send animals scattering. Light a fire, and it will attract attention, either from humans or more curious beasts. Hunt in the wrong area, and dominant predators will let you know. Other Far Cry titles allowed you to interact your surroundings, but Far Cry Primal manages to magnify the severity by reducing the player.
Far Cry 3 and 4 featured hunting, but you never really felt the fear of being hunted yourself. You almost always had the upper hand, and, by a certain point, you were way too strong to be stopped. By leveling the playing field and placing the player at the bottom of the food chain, Ubisoft Montreal creates a sense of urgency, near desperation. Stripping fans of everything they’d grown accustomed, Far Cry Primal feels like the strongest survival experience in the series.
Combat is approached more methodically, slower in the sense that there is no ‘guns blazing’ mentality. Sure, you can get the drop on enemies and rain down hell upon them with your bow and a few throwables, but you’ll often find yourself flanked and outnumbered if you ever dare to be so brash. It takes a little more than two well-placed hits to put you out of your misery in Oros, so stealth plays a much bigger part outside of being just a means for extra XP.
I was a bit apprehensive stepping into Far Cry Primal after thoroughly enjoying my time flying around in Far Cry 4, dropping grenades on explosive-deserving rhinos. Collecting weapons and unlocking their customizations became a driving force as I razed fields and filled my enemies with lead and fire. Hunting was only a means to craft sacks in which I could carry even more technology. And plants? Who needed healing when you could pick off any soldier from over 100 yards away?
Stripped of these amenities in Primal, I found myself hiding in tall grass at the faintest growl. One sign of chatter from nearby tribespeople made me quickly snuff out my torch and identify whether they were Wenja like myself, or of a much deadlier ilk. Even hunting transformed, as I had to not only rely on crafted spears and arrows, but needed to keep an eye out for other predators, as well. It isn’t out of the ordinary to have a pack of wolves snatch up your prey and send you scurrying for the hills.
Takkar is not completely helpless, though. Instead of calling in vans full of allied soldiers, you can tame 15 different wild beasts and command them to do your bidding. This creates new strategies as you match up particular animals and their special abilities with your situation.
Once granted the taming skill, you find yourself immediately seeking something to make your own. Animal companions remove the isolation of previous games in a way that doesn’t feel as tacked on as a radio transmission. There I was, about to face down a cave lion, but there was no fear in me; I knew my pet would help me out or, at the very least, die trying.
Ubisoft Montreal nailed the drive for survival and the gameplay mechanics, so it came as a surprise that the story ended up being more of an obstacle than a boon to the experience. The land of Oros is enthralling, but the narrative pulls you out of any amazement.