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Far Cry Primal Review

far cry primal
PC

Far Cry Primal Review

There is only you and your will to survive.

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.

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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.

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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.

Encounters while you’re exploring on your own are organic. You’ll stumble across a huge sabertooth tiger and find yourself peeking into an enemy camp full of armored foes. There’s a rush of adrenaline as you move through the world as you please. Story missions, on the other hand, play out in a number of ways. You may find yourself gathering resources, hunting specific animals, or eliminating large numbers of rival tribespeople. They provide plenty of action, yes, but they feel forced. The story places you into these situations with little explanation, removing the element of surprise that makes the game’s core survival aspect so special. What you’re left with is a slow start that fails to hit that fever pitch that the series is known for in later stages.

The characters fail to captivate as well as those from previous games in the series. Everyone seems to just push you around like an errand boy, never calling to attention the fact that it has been you saving everyone. Enemies are there, too, but they lack any flavor. Say what you want about Far Cry 4, but Pagan Min was a star. Far Cry Primal is left wanting for anyone that can match or even close in on his level of influence.

The weakness in story and character leave emergent gameplay to carry the full weight of the experience. That’s a tall order for such a large game with only one well-executed focus. There are only so many times you can go out for a hunt before the need for something further engaging arises. The animals are a joy, but begin to lose their charm in the absence of a meaningful, driving force. A story should highlight the best elements of a game, not distract you from them, and that’s where this arrow misses its mark.

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One thing the story does do quite well, though, is create immersion through language. Though you cant understand the native words themselves, you can feel the frantic state and emotional gravity of every syllable. You may encounter a problem if you aren’t fond of subtitles, but the required reading is an appreciated trade off for a more genuine feel.

The narrative misses many notes, though, leaving the experience feeling light. While the gameplay is stellar, little in the way of other offerings makes Far Cry Primal feel much less than a full sequel. The new area and mechanics are welcome additions to the franchise, but feel more like an expansion offering a unique way to play. With the last couple of titles making such grand impressions, this hollowness became increasingly difficult to ignore.

All in all, Far Cry Primal is a great entry in the series when it comes down to gameplay alone. The refocus was necessary to rein in the series, introducing a renewed sense of helplessness with more thoughtful engagement. Ultimately, the lack of a gripping story or any standout characters strips a bit too much from the experience. It’s a solid effort that opens up more possibilities for first-person action, but without the highs a strong narrative could have afforded the game, it is left feeling a bit bare.

Score: 3/5


Pros

  • A great sense of urgency.
  • Animals open up gameplay immensely.
  • Lack of technology never feels like a hindrance.

Cons

  • Story is lacking and largely forgettable.
  • No standout characters.
  • Strong mechanics, but otherwise light experience.
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