In a market full of generic first-person shooter games, it takes an incredibly unique gameplay model to make a game stand out. The Far Cry franchise has taken that first-person experience, and molded a very successful franchise by adding RPG elements and expert storytelling. Far Cry Primal takes this a step further, by taking several steps back…more specifically 12,000 years back. The story starts in 10,000 B.C., placing you in the perspective of a Wenja tribesman named Takkar. On a hunt with other members of his tribe, the hunting party is ambushed by a saber-toothed tiger, and Takkar finds himself the sole survivor, stranded and unarmed. On a trek for survival, he meets up with and saves Sayla, another Wenja tribe member. In doing so, Takkar finds himself embroiled on a quest to save his scattered tribe from the cannibalistic Udam tribe, and lead his people to safety.
Throughout the course of the game, you unlock new weapons and abilities, which is par for the course in the Far Cry titles. However, Primal makes a few distinct changes to this formula. The first and most obvious difference is the lack of guns. With the setting of the title, it makes sense that your inventory options will be much more basic. You are limited to bows, spears, clubs and other primitive weapons; however this never felt restrictive. Strong combat mechanics and tight controls left me feeling very satisfied with the lack of modern weaponry, and a very fleshed out skill tree and upgrade system allows for better weapon options later in the game. There are no weapons for purchase, the developers instead opting to focus on the crafting model featured in previous incarnations to create your own weapons.
This crafting model also ties into your tribe. As you complete quests and recruit specific specialists, you will add to your total tribe members. As you add to your tribe count and upgrade huts in your village, you will unlock additional skills, and also add to a daily reward stash that will net you additional gathered resources to pull from any of your safe zones. With the focus on gathering resources and building your tribe, it is a balancing act between hunting, questing, and gathering. Failing to focus on your inventory can lead to being overwhelmed by rival tribes, with no means of being able to craft additional weapons and arrows.
One of my favorite additions to the franchise is the beast taming skill you pick up very early on. The game allows for you to tame a variety of wild animals, and use them during combat. The first animal you have access to is an owl, which is handled separately from your other companions. The owl is the only animal you can control directly, allowing you to scout ahead and tag enemies after unlocking the proper skills. Taming options start off limited, but by taming several beasts you unlock additional skills which will let you tame additional, more powerful pets. This gives you a tactical advantage, by being able to target specific enemies and attacking at a greater distance. The targeting mechanics are very simple, as all you need to do is be focused on your enemy and press a button to set your beast on the attack. Occasionally, however, I found myself sending my pet to stand in one spot because I wasn’t directly aiming at an enemy, only to have to waste time calling him back and losing the element of surprise. Overall, however, combining pet taming with an incredibly strong combat system created an exceptionally positive gameplay experience.
The developers made full use of next gen hardware to truthfully recreate a prehistoric world. Beautiful environments and detailed characters build a world that is easy to get lost in. A variety of terrain, from snow covered mountains, to grassy woodland areas, to bright and colorful “spirit-walking” segments, created an environment that never felt boring. Non-player characters, enemies, and prey are extremely well animated. This is evident early on, as it was easy to experience the thrill of chasing down and hunting a mammoth in the first mission, and equally terrifying being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger immediately after. However, playing on the PlayStation 4 version, I noticed occasional rendering issues which were most noticeable when sprinting for an extended periods. Upon slowdown, the ground would appear slightly blurry until vegetation details had an opportunity to load. While these issues were glaringly obvious, they were very infrequent; other than being an occasional annoyance, I noticed no framerate drops in the process and did not affect gameplay.
The setting for Primal makes for a very unique story, one that I had quite a bit of fun experiencing. Characters in the game are unique, and the amount of time spent developing the language in game really drove home the prehistoric feel. I enjoyed the tribe members immensely (especially one particularly colorful character who refers to you exclusively as “Piss-Man,” for reasons that left me moderately amused). These supporting characters are truly the backbone of my experience in Primal, and were the largest portion of where my emotional investment in the game came from. Each of the supporting characters drives a sense of loss and tragedy, showcasing the hardships that caused the tribe to scatter. Several of the support characters have been severely maimed by the rival Udam tribe, including one warrior who also had his son killed while he watched. They set the tone for a very dramatic experience, and made me feel very invested in their story.
As thoroughly entertaining as I found the story of the game, it was not without fault. Previous incarnations of the franchise take place during modern times, which lead to much more relatable main characters and truly heart wrenching moments when tragedy strikes, as it is easier to place yourself in your characters shoes. In this incarnation, however, I found it slightly more difficult to be engaged with Takkar, especially with the language used. Developing the game in a foreign language means spending it reading subtitles, which were very literally translated into choppy, simple dialogue. While that meant it would be much more faithful to what you would expect a simplified and primitive language would be, it also made things feel very drawn out for what amounted to be very short sentences. Additionally, spending the entire game reading subtitles can take away from being able to truly appreciate some incredibly well animated cut-scenes, and made it difficult to really appreciate the emotion characters are trying to convey. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have an incredible amount of fun playing the game, but I feel that too much emphasis on making it feel real managed to pull attention from an otherwise exceptional experience.
In short, while not perfect, Primal was still one of the best games I have played in quite some time. While sometimes disengaged from the main character, a well written and colorful supporting cast more than made up for it, and left me truly entertained. An incredibly well balanced combat system with new features and fun skills means I ultimately did not miss the lack of firearms in the game. Plenty of side missions and extra content ensure hours of gameplay even after finishing the campaign. Finally, Primal is easily as beautiful and detailed as anything I have played, and is one of my favorite games to come out during this console generation. Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed, as it is a very fresh take on the FPS genre.