Far Cry Primal has already been out for quite some time; it came out on console a week before the PC version released on 1 March. By now if you were going to buy it you probably already have. You’ve probably already finished it too. Why are we bothering with this review then? Well, this review is an experiment of sorts.
When the Far Cry Primal review embargo lifted the day before the game released on console (23 February), I began reading the opinions of those who’d gotten review copies. At the time I didn’t know I was getting a review copy, otherwise I would have avoided reading the opinions of other critics until I’d formulated my own. Many of those reviews confirmed my biggest suspicion: that Far Cry Primal would feel too much like the last entries in the series for me to be lured into picking up the game. Despite good review scores, lines like “more Far Cry just without the guns” turned me off, and I took to Twitter to discuss that and bemoan the fact that it appeared Ubisoft hadn’t innovated enough for me to jump into Primal without hesitation.
Karma is a fickle thing though, and shortly after my bitching, a PC copy of the game arrived at my house for review. The thing is, now that I’ve played the game, I can say that my initial opinion was wrong. Far Cry Primal is definitely worth looking at; in fact, it is quite comfortably my favourite game in the series.
It’s 10,000 BC and you’re a hunter from a downtrodden clan of… Mesolithic cave dwellers I guess? Your name is Takkar, and things go pear-shaped during a mammoth hunt, which results in you finding your way to the land of Oros while trying to outrun a very hungry sabre-toothed tiger. There you find a few lost members of your Wenja tribe, and after some coercion from the delightfully bat-shit character Sayla, you decide to reunite your scattered Wenja brethren and fight back against two encroaching rival tribes: the Udam and the Izila.
Also, you can tame wild animals because I guess that the Mesolithic period really only had three weapons (spears, clubs and bows) and Ubisoft needed to give players other toys to kill other cavemen with. That, and you’d be surprised by how much fun it is riding a sabre-toothed tiger through the mountains, letting him go to town on your enemies’ throats while you go to town on their craniums with your newly upgraded bone-club.
It all sounds exceedingly dumb on paper in spite of being an obviously bold reimagining of the Far Cry franchise. Weirdly, it works really, really well.
There is very definitely a lot of Far Cry peeping through the cracks in the cave-paintings here. But, the Far Cry series and Ubisoft’s franchise mechanics have never felt more at home than they are in the 10,000 BC land of Oros. In Far Cry 3 you were playing a spoilt rich kid who suddenly knew how to kill sharks to craft bigger grenade bags or whatever. In Far Cry Primal, Takkar killing and skinning animals to make a bigger quiver kind of maybe slightly makes more sense? When you’re hunting mammoths to make warmer clothes so you don’t freeze your Mesolithic tits off in the frozen northern mountains, it also kind of maybe slightly makes more sense. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of nonsensical bollocks in here (I’m looking at you, Urki the redneck caveman, and your stupid, failed comic-relief missions), but so many of the Far Cry mechanics that we’ve grappled with since Far Cry 3 seem like a better fit for Primal.
I’ve often said that story in a game is pretty important to me (unless it’s an obvious arcade-type game where story is superfluous), and Far Cry Primal’s story was definitely disappointing. It’s a very barebones experience that’s peppered with some oddly memorable characters and surprisingly good dialogue (despite everyone speaking a made-up language). Sadly, the good is stuck floundering in a dull-as-hell narrative that’s brought to a totally anticlimactic ending. That being said, I don’t think the game necessarily suffers for its lack of story, because I think the development team was after something else. It’s more like they were after a feeling rather than a message to be conveyed in a story. With that in mind, Ubisoft Montreal nailed it. The game is
brimming with atmosphere and is more than capable of eliciting very vivid moments of sensing what it might have been like to be a little bit further down the food-chain. The forests, mountains and canyons all exude a cloying, primordial atmosphere that’s very striking and by far the most memorable part of this game. Sticking with the theme of primitive man lost in a very big and untamed world, an in-depth narrative with deeper meanings would’ve felt absurd. I suppose at this point in early humankind’s history, the greatest stories could be distilled down into “me want land; me want this thing in particular; me make blunt objects to beat in skulls of others who want what me want.” Incidentally, that’s a pretty good summary of Primal’s overall story, but I didn’t care. This game evoked feelings through its uncanny ability to create very atmospheric locations and scenarios. I found myself getting more caught up in self-created stories set in these vivid moments of gaming much more than any half-baked narrative would’ve allowed.
It may be eight years too late, but Far Cry Primal is basically the video game tie-in of the awful 10,000 BC movie from 2008. But whereas that movie was a steaming pile of mammoth crap that was doomed to disappear into action-movie obscurity, I think Far Cry Primal will be looked back upon and remembered fondly in years to come. While the game doesn’t have brilliantly characterised elements like the insane Vaas or psychotically camp Pagan Min, it has a lot of good intention and earnest attempts at rethinking the franchise. It held my attention from start to finish, and I gobbled up a lot of what the game had to offer in my 21 hours with the title. It still has dumb Far Cry elements, but the atmospheric highs and rock-solid gameplay were more than enough to drown out the four-odd years of rehashed mechanics. Despite the fact that Primal sits with the lowest overall score out of the previous Far Cry games, it’s my favourite out of the bunch.
If anything this whole experience reminded me how fallible the review process ultimately is, as I was ready to write-off the game thanks to reviews emphasising familiar Far Cry mechanics above all else. Turns out, now that I’ve played the game for myself, that I was misguided by those early review opinions. I’m now sitting here having come out the other end of what’s my favourite game in the series. But then again, that’s just my opinion.