Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: February 23, 2016
Far Cry Primal is a brutal, bloody, and ultimately bold expansion in a new direction for the manic sandbox series. Taking the well known template of dropping players into a hostile world ripe with opportunity to conquer and explore, Primal freshens up the formula with its primitive setting. Those familiar with the signature gameplay loop of past entries, won’t find much trouble in adjusting to Primal’s new bells and whistles. Initially, the experimental changes and features Primal employs into its presentation are inspiring, though eventually an absence of clear focus reveals itself. This aimlessness begins to take chips at the ambitious nature of Primal’s separation from its predecessors. There’s a lot to be said for the intrepid drive to forge toward new ground Primal so bravely shows initiative in accomplishing. However, there’s something equally as important to bring to light that’s tucked away within the repetition and middling execution of many of its brightest ideas. Primal’s impact on what the future holds for Far Cry is gutsy, but rather than confidently taking a step forward, it meanders about, shuffling its feet, inevitably realizing it doesn’t have the fortitude to support its opening promises. That said, Primal manages to maintain some strong moments of enjoyability, even when lowering the bar of quality when compared to what came before it. Departing from the traditional, modern setting of past Far Cry titles, Primal reverses the clock to 10,000 BC, a time of great hardship and brutality. You assume the role of Wenja tribesman, Takkar, a talented hunter and warrior stranded in the daunting valley of Oros after a hunting excursion gone wrong. Rendered weaponless and separated from his party, Takkar must face the dangerous wildlife and hostile tribes that overrun Oros. As you grow Takkar as a fighter, you’ll hunt, craft, tame animals and complete missions for companions in order to put your tribe back on the map. Whether that be overtaking camps infested with cannibals or fetching rare animal skin, your status is elevated within the open world by completing these types of tasks. Aside from a few new touches to mission design here and there, Primal is very much an elaborate reskin of its predecessor.
The affair as a whole is rather one note; once having made your way through the first few hours, Primal shows little motivation in spicing things up by way of variety. Freeing hostages, discovering question marks, crafting advanced gear, and accepting fetch quests up the wazoo, encompass the majority of undertakings you’ll participate in. Primal’s core narrative has potential, most notably in its riskiness to present the game entirely in a foreign language accurate to the time period. Although, despite the originality behind some of the game’s stronger ideas, Primal’s attempts to make you care about what’s going on is ineffective at best, and grueling at worst. Leading you from point to point is a preachy structure lacking of narrative motivations and encouraging tension, growing increasingly wearisome as the game goes on. Whereas past installments used compelling plot threads such as strong villains and pressing matters to lend incentive to gameplay, Primal struggles to incorporate tangible significance into its objectives. Fortunately, Primal’s thin and uneven narrative is able to stay relatively distanced from the game’s most pronounced strengths. Its revised take on combat is frantic, grotesque, and exciting, providing standout moments. While the main gameplay loop is very similar to Far Cry 3 and 4, its prehistoric twist gives combat an aggressive punch its predecessors didn’t have. Utilizing an arsenal of bows, clubs, and spears, Primal’s weaponry is the biggest difference from what we’re used to seeing in a Far Cry game. Gone are sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and machine guns, instead we’re forced to make the most of crafting and strategy, keeping in mind what sort of armory we have at our disposal. It’s no doubt a bold change, however, the wonder of hurling a spear at a colossal mammoth or ambushing a group of wandering foes with a club, loses its novelty before it can really make a proper statement. There’s an apparent absence of longevity to be tapped into with Primal’s on foot combat, making late game interactions feel like a repetitive and wholly uninspired chore. What mends a bit of this issue is the great taming mechanic which allows players to fight alongside various species of wildlife, instructing them to provide assistance in battle. Be it transportation, companionship, or simply a tool for murder, Primal’s use of wildlife conveys purpose that nicely complements the gameplay. The beast’s AI is competent as well, and working with them to overtake camps and patrols provided for some memorable experiences.
In regards to other fields Primal shows sufficiency in, its atmosphere plays an important role in selling the prehistoric setting and dire tone of the time period. There were moments I’d stop what I was doing just to soak in the beauty of a sunset across a lush valley, or the believable sounds of the forest creaking from its inhabitants. From a pure visual standpoint, this is the best Far Cry has looked, demonstrating stellar lighting and character design. Beyond that, there aren’t many aspects in which Primal intelligently expands upon the traditional Far Cry formula we’ve seen time and time again. What made Far Cry 3 fantastic and Far Cry 4 great, simply doesn’t work as well under the parameters Primal has instilled within itself. Key factors that ensured past entries weren’t derailed by nauseating repetition, are missing entirely from Primal. Bits of narratively compelling material and variety in terms of loadouts and tactics simply don’t come as frequent in this installment as they did past ones. It doesn’t take much time to realize the story’s lack of substance and confident direction, lending most of the positive focus to the enjoyable gameplay. That said, this doesn’t rectify the fact that much of Primal feels like filler content in the grand scheme of things.Conclusion: Underneath the frustration and meandering focus of its structure, Far Cry Primal deserves recognition purely due to its boldness to try and bring something new to the table. Aside from its pitch, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be uncovered within the gorgeous, yet dangerous landscape of Oros. For the majority of its duration Primal trots along, maintaining enough of the Far Cry spirit by placing an emphasis on conquering, crafting, and upgrading. In true Ubisoft fashion it’s full of boxes to check, some of which make strides in quality, while others remain nothing but superfluous. Nonetheless, in spite of all its shortcomings, when glimpses into the insanity we’ve come to know the series for show themselves, I couldn’t help but plaster the same silly grin on my face as I once did when exploring the Rook Islands of Far Cry 3 years ago.
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