I’ve tried, time and time again to find a counter-argument, but I can’t. It certainly doesn’t make sense: a first-person-shooter franchise that’s known for gun-heavy, mod-intensive exploration takes a decidedly non-gun turn by setting it’s latest offering in 10,000 BCE.
Like I said, it shouldn’t work, but it does. It still somehow manages to retain it’s emphasis on exploration, crafting, leveling and thrown weapons, all without involving a single gun. Also surprising, it still feels like a step forward, and integrates the grappling hook, village building, component gathering and tracking rare animals from Far Cry 4.
My love for Far Cry: Primal might not be your love, though. See, I was one of those weird people who would play Skyrim and would often find myself getting distracted and going on nature hikes during a quest. Like, “oh yeah, I’m definitely going to save that village…aaaaafter I see what’s on the other side of that mountain over yonder. Only, at the top of that peak would be another interesting place to explore, and then it’s three hours later and I need to go to bed.
Maybe it’s my ADD, or maybe it’s just a testament to good level design, but I tend to get sucked into games where I can explore the world it takes place in, and not get bored. And if exploration’s your bag, you’ll find it in spades here. Not only is there the standard ” DISCOVER ALL THE THINGS drive, but there’s also hunting, collectible searches and taming.
Undeniably, the best addition to Far Cry’s tried-and-true leveling formula is the addition of animal taming. Like a pre-historic Beast Master, you’ll get the chance to find and tame the animals of Oros. Owls will give you aerial superiority a la drones, and will let you tag, attack and scout ahead, which replaces the original surveillance aspect of Far Cry 2, 3 and 4. Of the four-legged variety, you’ll notice that each animal has it’s strengths and weaknesses, in terms of speed, attack strength and overall toughness. You’ll also need to constantly maintain your “pet” after scrapping, so be sure to keep a good stash of meat on hand. After all, they aren’t invincible, and if they fall while you’re in battle, and you don’t revive them in time, they’ll die. If you’re not paying attention during combat, it can be a bummer, especially since most FPS games feature revive-able sidekicks.
The world also features a variety of NPCs to interact with, all of whom speak a gutteral “cave language”, which is subtitled eloquently. When you encounter fellow Wenja, the depth and complexity of their words is belied in their facial expression and tone. The enemies, on the other hand, come across as guttural, bestial and just barely above apes. Maybe that’s the way they can justify mass slaughter…well, that and the whole cannibal thing. I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the enemies being dull and uninspired…but that’s only because the Wenja are so colorful and bright. I dunno. I wasn’t necessarily looking for another Vaas or Pagan Min in caveman form, so I wasn’t necessarily disappointed. The creepy dismembered bodies and half-eaten stumps were quite enough for me.
Again, the world of Oros is gorgeous, and well worth exploring (if that’s your bag). The transitions from day to night are fantastic, and there are some times where it’s far easier to complete objectives under cover of darkness. Of course, the dark works both ways, so I’ve literally ran into enemies, a roving wolf pack and a couple bears; the key is to use your “hunter sense” often.
Your “hunter sense” (toggled by clicking the right thumbstick) paints the world of Oros sepia, and highlights key objects (resources, animals, enemies, etc.) in gold. During quests, key elements will be highlighted in blazing red. In addition, wounded animals and rare hunt animals will have a serpentine scent trail, making them easier to track. It’s this ease that sometimes comes across as a little too hand hold-y, and I tried to wean myself off using it, choosing instead to discover by exploring the land, and only use it as a last resort.
Speaking of hunting, animal AI has been increased quite a bit since Far Cry 3/4 and animal hunting is an absolute challenge, especially given Primal’s primitive (though upgradeable) weapons. For example, I can honestly say that I rarely fall to enemies in regular combat, thanks to a FPS reliance on melee attacks. That’s all well and good when dealing with men…but with animals, all bets are off. Even sneaking up on smaller, bonier creatures isn’t a guaranteed kill as with human prey. There are plenty of times I’ve had a boar/wildebeest/rhino nearly speared, then accidentally overthrew my second spear, giving them ample time to run away. You can choose to try to run them down or sic your pet on them…but if neither is an option, well, you just lost a spear (or arrow, or club, or throwing knife, or…well, you get the point).
But by far the game’s greatest challenge is it’s big animals, particularly apex predators like cave lions, panthers, sabretooth tigers and leopards, who can shred you before you even know you’re dead…and will often wreck your pet in two hits. But even those baddies pale in comparison to the godforsaken cave bears. Look, I don’t know if I simply didn’t pay enough attention when watching The Revenant, but bear maulings account for probably 2/3 of my overall deaths in the game…no exaggeration. And by the time the bear is already on your radar, it’s probably too late. I’ve literally blasted a bear with two spears and four arrows and the bastard STILL destroyed me, as I flailed away with my club.
Like Far Cry 3 and 4, there’s a significant “drug” section, only this time around, it’s part of a ceremonial ritual, which drives the initial storyline. Later, you can complete challenges while playing as an animal…and be warned: they’re challenging and almost unfair.
Considering the size of Far Cry Primal’s world (and the fact that it encapsulates terrain from the previous two titles), the ability to reset outposts once you conquer them, and the sheer amount of randomly-spawning enemies, there’s a solid amount of replay value, which almost makes up for a lack of multiplayer. That being said, if you’re part of the “EXPLOSIONS ALL DAY EVERY DAY AIRSTRIKES FUCK YEAH AMERICA BLAM BLAM” contingent, you’ll likely end up bored by Primal’s pace. And that’s a shame, considering that at times, it has some of the most graphic, gory moments ever in a Far Cry title…and also some of the most tender. Not only can you pet your four-legged companions “just because,” but you also have a vested interest in the survival of the Wenja. From the very beginning, you’re told that your people have essentially been the victim of genocide by the other two tribes, and as such, have been scattered to the four winds. Unlike other titles, it feels like imperative that Takkar answer the call of every single Wenja in distress, if only to unite all of your lost tribesmen.
All in all, I can attest that Far Cry: Primal represents a surprising step up for the franchise…especially without the use of guns. It’s definitely not for everybody, but if you find yourself looking for a different FPS exploration experience, you’ll really dig Primal’s aesthetic.