If you’ve already checked out my video preview for Far Cry Primal
, then you should at least acknowledge that it is very much a Far Cry game. Its HUD and menu system is familiar, its game-world points of interest are familiar, its crafting system is familiar and its tripped-out ethereal moments are familiar. In fact, there’s a lot that ties this game to all the previous outings, but there’s a unique differential that makes these familiarities different somehow.
This differential is in the player-character, Takkar, his setting and how those familiar traits translate to both of these things.
In Far Cry 3, lamentably we played as Jason Brody -- an OC kid dropped into an island jungle war where the locals were apparently incapable of getting any further than when you came aboard and started killing everyone, despite having no skills in that area at all. In fact, it was the most divisive component to that game, which arguably lead to the introduction of Ajay Ghale -- an American-Kyrati half breed who returns home to scatter his Mother’s ashes, in Far Cry 4, only to be drawn into a rebellion against an all-too familiar dictator. While the location of Kyrat is clearly fictional, it was also obviously based on the Himalayas (or, more specifically, Nepal) and the developers felt that at least having the main protagonist of mixed-heritage from the location, would silence player dissent against pro-American leads.
Unfortunately Ajay came complete with an American accent and wound up being something of a Jason Brody clone. It’s a problem the series has had for a while now, given the idea they want to drop players into exotic locales, but are too weary to remove Americana altogether from the product, as if no one in the US would buy the game because they couldn’t relate to it.
But it all brings us to Far Cry Primal where, for all intents and purposes that concept is finally drowned in the mediocrity it so fastened, and we’re not only playing as an ancient European character, he -- and everyone else around -- also speaks in a completely different language. Put aside the mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and giant bears you can control with a gesture, the aforementioned is arguably the biggest shift in the series yet, and it’s as bold a move as Ubisoft Montreal has ever done. But it pays off in spades.
So, back to that familiarity I was talking about earlier, and how it fits in with the character and location. The difference between Far Cry Primal and previous Far Cry games is that the classic fish-out-of-water story of your Jason Brodys and Ajay Ghales no longer applies here -- Takkar is of the land you find yourself in. He’s as native as his native brethren you wind up helping out and saving. And his skills and abilities are directly related to being the sort of person he is. In Far Cry 3, Jason Brody learnt how to make ammo pouches and other such paraphernalia within minutes of play, which didn’t really make sense for a privileged kid from California, and while the concept, action and gameplay loop for crafting is almost identical between Far Cry 3 and Far Cry Primal, it’s in the latter that it makes the most sense.
This also applies to combat. Takkar has already been living off the land, hunting for food and tools, so the idea that he would have to face off against, and kill, rival tribesman is natural. It’s something you shouldn’t even need to consider, leaving his beastmaster skills as an actual revelation because that is the unnatural component here -- not the idea that Ajay Ghale can all of a sudden wingsuit his way through Everest’s canyons -- which is something we were supposed to buy into without a second thought.
Moreover, removing that pro-Americana aspect I’ve touched on also creates a new barrier for the player. We’re now the fish-out-of-water, while Takkar is our bridge to this strange new land. Sure, it made sense to add Yetis to DLC for Far Cry 4 -- the game was initially screaming out for it, but here none of the giant beasts or crazy rival tribe leaders feels out of place -- the game won’t ever need DLC (unless Ubi doubles down and gives us dinosaurs) because the setting, story and gameplay don’t need any more expansion -- it’s perfect as it is.
When you also consider that you’re playing through an entire game with subtitles, ala Mel Gibson’s brilliant Apocalypto, the fine line Ubisoft is walking becomes clearer. Not only does it sell the world and characters more completely -- and solidify that we’re the alien here -- it also forces us to pay more attention to the writing in a way none of the previous games could. This is a good thing because writing has always been a drawcard for Far Cry, it’s just never been strongest when our main protagonists have been weakest.
In Far Cry Primal, Ubisoft has managed to find a setting for their gameplay pillars that comes with believable context -- it’s not at all a stretch to suspend disbelief here because we’ve never
been here, and the studio ought to be applauded for taking the plunge, even if we’re facing elements of familiarity.