It becomes apparent how invested into their new world Ubisoft is, when your first pet wolf cocks his leg and takes a leak on the dead body of the Udam you both just killed. Even more so when, while health depleted, any one of your pets starts to munch on said dead body for a light snack.
Animals are the absolute hero of Far Cry Primal, with the main protagonist, Takkar, a conduit for the player to control and nurture them. And it’s not even specific to the ‘pets’ you gather -- the game-world is alive with an ecosystem that works, albeit in micro, digital form. Sure, news recently came to light that the game’s map of Oros is maybe a little too close to that of the Himalayas in Far Cry 4, but I’d argue that it’s irrelevant. Far Cry Primal’s setting is still far and away different to any of the previous games, and immersing yourself in this stone age world is one of the best experiences of the series you might ever have.
On the surface, Takkar, his Wenja tribe, his warring enemies, his requirement to build out a village, craft, eat and grow
, is the meat of the game. Interestingly, it’s always
been the meat of the game but until now the context of this has been muddied by fish-out-of-water stories around protagonists who probably shouldn’t be able to do what any hero in Far Cry can do. Sure, it’s fantasy, but when you’re trying to contextualise that fantasy for real-world value; value the player can buy into, you start walking a really fine line. And this is why Far Cry Primal is arguably the best Far Cry to-date. Mostly because it’s incredibly easy to buy into what Takkar’s role in the game is, because as far removed from our understanding of true history as the game is, everything you do outside of controlling animals and tripping balls is believable.
I’ve reiterated a few times in lead-up content that Primal is not an expansion like Blood Dragon was. It’s an incredibly complete experience, wrapped in franchise familiarity that actually doesn’t get old. Everything here works (though switching up some of the UI to reflect the nature of the game could have been a nice touch), and expanded components such as maze caves and climbing challenges shape the game for the better. Moreover, the addition of controlling animals, but not being impervious to any you’re not in charge of keeps the challenge and fear of the natural world around you real. The ecosystem mentioned earlier is alive and brimming with both emergent and dynamic play, which changes based on location or time of day. It’s the flesh to the game’s village-building backbone -- a concept that may have started off as a sort of metagame, but winds up being your main goal. Grow your village, and the Wenja shall overcome.
The upgrading side of your village might appear lite-on early, but what it opens up for character growth is deep enough, and paced well enough, that it’s worth your added investment. Trouncing around the game-world doesn’t present as emergent activity as a game like Fallout does, but the various “Wenja Events” that appear become welcome distractions from the hunter-gatherer course for play, and prove valuable in growing your population or just accruing equally valuable XP. It’s difficult to grind the game too, so it scales appropriately with you. You might not have automatic weapons here, but sending a sabretooth to maul a group of unsuspecting Udam, while unleashing your owl to not only give you the whereabouts of enemies (and their type), but can also attack from up on high is grand. Immediately, while hiding behind a giant red wood out of enemy sight, you’ve probably taken out two to three baddies with only a few more to go, and more sabretooth attacks up your animal-skinned sleeve.
The story is dope, as well. Mostly because Ubisoft decided to present the whole thing in a different language and have us read subtitles. This is compounded positively by how good the performances are in this language. It’s a brutal tale that doesn’t require too much thinking, but it grounds the game’s concept expertly and is wonderfully presented. The engine, on Xbox One, is still capable of delivering some great visuals, but it is beginning to look a bit dated, especially when compared to, say, Dying Light which is Far Cry with zombies, to an extent. Still, the game-world, even if created on Far Cry 4’s map layout, sells the prehistoric setting competently and it’s anything but a flat playing field with mountainous regions, snowy peaks and myriad waterways. I think “lush” sums it all up nicely.
Which brings us to the key point: is it worth the price of admission? Absolutely. As previously mentioned, it’s a complete, standalone experience and breaks the mold enough that, despite having many familiar gameplay traits, is still a new adventure. Takkar is far and away a better lead than any of the previous games’ heroes, and Primal’s villains are bitterly awesome. Controlling animals while going through the hunter-gatherer motions in order to build out your village and people is an excellent idea that moves through the game’s ebb and flow beautifully. More risks could have been taken in stripping back the all-too familiar UI, and in the structure of the game’s mission system, but as a pitch out of left-field, Far Cry Primal is a notch on Ubisoft Montreal’s cave-painted wall. More than worth a look-in.