The Stone Age is the perfect theme for the fantastic, but familiar, Far Cry gameplay.
Far Cry Primal is what you might call intelligent resource management. Survival games seem to be fashionable nowadays, and Far Cry's gameplay mechanics wrap perfectly around the concept. The shift to the Stone Age may have caught many by surprise, but it's also hard to deny how it makes all the sense in the world. Far Cry Primal has left the paradisiac islands and the Himalayan mountains behind, and carries the saga back into an era in which man was not at the top of the food chain. Hunting animals, collecting plants, shooting arrows, ambushing enemies, climbing ropes, or riding mammoths; all examples of the many gameplay mechanics inherited directly from Far Cry 4.
Which brings us to the biggest and most obvious problem we have with the game: recycled content. Ubisoft was, as we mentioned at the beginning of this review, clever in taking advantage of the resources they had available to create this new game, but clever resource management comes with a risk. After playing many hours of Far Cry 3 and 4, we found many familiar elements in Primal, and for some, this might be a sticking point, maybe even causing fatigue thanks to overly familiar gameplay mechanics. On the other hand, if hunting, survival, and exploring were the activities you enjoyed most about those games, then there is a good chance that you will love this change of direction.
Players will embody Takkar, the last survivor of a hunting party that found its way into the land of Oros, where they were on the way to meet up with the Wenja tribe. When the game starts, the Wenja are scattered across all corners of Oros, victims of attacks by two rival factions - the Udam and Izila. Making use of his hunting abilities, Takkar will have to conquer territory for the Wenja, increasing the effectiveness and the population of the village, which grows brilliantly during the game. You will build huts and gradually watch as the village gets more and more people, celebrating, living, and even playing drums with tribal fervour. You will also come across several eccentric characters, which is a Far Cry staple at this juncture, although the narrative has a more minor impact on Primal than it does in previous games.
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The premise is very simple and keeps consistent throughout the entire experience. Even more than Far Cry 3 and 4, Primal is a game in which the story is mostly created by the player and their interaction with the dangerous, but beautiful, world around them. There are primary missions, delivered by each main character, which you can complete in any order you want, and there are also several secondary objectives that are offered via other random characters, alongside several collectibles to discover. If you expected a greater focus on story, you may be disappointed with Primal, but that light approach to narrative also means greater freedom for the player, free from the urgency to pursue a storyline.
As the game is set during the Stone Age, many factors have been completely removed or changed from the main series. There are no cars, for example, but the map remains as massive as the one in Far Cry 4. This will require the player to seek other ways of getting around, such as a combination of plants that increase the character's speed, or the ability to tame and ride bears and sabretooth tigers. And yes, riding these animals (and the mammoth) is fantastic, all of them feel great thanks to excellent controls. You can execute almost every action available to you on foot, like attacking with weapons, throwing objects, skinning animals, or collecting plants. And you can also use the creature's own ferocious attack.
Combat is also somewhat different, since there are no guns. Your most basic attacks will form around archery, but there are more options available to you. Clubs, spears, bee bombs, traps and slingshots are some of the accessories that fill up your arsenal, and this time you will not be facing the world alone. At a certain point you will gain the ability to tame animals and use them to your advantage. They will always be by your side, and will not hesitate to attack any target you point them too. You can tame several types of animals, each with specific characteristics: some stealthier, others stronger, or capable of identifying threats. Another animal of extreme importance is the owl, which you can control in the skies to identify and tag enemies and animals.
The first fights in Far Cry Primal may be a bit strange for someone coming from Far Cry 4, mainly due to the AI behaviour. Since there's no firearms, most opponents will be divided between throwing spears, shooting arrows, and running towards the player for a ferocious melee attack. Their ferocity is such that some even run on all fours, raging towards the player. Other enemies hurl containers filled with poisonous gas or are equipped with several protective layers of bones and skins, making them particularly hard to bring down.
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All this suggests a bigger focus on physical confrontations than in previous games (although you may still act stealthily), and in this area we think Ubisoft could have done more. The lack of actions to dodge arrows or block enemy attacks impairs the quality of physical combat, although there are other options the player can explore, such as traps and 'bombs' made of bees and fire.
Stealth fans will continue to have the opportunity to test their skills with Primal, since the structure of enemy bases and strongholds remains in the game. You will find several bases to invade, with varying difficulties. You may try an aggressive approach, suited for the company of a strong animal like a bear, or a careful and stealthy approach, which will benefit from the presence of a big cat.
Far Cry Primal also uses a night and day system, which adds an extra layer to the gameplay. As there are no artificial lights in the Stone Age, it means night is actually dark and dangerous. Predators are particularly aggressive at this time and they're more abundant. If you prefer security, you can carry a burning club, which in addition to providing visibility also allows you to keep beasts at bay. Alternatively you can sleep until morning in one of several fields scattered across Oros. Of course night is also the ideal time to attack an enemy camp if you want to act stealthy.
The progression system returns in Primal, but with some changes compared to its predecessors. Instead of the skills being divided into talent trees, they are assigned to characters. For example, to improve your capacity to collect and detect resources, you must develop the skills related to Sayla, while Tensay is connected to the abliities involving interaction with animals. There is also a crafting system, which involves finding the many resources spread across Oros, like plants, branches and rocks, and also skins from animals.
Technically, Far Cry Primal is very similar to Far Cry 4, although there are some improvements. The most obvious is the foliage density in Oros (there is also an area with snow, where you will have to worry about the cold). It's particularly impressive to see the leaves and plants moving with the passage of a racing animal, and the density is such that sometimes you can only catch a glimpse of the animal itself. A word also for Far Cry Primal's brutality. The series was always violent, but Primal is particularly vicious. Sensitive people, you have been warned. The sound department is also worthy of a shout out. The actors' performances are great (with a made up language) and the sounds in the jungle are amazing, although the minimalist soundtrack is easily forgotten.
Looking objectively at Far Cry Primal as an isolated product, it is impossible to deny that it is indeed quite good, but it is not a completely isolated game. The fact that so much content from Far Cry 3 and 4 is recycled means that there may be players who find it overly familiar, and that is the biggest problem we had with Primal. The lack of any multiplayer option will also disappoint some, but Far Cry has always been mainly a solo experience. In short, if you still think you have more Far Cry in you, and if you appreciate the survival theme of the Stone Age, Primal is a safe bet.
8 / 10
Overall a polished experience. Animal mechanics are great. World feels alive. Village growth adds another layer of immersion.
Recycled content may cause Far Cry fatigue for some players. A few less polished details. No co-op mode.