Survival of the Strongest
You crouch low, hidden amongst the tall grass beneath the beating afternoon sun, knuckles white around the grip of your spear. You wait patiently as a group of crazed, cannibalistic cavemen march past, eager to find their next victim. Once their backs are turned, you move into position – the element of surprise is on your side. As you stand and ready your spear for the kill, panic breaks out amongst the hunting party. Suddenly, with precision and power, the group is attacked and torn to pieces by another lone hunter: a sabretooth tiger. You lower your spear and turn quietly to leave the beast to its feast.
Welcome to Far Cry Primal.
The latest entry in the venerable open-world FPS series, Far Cry Primal subverts expectations by winding the clock back to 10,000 BCE while still managing to retain the series’ core identity. From patting down bodies and skinning game to starting brush fires in the exotic setting, this is very much a Far Cry game. The fictional central European land of Oros is a lush and rich environment to explore and conquer, but ultimately Primal’s bland story and repetitive mission design hold it back from being as memorable as its predecessors.
As the game starts, you make your way towards Oros and to your people, the Wenja. You soon discover that in your long absence, a group of cannibals called the Udam have destroyed your home and butchered most of your people. To make matters worse, another hostile tribe called the Izila have been ceremoniously sacrificing the Wenja by burning them alive. It is time for the Wenja to fight back, or become extinct.
That’s about as deep as it gets, however, since the characters don’t provide much opportunity to connect emotionally with the story. A shame, especially considering the reception the series had with antagonist Pagan Min in the previous release. There’s a handful of personalities that reside in your village, but they don’t do anything in the actual game besides feed you with arbitrary missions to complete on your own. The cutscenes with them are engaging and immersive, mostly thanks to the caveman-speak voice acting (the whole game is in subtitles), but these characters don’t really help move the plot along, and their missions are wholly forgettable.
The shaman, Tensay, offers some great moments, however. On top of being the most interesting character in the game, Tensay’s missions are sometimes blood magic-induced visions. They’re a lot of fun to play through, and their presentation is excellent. My only complaint is that there are too few of them.
While the story and characters are a bit lackluster, Far Cry Primal does a great job of making its world feel authentic. The land of Oros is a beautiful landscape of thick forests and snow-capped mountains. Rivers and ponds are scattered throughout, and the whole map is crawling with wildlife. It’s very easy to get side-tracked from the missions and just go off hunting and gathering, and honestly this is where I found most of my favorite moments. This game can offer a sort of zen-like tranquility one moment, and then savage brutality in the very next. The juxtaposition between the violence of prehistoric life and the peace and beauty of nature is well-captured.
The combat is also a highlight of the game, as the close quarters action is as fluid as it is violent. You really feel the weight of your club when it comes crashing down on someone’s skull, and throwing spears is one of the most satisfying ways to dispatch enemies I’ve ever experienced (especially from the back of a wooly mammoth). All your weapons can be lit on fire as well, and it’s surprisingly fun to get the drop on an enemy encampment by setting it ablaze with a few well-placed fire arrows. Something I also really appreciated was that I caught myself using everything in my arsenal. I find in most games there are at least a few weapons or gadgets that just get left by the wayside, but in my time with Far Cry Primal I was able to find a situation to use everything at least a couple of times.
While dangerous wildlife isn’t anything new to a Far Cry game, Primal steps it up a notch by allowing you to tame predators and use them as battle companions and, occasionally, a mode of transportation. While riding can feel a little clunky, these beasts are very effective and were the difference between life and death for me on multiple occasions. You can tell them where to go or whom to strike, and they can tear through enemies with ease. The three best beasts in the game even have their own special Hunt missions. These missions were my favorite in the game, as they were full of atmosphere and dread as you hunted after what you knew was hunting you right back.
It’s just a shame that I didn’t have the same amount of fun with the other missions in the game. The story missions don’t carry much plot, and the side missions are mostly just chores to protect fellow Wenja. Also, strangely enough, the side missions have a two-step process to them. First you must proceed to one location and hear what happened, then travel to a second to start the actual mission. The second location isn’t usually very far away, but it’s still an annoying system. Also, the missions themselves never feel like more than just “go here, kill other tribesmen” or “go here, kill big cats.”
There are random events that will pop up on your HUD while you explore Oros as well, but these are never more than just rescuing a captive Wenja or taking down an enemy resource carrier. These can be entertaining distractions, but all too often they take place far out of your way.
Far Cry Primal does a commendable job at not only trying something different, but making it work. It’s a very fun game, with plenty of content and an authentic game world that often made me wonder what life was really like 10,000 years ago. The combat has a grisly satisfaction to it, and beast taming is a cool addition. It just gets held back by a weak story and side missions that feel more like chores than fun distractions. It may not offer as many memorable moments as its brethren, but it’s a unique experience nonetheless. Now, can we get a Turok reboot, please?