Review: Far Cry: Primal (PS4)
Welcome to 10.000 BCE. This is a harsh land, filled with creatures and people that can kill you in an instant. Many lead a nomadic existence, following food and avoiding the colder climes. But you have a home, a people, however others are trying to kill you, to eat, enslave or sacrifice the Wenja. It is time to hit back.
Just looking at the land of Oros and its inhabitants, you can see the attention to detail that went into this game. From your basic tools and their various upgrades, you can see how things became more elaborate, more aesthetically pleasing as well as functional or sturdier as the game progresses. Each tribe in the game speaks its own language, and it isn’t just random gobbledygook either. After a few hours of play, you will come to learn a few words yourself. It feels authentic, not that I am an expert in what people did 12,000 years ago, but it reminds me a lot of reading The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel.
Far Cry: Primal has amazing verticality to its locations. Finding your way across the landscape, dealing with high ridges and steep drops is a big part of your journey. It is really enjoyable finding your way around the pristine, massive forests of Oros. Trees sway in the wind, sunlight breaking through a canopy to bathe a copse in light. All around you is quiet, except for the animals nearby. Birds can be heard overhead, deer forage for food before scattering as a pack of wild dogs rushes at them. If you are unlucky, the dogs might turn on you instead and in the early days of the game your gear is no match for a lot of the animals sharing this land with you.
Rocks, roots and animal parts are your main interest, from building your village to upgrading your own gear, everything comes from the land. Animals provide meat for food, letting you restore lost health. Their pelts can be used for new belts and bags, while their fat is used to coat your weapons to set them alight. Fire plays a huge role in the game: it is used for exploration, in caves and at night, or for accessing hidden, overgrown caches and collectibles. It is used to damage enemies, or to scare off a pack of wolves. It is even used to stop from freezing to death in the cold Northern lands, at least until you make some proper winter clothing.
The land of Oros has many outposts and camps that you can liberate from the enemy. This is a really fun activity, letting you test your arsenal of weapons in the way that you want to. If you prefer the stealthy approach you can keep to the shadows, or kill targets from a distance, with your bow and your killer owl companion. Or you can storm the outpost on the back of a mammoth, killing everyone in the noisiest way possible, flinging bombs as you trample your foes. Its the exact same as those radio towers of before, and enemy encampments, without the silly climb to the top of a radio tower.
Mammoth… health bars?
Boss battles feature heavily in the story, with a health bar appearing at the top of the screen four times. They also seep into the big game hunter missions, putting a sour taste to the end of an otherwise enjoyable hunt. Almost all the boss missions involve someone or something with a massive healthbar, making your weapons feel useless as you turn a head into a pincushion with little effect. Then they involve you running away a lot to heal, before getting a few attacks in from extreme range, or stunning the target with the environment before doing proper damage. They are clumsy, boring and unimaginative, without any checkpoints as you proceed through the phases of the fights. At least in a hunt, if you die, the creature will have the same health when you find it (even though it makes no sense at all, but neither does waking up somewhere nearby after death, so let me not dwell on that). The beginning of the master hunts are amazing, you investigate areas to learn about the animal, tracking its carnage and seeing what attacks failed against it, or working out when and where the creature feeds. You then get to set up a few traps to damage or immobilise anything standing in them, with the premise of luring them into the traps. Then things go downhill when you find that the creature has more health than 10 traps would be able to handle and after a set amount of damage, it runs off to another place, where you do the same thing again, while trying to avoid being gored / bitten / trampled / clawed to death. In most cases, the best way to fight the creatures is by cheesing them, which is disappointing.
Maybe he just prefers animals?
Takkar comments on the world around him, pointing out creatures he can tame or commenting on what a creature’s tracks tell him. It breaks an otherwise very quiet and lonely journey. Away from the village Takkar only has a pet for company with friendly faces few and far between. As a result he shares a lot of his internal monologue, something much more preferable than a random know-it-all talking to you via magic / radio / cellphone all the time. However, I’m still not sure if Takkar is happy with his lot in life. His interactions with the other characters are minimal, often just taking orders before moving on, or claiming that he will do whatever thing will make the other character stop moaning. To add to this the voice actor, Elias Toufexis (you know him for Adam Jensen), has an enjoyable to listen to, but really monotone delivery of all his lines. Fro the most part it works, but in several places a bit of excitement could have offered a welcome change from the matter of fact delivery. Yes, perhaps Takkar is driven and focussed, but he never truly engages with anyone, except for a short moment with Dalso and another with Karoosh. This means the supporting cast have a lot of work to do and despite the village coming together solely due to your hard work, it never quite feels like home.
After all the effort of getting amazing graphics, interesting character models, three complete languages and all the tools and mannerisms right, it feels like nobody knew what to do after the opening scene with the mammoth hunt. I spent hours waiting for the story to start, for something to happen, then I realised I had finished the game. 15 hours of scavenging, saving people, hunting and trying to keep the people of Wenja safe ended with two annoying boss fights and a pat on the back before being sent back to roam the land of Oros. It was underwhelming, and most likely a result of the story pitching you against two factions, without any major arc happening above the immediate plight for survival. The feeling of accomplishment, or making a difference is artificial and ephemeral. The world is still full of slavers taking the Wenja away, so did we really make it any safer? Far Cry: Primal starts off strong and fresh, then goes nowhere with its potential. This is really frustrating because it feels lovingly crafted. The world is fun to explore, the hunts and saving people and claiming enemy locations for your own use stay enjoyable the whole way through, but the story leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. In the end though, if you like the Far Cry franchise, you will like Far Cry: Primal.