Prehistoric man is distant from modernity through not only time but through idiosyncrasy. For example, howling and dancing in celebration at some degenerate and violent victory are, no pun intended, a far cry from the usually more subdued levels of satisfaction from characters in a more current setting. Far Cry Primal exudes this distance in a way that becomes the mark of a truly unique title. It elicits a realistic disconnect from its protagonists to craft a world in which danger and physicality are thoroughly stressed; its giant valley is full of interesting fauna, unsettling and atmospheric tinges, and a vast breadth that help Primal stand upright and alone. The standard first-person Far Cry gameplay of attacking forts, skinning animals and setting the land and enemies aflame are all present, but a more regressed tool and weapon set differentiates Primal enough to keep combat and exploration loops fun and fresh.
Oh, and there are a shit tonne of mammoths as well.
Takkar, your prehistoric protagonist, has been tasked by his Wenja brethren to bring tranquillity back to the Land of Oros from the threat of two nasty neighbouring tribes: the cannibalistic Udam, and the fire-obsessed Izilia. Doing so, of course, requires you to capture each region by dismantling the enemy presence through both fort and bonfire attacks, and a series of main missions that involve lots and lots of killing. While the latter objectives are more unique, due to their story-specific locations and scenarios, the same general gameplay from Far Cry 3 and 4 is very much in evidence here, despite the game taking place in 10,000 BCE. You will be locating various camps, tagging enemies from afar and then either picking them off one by one, or rushing at them with every bit of force that Takkar can muster. Although this is highly derivative of previous outings, it is still incredibly fun. Smashing in heads with your stone club, impaling an idiot Udam from 70 metres away with your spear and clearing the map section-by-section is always fabulously satisfying.
There were times, however, when I had a deep hankering for a grenade launcher to really show those cave men who was boss, but those feelings subsided as I progressed. The lack of modern weaponry provides Primal with a more realistic and brutal feel to its combat; not being beholden to an outfit of polished, automatic weapons adds a deep sense of power that follows Takkar throughout, as clubs, spears and bows must be wielded with ferocity and deadly accuracy in order to succeed. Taking down enemy forts allows you to not only utilise crude, hand-to-hand weapons but, for some reason, Takkar can also magically control a number of animals to meet his own needs. He has an owl to acts as a scout, which can be sent forward into battle beforehand to tag enemies or drop bombs onto their shaggy heads. A much more exciting skill, however, is his ability to tame and direct large mammals during combat: sabre-tooth cats and giant bears to name but a few. These animal inclusions increase gameplay variety, and distance Far Cry Primal’s conflict mechanics from what has come before.
Brutal realism also tears its way into the game’s skill and crafting systems. When completing missions, getting kills or taking over enemy camps, you gain a certain number of experience points that will eventually net you a skill point that can be used to upgrade Takkar’s abilities; for example: increasing his health or the strength of his weaponry. As well as this, you must use Oros’ flora and fauna to your advantage in order to craft spears, arrows, clubs, food and gear-carrying satchel improvements. Although these mechanics were present in previous Far Cry outings, never have they been so ferociously necessary. The world here is a dangerous place, expertly fitting a time period in which the life expectancy was around 30 years old. Animals and rival tribes comes at you at every turn, with night-time jaunts proving the most hazardous. As a result, a constant stream of upgrades, hunting and material collecting must be undertaken in order to survive. This progression system forces you to increase Takkar’s power at a seemingly realistic pace, and natural materials, such as plants and skins, are implemented as an imperative and, therefore, an entirely functional mechanic.
The visuals of Primal are, unfortunately, fairly derivative, as the same forested and snowy aesthetic that coated Far Cry 4 back in 2014 has returned. Everything is simply re-skinned with a prehistoric crudeness, but alterations can still be found to differentiate this land from its modern-day counterparts. Oros is a huge open-world, and with a lack of mechanised vehicles for transport (large mammals can be ridden whenever a specific perk is unlocked, however) traversing its rugged terrain on foot still feels like an overwhelmingly monumental task. This is far from a negative, however, as it accurately portrays the vastness and anonymity of the pre-civilised era; getting lost amongst tall trees, swamps and valleys is a stunning, escapist experience. An alien set of sounds and sights also characterise Primal’s atmosphere as one of naturalistic peril. Odd wails and screeches fill every available sound space, and prehistoric animals can be found or hunted throughout the map. My favourite, of course, is the brontotherium – a massive woolly rhino with pronged horns – but there is something both truly frightening and awesome about seeing mammoths at home in their natural tundra-like habitat.
This strangeness carries over to the game’s story and characters, as their situations, problems and personalities are wildly different from our own modern expectations. Takkar, plus his friends and foes, do not speak English, but use a precursor dialect known as Indo-European. While I am not adverse to watching foreign films or using other languages, this usage produced a large amount of disconnect between myself and the game’s cast of characters. Indo-European may add authenticity to Primal but, in my opinion, its inflexions and pronunciation lacked the emotional or resonant sounds that make modern scenarios instantly comprehensible. Most cutscenes and plot points also strengthen this sense of detachment, as the body language and anxieties of prehistoric man cannot be readily understood by anyone living in the present. In one instance, Takkar uses a piece of rock as a mask to frighten an enemy tribe, as they fear it to be the living representation of a vengeful deity. This type of uncivilised nuance is rife throughout, and while at times it can be quite disconcerting, I still found it to be an interesting problem to have while playing a videogame. Very few titles are able to produce such an authentic experience as this, and even less prey on our anthropological makeups to generate emotional distance from far-flung time periods.
Despite clearly descending from Ubiosft’s previous titles, Primal is able to successfully break away from the standard Far Cry formula using a brilliant supply of prehistoric traits. Authenticity is paramount to Primal’s design, as a swathe of naturalistic components have been smashed together to build a game that is always fun, brutal, and expectantly remote.
And please, make sure to remember: there are a shit tonne of mammoths as well.
Mammoths are good.
You'll have a gay old time.
Authenticity is paramount to Primal's design, as a swathe of naturalistic components have been smashed together to build a game that is always fun, brutal, and expectantly remote. There are also large mammoths.