There’s nothing easy about Far Cry Primal; it’s a hard game to get really stuck into, and it’s even harder to get pulled out of. When I first heard that Ubisoft was taking the franchise in a trip through time to a period where machine guns, grenades and formal attire were yet to be invented, I can’t say I was all too optimistic. The idea of having my every luxury taken away from me and replaced by primitive alternatives sounded like Ubisoft didn’t want me to a) buy Far Cry Primal or b) have much fun with it.
Thankfully I was wrong, but that doesn’t mean the time-warp has done the franchise any long-lasting favours. We begin our caveman outing with an exciting and well executed opening that introduces us to the guy we’ll be throwing around Far Cry Primal’s map, Takkar, a caveman Wenja fella who loses his mate in an attack by what his people call a tiger, but what us modern folks refer to as a sabretooth tiger. Takkar and his buds are out hunting some mammoth – because McDonald’s wasn’t due to open for another few millenia – when all of a sudden this big-arse wildcat jumps the crowd. A few intense seconds later and pretty much everyone is cat food, except for Takkar.
You escape the encounter with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises, then you go on your way to fulfill the dying wish of Takkar’s mate: to find the rest of his people, the Wenja. There are a couple of other tribes in Far Cry Primal, but you (Takkar) belong to the Wenja tribe. Then there’s the Udam tribe who eat people (lovely), and there’s also the Izila who are an equally bad bunch of people, or at least that’s how the game portrays them. Something I couldn’t help but feel throughout the game is that nobody was actually the “good guys” or “bad guys” in the traditional sense: we’re all cavemen, there’s no government, there’s no law, and there are no established countries. So, in my mind, everyone’s just sort of doing their own thing while believing they’re not really doing anything out of the ordinary. Sure, for the Wenja it might seem that eating the flesh of your enemies is a bit of a scruffy thing to do, but then the Wenja gatherer and the source of some of the main story missions, Sayla, rips the ears from her dead foes and wears them as a necklace. Maybe the Udam and Izila find that to be a questionable action?
So, you’re main goal is to find, rescue, help, and recruit Wenja tribes people and get them to move into your swanky new village that’s been established by yourself and the crazy gatherer lady, Sayla, who you saved from a vicious tiger of the sabretooth variety. You’re also tasked with taking out the enemy tribes at every opportunity, though some of the main story missions force your hand and you’ll follow a more tightly scripted scenario.
The more villagers you have, the easier your life becomes; as the number grows, you get special perks, extra goodies delivered to your base and other stuff that just makes caveman life a little more bearable. It’s a nice little system that doesn’t feel that it’s just been dropped into the game for the sake of it, and when it came to random events where I’d be tasked with helping out some Wenja folks, I actually had something that motivated me. Jumping into the fray of battle and lobbing my last spear at some man-eating Udam warrior would earn me a couple of new villagers who, had I not intervened, would surely be that evening’s supper. In Far Cry 4 I’d be lucky to get a word of thanks…
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the story for the sake of leaving some things to you, the player, but what I will say is that it’s a little disappointing. In the past, I’ve generally been quite pleased with how Far Cry handles stories, but with Far Cry Primal I just couldn’t really find myself attaching to any of the cast, nor my own grunting caveman for that matter. The story and gameplay elements are symbiotic and to move forward in the campaign you really do need to tackle some of the side quests, as well as hunting specific animals to upgrade your gear, otherwise you’ll find yourself being clubbed to death very, very often. It’s kind of similar to the progression system in Far Cry 4 in that respect: you need to upgrade your stuff and fill out the branching skill tree so that you’re better able to do survive.
The main campaign isn’t a particularly long affair, though it does feel like it takes an age. For that, you can thank Ubisoft’s classic open-world formula being played out to the letter: go here, go there, collect this, collect that, go and talk to this person, go back to where you came from, now go back to that person etc. It gets tiresome real quick. I know there was a bit of a buzz around Far Cry Primal when it was announced, and many were assuming it’d just be Far Cry 4 re-skinned to set it in 10,000 BCE, but that’s not entirely the case, though many elements have been taken from previous games and dropped straight into Primal.
Outposts? Check. A ton of collectibles? Check. A grappling hook to climb and swing around like an ancient Spider-Man? Check. There’s more, but this review is already running over the word count, so I’ll keep it short. There’s plenty from Far Cry 4, but to be fair it doesn’t feel forced and it actually fits in quite nicely; it makes sense that other tribes would have bases. One thing I did sorely miss from previous games were vehicles. My frigging Christ I missed them so bad. I didn’t particularly enjoy the driving in Far Cry 4, but I also didn’t enjoy running for 20 minutes to get to an objective, and that’s not including all the times that enemies tried to kill me, or animals tried to have a go, which brings me to my next point…
Ubisoft made a big hoo-hah about the range of animals in Far Cry Primal and that you’d be able to tame them and then order them to do your bidding, which in my case was kill anyone/thing that looks like it might threaten my survival. I’m a good caveman… To be fair to Ubi, the developers have come up a cropper with Primal and its wildlife. It’s genuinely quite an unnerving experience to be roaming around a dense forest where you can’t really make anything out until it has already introduced its fangs to your neck. It doesn’t help matters that you’re essentially fighting off these predators with ancient weapons instead of your usual arsenal of pistols, flamethrowers and the like. But I guess that’s actually a really smart move because in 9/10 situations in previous games, I’d just whack out my biggest gun and run in all cylinders blazing. Try that in Far Cry Primal and you’ll soon find yourself on the wrong end of a spit-roast.
Taking away what we’ve come to love may seem a drastic move, but it encourages – nay – forces you to play the game in a different manner. It’s not a chaos simulator, it’s a lite-survival simulator. Ferocious beasts will have a pop at you without any provocation, and the other tribes will happily chop off your head and then eat your guts. It’s the most grotesque Far Cry game yet with all the savagery and gore, and couple that with the graphics of today’s consoles and things start looking a little too close to reality for me and my weak stomach.
In its essence, Far Cry Primal houses a massive open-world full of exotic beasts, dangerous tribes, and lots to do. It’s unfortunate that the story isn’t all that great, but on this rare occasion, I didn’t really care much for the story anyway and I just wanted to go back outside and see if I could recreate that bear scene from The Revenant. The gameplay is solid and requires you to re-learn how to play a Far Cry game. The open-world is massive and exploring it is always a tense affair, especially at night when the most dangerous predators come out to play. It’s frightening, I’ll tell you that much, but that’s about it.
I guess I should make a small note on the game’s performance seeing as how many people factor it into their buying decision when buying a game: it’s runs beautifully. In the 18-ish hours that I’ve been running around in Far Cry Primal, I can’t say I ever noticed any poor performance when it came to the framerate, but I was unfortunate enough to run into a couple of instances where the sound would chop up for 30 seconds before getting back on track. It was a rare event and it occurred maybe four or five times, but that’s about the worst thing I can say about the game’s performance.
This review was conducted using a PS4 copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. We were not under embargo by Ubisoft, so this review may be a little earlier than other outlets. This does not affect our judgement of the game, for more details on how we conduct reviews, please see our Review Policy.