By Kyle Holmer. This is LOAD FILE, where we break our quarry’s resolve under the weight of stone. This week, Kyle reviews Ubisoft Montreal’s ‘Far Cry Primal’, available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
I like most was pretty surprised when Ubisoft decided to announce Far Cry Primal late last year. Beyond the confusing launch announcement, they had just released two Far Cry games back-to-back in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and that’s not including the standalone expansion (Blood Dragon) between releases. While both Far Cry 3 and 4 were enjoyable in their own right, the latter did very little to expand the series — beyond the inclusion of miniature helicopters and a grappling hook; excluding those two new inclusions those games were too similar to justify purchasing another.
The general consensus after the tepid response to Far Cry 4 was that Ubisoft would not only need to take a longer break before their next release, they would need to make some dramatic improvements to the mechanics (something that even Blood Dragon wasn’t able to do despite the unique surroundings). When Primal was announced, it had seemed Ubisoft was quite aware of all the complaints its series had amassed and was taking measures to eliminate genre fatigue. There was a (slightly) longer break before the next release, but more importantly, the game was set tens of thousands of years ago in a prehistoric wilderness. As a result the player has no access to any of the comforts of a contemporary action hero, but instead would rely on found objects (or self-made ones) in a violent, animal infested wilderness.
While it would seem the premise almost guarantees an opportunity for Ubisoft to reset the series, I was amazed to find out just how similar Primal is to its predecessors.
TODAY I WATCH THE COLORS FADE
Probably one of the biggest issues with Primal is the story, which is surprisingly exclusive to this entry as neither 3 or 4 had a problem with narrative. You play as the only surviving member of a hunting party who is tasked with finding and uniting the recently dissipated Wenja tribe. Your adventure immediately takes you to the Land of Oros, where upon arriving you reconnect with other surviving Wenja and spend the rest of the campaign attempting to rejoin and rebuild your clan. The campaign has barely any interesting moments, as at first you seek out some important Wenja and then after completing a certain number of missions for these new characters, you’re tasked with finding and removing the head of the other tribes living alongside your tribe.
Far Cry has always been known for their terrifying sociopathic villains, and while Primal does indeed have a handful of looming antagonists, they’re on screen for about a total of five minutes. For the most part, you forget what the actual driving goal of the game is until you happen upon a game-ending boss fight. There’s very little story that actually strings the player along, and while the individual cutscenes setting up missions are fantastic, there’s absolutely nothing compelling you forward.
WATCH THE GAMES YOU PLAY
The lack of a story in and of itself isn’t necessarily an issue; sure, the game would be a lot better if there was a more compelling narrative pushing the story along, but the series has mostly been known for its experimental gameplay. Between warring factions, wild animals, and a personal artillery strapped to your back, Far Cry invited players to create their own storyline through gameplay. Serving as a massive sandbox, you’re encouraged to approach any encounter in a variety of ways using the massive array of tools available.
However, much of that variety is stripped from the game, as each prehistoric weapon in your arsenal doesn’t vary that differently from each other. You’re given a club, a bow and arrow, a spear, and then a handful of different projectiles. While every weapon can be set ablaze or thrown, you’ll end up just clubbing your way through the entire game. The minute-to-minute gameplay is just enough to keep players engaged throughout its runtime.
The other new addition to mechanics is the ability to find and train wild animals. On the whole, wildlife is much more present than in games past, and there’s a larger variety of individual animals. As you’re able to train all of the game’s predators, if you’re aggressive about your animal management, you’ll have about 15 different beasts to call on to aid you in combat. While each animal does have a few perks, the majority of them offer the same thing in combat; they help you distract or attack guards. It’s definitely an interesting idea, and the ability to ride a handful of them streamlines travel (as all vehicles have been removed, naturally), but for the most part it’s a pretty empty vessel.
DON’T FORGET THE DAYS WHEN THE SUNSHINE FADES
Primal is a franchise place-holder that should scratch an itch for the Far Cry faithful, at least until they hear something more substantial from Ubisoft concerning future installments. Though that in and of itself is an interesting thing to consider: while we’ve been so focused on the series’ future, it never occurred to us to think about its past — Primal‘s Mesolithic setting is thorough enough to be considered ingenious, and it is definitely worth exploring.
It’s everything else that keeps Primal from becoming a game that stands on its own merits. Its natural environments (chaotic though they may be) are decidedly beautiful, but the mechanics contained within them are more evocative of the superior games that came before than anything else. While Far Cry is synonymous with “explosive action” — with little to no innovation tossed in to spur added interest — Primal amounts to little more than the equivalent of rubbing two sticks together.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft
Directed by Jean-Christophe Guyot and Maxime Béland
Produced by Vincent Pontbriand
Designed by Thomas Simon
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
6.5 out of 10