I don’t write as many game reviews as I once did. When I first started almost fifteen years ago I was pumping out multiple reviews a week. Now that I do more of the administrative day-to-day activities here at Darkstation, there simply isn't the time. But every once in a while a game will come along that interests me, and I feel compelled to give it a go. One such game is Far Cry Primal. Yes, I’m a big fan of the series, starting with Far Cry 2, but it was Far Cry 3 that stole my heart. But what really interested me about Far Cry Primal was less playing the game and more trying to understand how the developers were going to take the Far Cry formula and apply it to the prehistoric time period.
That fascination with this game continued through my nearly thirty hours of play time. I can only begin to imagine the concept meetings for this game. Those conversations on how the developers were to bridge the gap between making this a game set in 10,000 BC while keeping the Far Cry framework. The game actually gets off to an incredibly rough start. There’s a convoluted and dreadfully boring opening sequence. If the game was trying to sell itself based on its first twenty minutes, it failed. You play as Takkar a hunter who is stranded in an unfamiliar land after his hunting party is ambushed. But spending anymore time trying to delve into the games story would be giving Far Cry Primal to much credit. The story is non-existent. Sadly, unlike Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4, this game doesn’t have a memorable antagonist. It also doesn’t contain one memorable story beat that I can think of. I don’t knock the developer’s choice to use a fictional language and therefore subtitle the entire thing, but it felt more budgetary then creative, especially when the dialogue was so bad that it had me bashing the circle button to skip cut scenes at points throughout the game.
Once you make it into the fictional world of Oros, you are given a giant area to explore. The game opens up immediately, like Far Cry games before it. Takkar quickly learns the ability to tame animals, a skill in which you can continue to unlock further abilities as you progress in the game. Because of your limited arsenal, the use of these tamed animals becomes crucial later in the game. You have the ability to command these animals to attack and to come to you. You also can run up and heal/revive your animal if they’re in trouble, or, as is the case with an owl you tame early on, have them scout ahead and mark enemies.
Much of the Far Cry experience that I loved in Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 are back in Far Cry Primal, with the one notable check box left empty being the radio towers, which wouldn’t make much sense in 10,000 BC. For me the highlight is still taking out outposts. Similar to how you can use binoculars in those games to scout ahead, you can use your Owl to scout and mark targets. With only three weapons at your disposal, a bow and arrow, a club, and spears, you need to use every trick at your disposal to take out enemies in Far Cry Primal. I would tend to try and pick off a couple bad guys with my bow, get closer and take out the stronger enemies with my spears, and finish it off with the club. The further you get into the game the more crucial it becomes to include your tamed animals in the formula, if only to help take some of the burden off your shoulders.
There are areas that the developers obviously had to make concessions for. Because you don’t have vehicles or a single-personal helicopter like in Far Cry 4, you will be running from place to place. The solution is to make a lot more quick-travel locations. Sadly, even though there are more of them in Far Cry Primal, you’re going to run a lot. Every new location is a good two or three-minute trudge through the wilderness. However, since the game is set in 10,000 BC the wilderness is full of wild life. You can’t go a couple seconds in this game without getting attacked by some sort of animal or enemy. What would be a three-minute trip becomes ten or fifteen, and that’s if you survive. If you don’t then you’re going to be starting that hike over again.
I also spent at least twice the amount of time gathering resources then I did in past Far Cry games. You go through resources insanely fast. The developers try to mitigate this by having you build up your tribe. You have the ability to recruit people to your tribe as well as upgrade the buildings in your village. By doing this your tribe will gather resources for you, depositing them in bins you can find around the map. This takes some of the burden of gathering resources off you, but you still spend a lot of time hunting and gathering to make weapons and heal both yourself and your animals. The base building is the one key area where Far Cry Primal tries to build something new and unique. In a nut shell your base is where you will receive missions and have the ability to upgrade a select number of dwellings. By upgrading some of your compatriots quarters they will in turn give you perks like supplies and upgrades. The base building uses the same sorts of materials you're already gathering for weapon and ability upgrades.
The actual mission design in Far Cry Primal is exactly what we’ve come to expect. There’s very little innovation here. There are missions where you will track down people or animals using your hunters vision. There are others where you will need to defend someone for a certain number of waves of enemies. And my least favorite, there are a bunch of missions where you have to go find an item. There’s absolutely nothing that I can think of that is new or innovative in the games mission structure. I found myself avoiding the story missions until I got to a point where I had very little else to do. It’s a shame too because it feels like Far Cry Primal would’ve been a good chance for the developers to “spread their wings” and try out some new tactics. Even when the game does try something different, they don't stick with it. A perfect example of that is the tundra portion of the map. When you first visit the area there is a meter that counts down to the point where you're going to freeze to death. However a couple of missions later I had the materials to upgrade my characters wardrobe which eliminates the need for the meter.
If I was left with any lasting feeling, it's that Far Cry Primal is an incredibly safe game. There’s no denying that the game is gorgeous and runs beautifully, a noted bright spot in a world of broken games and sporadic frame rates. Far Cry Primal is the pinnacle of a really well built open-world game. But everything about Far Cry Primal feels all too familiar. This is a game set in 10,000 BC and yet it plays almost identical to its modern day counterparts. As a massive fan of the Far Cry formula, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. There’s still so much joy in quietly taking out an outpost or getting that rare item that allows you to upgrade a weapon. I found for as little as the game tried to propel me forward, the Far Cry formula was still hugely appealing.
There are countless amazing open world moments to be had in Far Cry Primal. One of my most memorable moments was riding a bear and taking out a mammoth. But the game is greatly hindered in two key areas. First its story is nothing short of terrible. Second, and I think far more detrimental, is that it sticks dangerously close to the two games before it. From a pure technical standpoint, the game is sublime. It plays beautifully and is still an incredibly enjoyable game. But the lingering feeling like you’ve done all of this before never left me throughout my time with the game. And for a game that’s supposed to take place over 10,000 years ago that’s a problem.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to try and bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.