It’s a testament to the adaptability of the Far Cry formula that the series can take a leap back in time — over 10,000 years, to be more precise — and still be as fun as ever. Yes, Primal strips you of your modern guns and explosives, but in return, it offers you a whole host of other murderous methods including; bow and arrow, spears and other “primal” weapons that you’ll put to use across the span of a disappointingly lacklustre story.
While each game in the Far Cry series hasn’t exactly been known to possess a deep plot or a compelling protagonist, in Far Cry Primal they’re both so paper thin that I have to wonder why Ubisoft bothered in the first place. Primal feels more like a gameplay test — it’s as though the dev team had a ton of neat ideas, but forgot to build a story around them.
The game’s unusual release date and radical change of setting also contribute toward this feeling, and it’s one I was unable to shake off. I didn’t feel like I was playing a fully fleshed-out video game.
At times, Far Cry Primal felt like a beta test as opposed to a full $60 experience, and this detracted from my enjoyment of the game slightly.
Nonetheless, that enjoyment came in spades. Franchise veterans will feel right at home, with all the leaf-grabbing, outpost-taking and animal-slaughtering pretty much copied and pasted from Far Cry 4, with little meddling. As was also the case with that Ubisoft game, you’ll spend most of your time attempting to claim enemy camps, utilizing spears, clubs and arrows to create a flurry of metal and death that your enemies won’t see coming.
That’s not the only thing they won’t see coming either, and in Far Cry Primal, nature reigns supreme. Inexplicably, your protagonist — a hunter named Takkar, member of the Wenja tribe — has the remarkable ability to tame local wildlife, meaning that everything from sabretooth tigers to badgers to owls can quickly succumb your rugged charm.
These skills work brilliantly when combined with a tactical approach to seizing an enemy camp, as each animal affords you a unique set of capabilities. Your owl can be used as a drone, an invaluable asset that can scout the nearby area, drop bomb-esque vats of fire, poison and gas and even swoop in for a brutal kill itself. The Bloodfang Sabretooth, on the other hand, is a furious beast, a magnificent blend of strength and speed that works wonders if you’re more partial to the gung-ho approach.
These abilities feel great to use, and silently stalking the enemy with your trusty pet tiger at your side is a joy to behold. However, it’s a skill that feels incredibly shallow. From the get-go, it’s undoubtedly clear that the creatures you use in Far Cry Primal are simply replacing the modern technology you used in Far Cry 4.
Your owl is basically Ajay Ghale’s camera, useful for marking enemies on the map and surveying far-off camps. The rideable creatures are your vehicles, and your wolf, pouncing on distant enemy archers, is a pseudo sniper rifle. Hell, as previously mentioned, your owl can rain pouches of fire and poison down on your opponents — it looks like Ubisoft managed to sneak explosives back in time after all.
This burgeoning familiarity doesn’t end there. 99 percent of player animations — attacking, swimming, firing arrows — have been recycled all the way from Far Cry 3, a game that released almost four years ago. It’s lazy, uninspired and worst of all, deceptive. For a game that claims to shake up the series’ formula, Far Cry Primal feels painfully repetitive.
Sadly, this disorienting feeling permeates the whole experience. Quite why you possess your animal-taming capability is a mystery, and everything circles back to Far Cry Primal’s extremely vague story. At times, I became so caught up with collectables, side missions and outposts that I forgot what the next main mission was, and where I was supposed to go next. Most of the time, I didn’t even care.
This is likely due to the many side missions and optional quests being a fun distraction, in short bursts. One of the new features in Far Cry Primal is ally collection — by successfully completing side quests, you’ll gain a villager that will join Takkar’s slowly growing community. The larger your group, the more resources you’ll be given, which saves grinding for animal skins to upgrade your gear.
Eventually, you’ll get hooked on all the little things, and the story will take a back seat. You’ll have so many enemy camps to conquer, treasures to collect and villagers to save that the main story will quickly fade away. It’s more satisfying to spend time upgrading gear, taming wild beasts and slaughtering opposing troops than it is to slog through a painfully mediocre narrative, and it became readily apparent that this was intentional. Far Cry Primal is all about gameplay, with story, twists and characters sidelined in favour of a fun, fast, pick-up-and-play mission structure.
This is a — ahem — far cry from previous entries in the series, which featured utterly compelling villains and likeable, albeit 2D, protagonists. Takkar is ultimately out to ensure his Wenja tribe becomes the dominant force in the land of Oros — a beautiful world bursting with colour, stunning vistas and towering plant life — but his plight doesn’t feel fleshed out, and as such, lacks gravity.
In the end, Far Cry Primal survives on the merits of its gameplay alone, but it’s nicely complemented by some stunning scenery and graphics. Environments are lush and finely detailed, character models look realistic, and each animal moves with a convincing ferocity. Enemies will holler and yell as they discover you, creatures will roar from the bushes and the sounds of the jungle combined with the graphics to create a rather terrifying visual and audible experience. You’ll truly feel like you’ve been transported back in time, and as expected, Ubisoft’s technical prowess is on point.
What this results in is a fun, repetitive and aesthetically pleasing gameplay cycle, which could almost be the Far Cry franchise’s tagline at this point. Where Far Cry 3 & 4 felt relatively fresh, Far Cry Primal feels forced, almost like the series’ tropes were imposed on a setting that they just don’t fit. The story and characters are the weakest in the Far Cry franchise, and despite some amusing secondary characters (watch out for those headbutts) Far Cry Primal lacks a villain like the frightening Pagan Min or the murderous, ruthless Vaas. And, sadly, without any interesting hooks or emotional investments, the whole experience falls flat after a couple of hours.
Far Cry Primal is a neat idea that wasn’t executed properly. Ubisoft could have done so much more with the setting and time period, but they relied too much on familiar tropes and features to truly let the location run wild. Whatever you think of Far Cry Primal, however you much you enjoy it — and make no mistake, it’s an incredibly enjoyable game — it’s hard to deny that it’s basically a re-skinned Far Cry 4. If you’re thinking about jumping into the Far Cry series for the first time, then Far Cry Primal is a fun, beautiful choice — just don’t expect much of a story to complement your experience.
- Atmosphere and scenery
- Fun in short bursts
- Poor story
- Uninteresting protagonist
- Copied and pasted from previous entries