In his 2008 novel The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman wrote, “If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.” It’s something I thought about a lot as I explored the vast wilderness of Far Cry Primal (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC). Because while this continues what was done in 2008’s Far Cry 2, 2012’s Far Cry 3, and 2014’s Far Cry 4, it also dares to add new some new elements to this open world, first-person action series.
When Far Cry Primal begins, it’s 10,000 B.C. But no, you haven’t fallen through a tear in the space/time continuum, sat in a DNA-based memory device, or used your T.A.R.D.I.S. to visit your pal Fred Flintstone, you’re a native to this time, a primitive man in Central Europe just trying to make it in the world. A world of wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers and real jerks who’d rather eat your skin than help you fight a wooly mammoth or sabre-toothed tiger. But if you can find enough food, and gather up enough people and resources for your village, you just might survive.
In many ways, Far Cry Primal is like the previous three games. Set in an open world full of places to explore and collectibles to find, you still have to attack enemies outposts, still run into random hazards as you’re walking along, and still have story-driven objectives to complete. It even brings back the pyromania from Far Cry 2, but in a more helpful way. While you can still light the grass on fire, you can also light your arrows, spears, and clubs on fire as well, though only the last one works well as illumination when you go into a dark cave.
Far Cry Primal also cribs from other games, often with its own improvements. Like Rise Of The Tomb Raider and The Witcher III, you spend a lot of time gathering supplies and crafting items, and can even, like in Fallout 4, build and upgrade structures. But unlike in those games, and others, crafting is as quick and easy as hitting a button, and can be done anywhere. Well, assuming you have all the supplies you need.
Another familiar mechanic in Far Cry Primal is your “Hunter’s Vision,” which works like “Detective Vision” in the Batman Arkham games and “Survival Instincts” in Rise Of The Tomb Raider. Though unlike those versions, “Hunter’s Vision” not only highlight enemies and raw crafting materials, it can be used to track your prey as well. But while such visual mechanics are always kind of annoying — it seems like highlighting important items in a world with more than just a slight shimmer would be better — “Hunter’s Vision” is especially frustrating because it automatically turns off after a while, which is annoying when you’re trying to track an animal or person over a great distance.
Far Cry Primal also has a mechanic that not only recalls the recent Fallout games but, oddly, the 1982 movie Beast Master as well. After going on a vision quest, you gain access to an owl, who can do aerial recon for you. But you can also, by using raw meat and a steady hand, make friends with some wolves, bears, and other fearsome creatures, and have them follow you around and attack on command.
But while Far Cry Primal, at times, feels like just another Far Cry game, and at others feels like Far Cry 2 crossed with The Witcher III, Fallout 4,and Rise Of The Tomb Raider, there are times when its unique setting makes for some equally unique mechanics.
For instance, because there were no guns in 10,000 BC, you’re stuck fighting with a club, a bow and arrows, and some spears. But while this makes the combat a bit more stealth-friendly, it’s also somewhat unpredictable. While the club is a bit clumsy, and the spears are deadly if they hit, which is sometimes a big “if,” the controls for the bow and arrow are spot-on that you’ll feel like Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games.
Oh, and despite what The Flintstones may have led you to believe, Europeans in 10,000 BC didn’t speak English. As a result, you have to read the subtitles all the time if you want to know what’s going on. Which makes it odd, and a bit annoying, that the text is often hard to read. Not only are the subtitles a bit small, especially if you sit at a reasonable distance from your television, but when your mission has you looking for specific crafting items, the number that indicates what you still need will be red, and thus blends into the reddish brown backgrounds of the game’s woodland setting.
While the setting of Far Cry Primal sometimes puts a unique spin on this action series, there are times when it backfires. The biggest of which is in the lack of variety. You spend so much time scrounging around, hunting animals, and only occasionally getting into fights or exploring caves, that this starts to feel a little redundant after a while. But only a little. It’s really only an issue if you play the game for long stretches; when played in short bursts, it’s actually still compelling. It’s the kind of game you only play for an hour, but then an hour after you stop, you want to start playing again. Which is why it’s hard not to think that Far Cry Primal might’ve been better as a smaller side game along the lines of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Far Cry Primal also has some minor annoyances, like how you use the thumbsticks to go up and down vines, but the triggers when using your grapple. Or how, when rifling through the supply cache at a base, you can’t grab everything with the touch of a single button. Or how the music is using sparingly, and thus effectively, but is also sometimes a little too modern sounding.
In the end, Far Cry Primal is to be commended for daring to try something new, and for having it pay off…for the most part. It’s just hard not to wonder what would’ve happened if they’d dared to be as different with what you as they were with how you get it done.