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Far Cry Primal

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Feb. 23, 2016


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PS4 Review - 'Far Cry Primal'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 23, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

Far Cry Primal is a full-fledged single player experience that will take gamers to 10,000 BC in history to a time when massive beasts like the woolly mammoth and sabretooth tiger ruled the Earth.

It's refreshing when a franchise tries to change up its formula. Far Cry isn't exactly the most prolific franchise on the market, but 2014's Far Cry 4 was starting to feel too familiar. On the surface, Far Cry: Primal takes away the modern trappings and emphasizes the primal violence at the franchise's core. Unfortunately, Primal is a disappointing example of how ambition has to be more than skin-deep.

Primal begins in the year 10,000 BCE. Players take on the role of Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe who is traveling to the lush land of Oros to reunite with his people. When his party is ambushed by a saber-tooth tiger, Takkar is the only survivor. Upon arriving at Oros, he discovers that the Wenja have been scattered by rival tribes and are on the verge of dying out. As a gifted hunter and warrior, Takkar can take the land of Oros and reunite his people. Along the way, he'll be forced to confront both man and beast to prove that the Wenja are the fittest to survive.

The plot is ambitious, but it doesn't work well. Every character is a simple caveperson, so dialogue is exhausting to listen to, and the actors have a tough time conveying personality and subtlety under that constraint. There's nobody as engaging as Pagan Min or Vaas, and while there are a few amusingly over-the-top characters in true Far Cry fashion, they can't carry the title. The cast and story exist as an excuse to kill your way across the landscape, and that's about it.

The same core mechanics are in place, but there's a more primitive spin. You explore and slowly take out rival tribes by conquering their outposts, capturing their campfires, and doing missions for members of your tribe to increase the population of your village. You're given free rein to do things as your leisure, and by finding more tribesman or taking out outposts, you unlock story missions that allow you to take down the leaders of enemy tribes. Nothing is too different from Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4, so you still collect colored leaves to heal, skin animals for upgrades, and collect experience points to level up your skills.

As you'd imagine, Primal does away with modern weapons, so the three main weapon types are bow, club and spear. Bows can snipe enemies from a distance. Clubs are heavy and powerful and come in one- or two-handed variations, and they can also be tossed at an enemy to stun them. Spears are weaker but can be tossed for damage, usually enough to kill weaker foes with one shot. Clubs and spears can be swung, but they can also be charged up for serious blows. There are also primitive variations on throwing knives (stone shards) and grenades (pots filled with flammable material, bees or crazy gas). Weapons are few and far between, and once you find a favorite, you won't want to change it.

A major problem is that melee combat isn't very engaging. You basically have two options: hit or throw. Most fights boil down to hitting enemies until they fall over or throwing a weapon at them and then hitting them until they fall over. It doesn't feel good when you charge up a two-handed club to hit a foe and he barely flinches. On the other hand, the same enemy can be taken out when you toss a club at their face and perform a takedown move. Takedowns are absurdly overpowered, so you'll spend more time doing them than actually hitting enemies. Either a foe is trivially dispatched or he's made of stone until the exact moment his HP runs out; there's no good medium. Ranged combat is better, but it gets repetitive due to the lack of weapon variety. The double-bow is a good weapon that can tear through entire encampments with little effort.

The most enjoyable parts of Primal are the stealth elements, which are pretty similar to the last Far Cry games. The same basic elements are there, including takedowns, rock-throwing, releasing caged animals, etc. You're missing some modern technology, such as a sniper rifle, but you can replace them with primitive counterparts, like a longbow. The same basic tactics and strategies still work, and you never have to worry about a heavily armed foe since your enemies never progressed beyond spears and fire. The problem is that it lacks originality. I've done the same thing across 2.5 games (including Blood Dragon), and there's no real change to the formula.

One thing that theoretically should change the formula is tamed animals. Early on, your protagonist is dubbed a Beast Master, which means he can tame certain animals, such as bears, dholes, jaguars and wolves. Animals follow you around as AI partners and can be ordered to wait at a location or attack an enemy. They have their own hit points, which can be refilled by feeding them meat. If they die, they become temporarily inaccessible until you tame another of the same animal or revive them by spending a small amount of Red Leaves.

Unfortunately, being a Beast Master is a lot less exciting than it sounds. The tamable animals run at an enemy and maul them, and that's about it. There's a different passive skill for each, but the passives are not created equal. The bear is strong, durable and does a ton of damage, and the jaguar can perform silent stealth kills, so I swapped between the jaguar when I was sneaky and the bear when I wasn't. The rest of the beasts offered such minor bonuses that there's no reason to use them. There are multiple variations of the same beast, but the highest-level versions, which are unlocked by completing Beast Master quests, eclipse the weaker variations. The bear and saber-tooth tiger can be ridden so you can get around faster, but since they're already two of the best choices available, that makes them even more dominant.

Fighting alongside a beast basically amounts to releasing a wild animal in a camp in previous Far Cry games. It's a neat feature, but it doesn't change gameplay much. For a short while, it's amusing that Takkar can stab people from behind while they're terrified of a bear, but it quickly gets repetitive. Bosses render the tamed beasts nearly useless. You can hop on a mammoth if you want some help in taking out a heavily fortified camp, but for the most part, beasts aren't very noteworthy.

The exception is the owl, which can be summoned by pressing up on the d-pad. It effectively serves as an eye in the sky, and it can be guided around and marks enemies and animals for you. It's an effective way to get vision you normally wouldn't have access to. You can also upgrade the owl to kill enemies, but doing so puts the owl on a temporary cooldown. With upgrades, you can safely mark entire camps while simultaneously taking out high-value enemy targets. It's not meaningfully different from looking at it from a distance with a sniper rifle, but it feels better, and that's something Primal is sorely lacking.

The biggest issue is that Primal doesn't feel like it justified the change in setting. It removes cars and guns and other modern trappings but doesn't have much to replace them with. In most cases, either you get something that is identical to a modern tool but with a primal paint job, or you don't have a satisfactory replacement for something that was present in the previous games. The lackluster melee combat and unsatisfying Beast Master abilities drive this home. Both are supposed to be big features but are the least-developed aspects instead. They're minor variations on the usual Far Cry gameplay, so Primal ends up feeling like a smaller and emptier game. There's still a lot to do, but the game feels more rudimentary in almost every way, especially when you consider the lack of co-op gameplay.

I suspect this is going to be the sticking point for Far Cry fans. Primal is a cool concept, and it's a chance to rethink the formula, but instead, it seems like a skin over the same gameplay and doesn't feel well thought out. For example, cold weather saps your strength and forces you to find campfires to stay warm. By the time the cold weather appeared, I had already maxed out my cold weather gear, so I was immune to the cold. The only reason I even realized it was a mechanic was due to a big pop-up that warned me about it. Being able to subvert that mechanic is cool, but when it's done so easily, it makes you wonder why they bothered with it. There are a lot of little features like that. Likewise, the game world feels bland. It makes sense for primitive times, but the land of Oros feels like a far less distinctive place than Kyrat.

Visually, Primal is quite solid. It's built on the same engine as the previous games and keeps most of their strengths and weaknesses. The character models are nicely detailed, and there's a lot of excellent detail to the people who populate the land. There are some recycled animations from previous games, but overall, it's a nice-looking title. As I'd previously mentioned, the voice acting is done in a semi-fictional language, and while the actors do their best, it adds an unnatural and stilted quality to the acting. It's more immersive, but it has its downsides. I can't really fault the presentation, and there are some impressively dramatic or gross moments.

Far Cry: Primal is an example of how ambition doesn't always translate to success. It's overly familiar and overly safe, and it does little with its concept. In many ways, it feels more primitive (pun intended) than its predecessors. It's still fun in the way that all Far Cry games can be fun, but it brings little to the table. Hunting with the mammoth is cool from a thematic perspective but doesn't translate into particularly engaging gameplay that you haven't seen before in another Far Cry title. At the end of the day, Primal doesn't have enough meat on its bones to be a satisfying entry in the franchise.

Score: 7.0/10

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