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Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Panache Digital Games
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2019

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PC Review - 'Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 26, 2019 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a third person action-adventure game with an innovative take on the survival genre.

Despite the large range of topics and scenarios for survival games, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey feels different. Even though it has a number of issues to deal with, it's quite an interesting title.

The game is set 10 million years ago in Africa. You control the great apes that will eventually evolve into the modern human being. After capturing a fish from the local stream, an ape and child climb up one of the tallest trees in the valley to enjoy their meal when a giant bird comes by, carrying off the adult for food while the child stumbles to the ground below. Depending on your choices, the child either makes it home or hides for safety, causing one of the other adults to rescue the kid. Once everyone is home safely, you decide how the clan will evolve throughout the generations.


That opening does a nice job of encouraging the player to learn the basics rather quickly. Whenever you suffer from fear, mostly due to being placed in an unknown part of the world, the screen goes from color to black and white, and there are always ghostly images of predators ready to eat you. The sudden turn to horror is amplified since you're a defenseless child and need to get somewhere safe.

It is at this point that the game gives you some basics on the controls, finding special markers, and using your senses to find your way home. Concentrate on your sense of hearing, and you can call out to others while also getting a better idea of where returning primate calls are coming from. Focus on an unknown square, and you can mark it for later for examination. Once you do, everything else sharing that same trait can also be identified upon focus. The same goes for scents, which give you an idea of whether you're near a dangerous creature, a friend, or fresh water. The only drawback is that you need to stand still to do any of this, so running through the world will make you miss everything you can interact with.

It is also at this point where you'll either love or loathe the controls, since it is quite different from other titles. Some actions only require you to tap keys, others require you to hold down a button to fill a meter to complete an action, and another requires you to release the same button to perform it. For example, hold down the A button to run, let it go to leap, and hold it down again so you can latch onto a branch/tree trunk/rock face, repeating the process to swing between tree branches. If you want to remember something, you need to hold down a button to focus on something and let it go to identify it before holding down the same button to place more focus on it before releasing the button to commit it to memory. You get used to it in time, and the constant button prompts prevent you from fumbling around, but it will throw you off the first time.


Another thing you'll notice is that the game is adamant about giving you no help whatsoever — something you're warned about when you begin. Apart from the opening segment, the only goal you get is to evolve the species. Button prompts aside, you get no mini-map or objective markers. It falls on you to figure out what to do and how to do it, and that means plenty of trial and error. You might think that certain leaves are perfect for making a bed, but since you don't know how many you need, you keep collecting them until the game informs you that construction can begin. However, only adults can make beds. Kids can collect all of the leaves, but they'll never get a prompt to build anything. The broad goal will be tough for players who enjoy more specific objectives. Since the game is driven by self-discovery, you might restart the campaign a few times in the beginning to get a more efficient start for your clan. This comes at the expense of having to go through the unskippable opening title sequence each time.

For players who enjoy having a major goal, Ancestors gives you tremendous freedom to do what's necessary to advance the species. You can stay in the camp and experiment with everything and everyone, learning how to forge relationships with your clan while figuring out how to build basics. You can also go outside to find things, like different plant species or new plants or smaller animals that can be eaten. You can do any of this alone, but you can ask another clan member to keep you company. You can also carry a kid on your back, which most players will do since it has tremendous benefits later on. The game is also forgiving about using trial and error to get things done. Courting a partner takes a successful backrub, and learning when to let go of the rub button means listening for the right sound from your mate. Any successes fill up the meter, but failures result in an annoyed shrug but no meter loss.

Since this is a survival game, you'll need to pay attention to things like hunger, sleep and stamina, but it isn't as tedious as some other survival games make them out to be. You can still get injured from great falls or get ill effects from eating raw eggs or mushrooms, so if you're the adventurous type, it's essential to figure out how to heal. Also, since you aren't an apex predator, everything in the world will try to kill you, so it's recommended that you find out how to intimidate other creatures either with your own tools or by exploring with another clan members in tow.


No matter what you do, everything eventually feeds into the evolutionary process. Simply talking to another ape will start giving you better communication skills, eventually giving you the chance to recruit stray apes into your clan. Keep collecting and making things, and you'll learn how to use two hands instead of one to make better things. Eat different things, and your palate expands to accept those new food items. As mentioned before, you'll want a kid around once you discover these things, as their presence increases the impact of the discovery and gives you even more things to unlock.

Aside from having you discover actions and inventions, Ancestors encourages you to explore the world to soak in its experiences. Recognizing your home is essential, as is discovering new areas, especially since you can go into areas you are deathly fearful of and eventually conquer those fears to establish new safe zones for yourself or new homes for your clan. Sometimes, special events occur, such as seeing a meteor crash into the ground, giving you the chance to see what's at the crash site. Other times, you'll witness life in action as a python kills a boar or a panther, an action that might save you if those animals were chasing you in the first place.

Balance comes into play when it's time to evolve the clan and the species as a whole. Every new trait that you learn isn't guaranteed to be carried over by the next generation until you lock it down, and the locking process can't happen unless you have kids. With one lock representing one child, your first thought would be to produce as many kids as there are traits, but with a logical cap in place for how many kids the clan can support, you're either going to have to pick and choose which traits are the most important to immediately pass down or do enough to accommodate your population before moving on. To throw a wrench into matters, some of your kids will carry good mutations to their genes, like better metabolism, so you also have to worry about keeping those specific kids and lineage alive until their mutation becomes the norm in the gene pool.


All of the above create an utterly fascinating title. Despite having a largely static world, the lack of guidance toward the big goal leads to everyone getting unique experiences, since everyone is learning what to do at different times. Although this is a survival game, there isn't much to micromanage, and even though you have a clan, they're pretty much autonomous until you take control of particular members. Dying can come pretty easily for each individual ape, but a complete "game over" only occurs when you kill off every member of your clan and fail to replenish them with new adults or kids. Unless you have terrible luck, it'll take some real work to get yourself into a state where you're forced to start over completely.

There is one part of Ancestors that is a major annoyance: the camera system. The camera generally behaves normally, but get close to an item and examine it, and the camera rotates and zooms so that the item you're trying to investigate gets out of focus. Stand still to focus on something, and there are times when you can't figure out which icon is being aimed at, since it isn't centered as expected. The most frustrating of the camera issues is during sequences when you're about to be attacked. Although the game pauses to give you a chance to pick a direction and then initiate the dodge, the camera tries to be cinematic and gives you a different angle before the dodge attempt. However, the game can misinterpret those directions quite often, which leads to a guaranteed gash, venomous bite, or broken bones. Until you learn how to attack, you're going to suffer when you see any creature at any threat level.

For a game with this much going for it, it's a welcome surprise to see a few variations pop up once you go through a few runs. There's an option to start off with a few choices, like a new home base or clan size, just like you would expect from some of the lesser narrative-based survival games. There's also the option to start off the game completely solo, something that's more daunting since you have to evolve just enough to find and get accepted into an existing tribe, lest you end your lineage upon death.


Most of the time, Ancestors is quite a looker. With its small variety of biomes, the jungle setting looks absolutely spectacular, as there is no shortage of foliage or water. Every single creature looks amazing, from the fur on the apes and boars to the shine of the skin on pythons producing some of the more detailed animals seen in this generation. The great apes especially look good, whether they're well-groomed or cut up, but it's disturbing to see their corpses with dead, open eyes. The frame rate also holds up well if you have a good video card or don't mind turning down some elements, depending on the resolution you want and the target frame rate you're after. Aside from the aforementioned camera, about the only other thing you'll notice is that there are areas where your apes don't attach themselves to a tree that well, or some of the foliage and other vegetation can lack collision at times.

Whereas the graphics can sometimes falter, the sound is consistent throughout. With no voices to help out with the soundscape, save for grunts and other animal calls, it falls on the effects and music to do the bulk of the work, and those two elements certainly come through. The effects are crisp, and the spatial audio does a terrific job of helping you locate exactly where any danger or important landmarks would be. The music does an even better job of conveying the mood of the environment as well as adapting to whatever condition you may be in. The serene score that plays when you're near a calm waterfall suddenly becomes funkier if you're suffering from a stomachache, while the soundtrack in more dangerous areas sounds more menacing if you're on the verge of becoming panicked. It's a massive help if you happen to shut off the HUD.

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is far from being a title that the mainstream crowd could easily pick up and play. Technical aspects, like the wonky camera and uninviting controls, can be overcome with time, but the camera system and lack of any direction are enough to turn off most people. Stick with it through multiple restarts, however, and you'll discover a title that has loads of fulfilling moments and deep characters you'll get attached to, despite a lack of understandable speech. Games have rarely done something like this, and that fact is amplified when you look at the scope this is trying to cover. If you're looking for a survival title that feels different and distinct, give Ancestors a look.

Score: 8.0/10



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