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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: Dec. 6, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey'

by Joseph Doyle on March 11, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

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

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey plays on evolution in a deeper, more profound way than most other games that touch on the subject. Titles like Pokémon, Spore, and others depict the concept in a fun, cartoony way that appeals to younger children in tone and gameplay, while Ancestors aims to tell a truer narrative, highlighting the grossness and realism of our ascent from animals to humanity, and how blurred those lines can be. The messiness and confusion of our species is explored in an interesting way, although it lacks some follow-through.

On paper, it's an interesting concept to have confusing gameplay illustrate the chaos of the world of an evolving ape millions of years ago, but the implementation is less stunning. As you start the game, you watch the circle of life play out — admittedly less inspiring than The Lion King, but I digress — resulting in many animal deaths, including the ape you rode in on. The screen is dark and hazy, and it's covered in ghostlike, roaring faces of predators as the game shows you the controls and focuses on discovery and survival.

Perhaps this is a translation issue, but the controls are inadequately explained and have incredibly vague descriptions. While they employ creative measures to fulfill humanity's base survival and social instincts, it still feels off to have "emotions," "intelligence" and "senses." For example, to use the intelligence control, you have to stand still and press the Triangle button, which allows you to focus on your surroundings. You then direct the camera toward what you're interested in, hold Triangle again, and rapidly press it to create a marker on your screen. To explore different plants in the wild, you must go to your senses, smell them, mark the smell, walk over to it, press X to grab some of it, stand completely still, and hold the Square button again to examine/eat it. The controls are so muddy and ill-explained that it feels like a puzzle to control your character and explore the environment — the crux of the game's intention.

The game only explains these vague concepts a few times, either baffling the player into disinterest or making them navigate the help screens with each new interaction. This can even be seen through the achievements on PlayStation Network; the first achievement has over a 90% clearance rate, but the next one in order drops to under 50%. While most games' achievements tend to drop off over time, this sudden drop is a strong indicator of the controls and gameplay issues.

Even if you were to appropriately decrypt the controls, the gameplay is too varied and stretched out, so it's not fully fleshed out. Exploring the environment and navigating the jungle space works all right if you can figure it out, but different scenarios that feel flimsy are thrown into the equation. For example, while exploring your surroundings, you can run into predators that will charge at you. To dodge them, you have to hold X, wait for the right moment, let go, and push your analog stick away from them. There are other controls for combat, building things, socializing, etc., that feel out of reach since the basic controls are so arduous. What it feels like at the end of the day is that this game has too many specific functions with atypical control styles. Ancestors has such potential and could be so much more if it were streamlined, but in this state, the gameplay and controls are too frustrating and confusing.

As far as audio goes, Ancestors generally hits the mark. Fittingly, the use of music is rather sparing, allowing the shrieks and hisses of the jungle to speak. Branches rustle and crunch as you hop from tree to tree, listening to the echoing bird caws and gibbering screams and roars of your fellow primates. When in unfamiliar territory, the creaks and twists of the unknown are highlighted with the screen growing dark, instilling the a sense of danger and fear. During cut scenes and high-action sequences, music is introduced, and it ranges from the occasional polyrhythmic drum rolls to full orchestral sounds. While the gameplay may be a mixed bag, the music gets the job done and helps to build the tone of the game.

Ancestors finds balance between the audio and gameplay qualities, finding a nice middle ground between effective design and realism. The apes you control are both emotive and animated, showing a distinct mix of curiosity and caution when picking up new items or reverence and glee when you have a little baby monkey. There's realism in the everyday activities of walking, gathering supplies, and more.

A major downside of the in-game visuals are the graphics. While evoking the angular graphics of yester-decade can be utilized as a stylistic choice, this seems like a limitation. The UI and menus are well designed, focusing less on humankind and more on the evolution aspect of the game, using the concept of connecting neurons to represent new discoveries and leveling up. Featuring black and blue hues and photorealistic nerve cells, the game menus are aesthetically stimulating.

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey aims to tackle the evolution of mankind from our animal forebears, a hefty task for any one piece of media. While the goal is incredibly admirable, Panache Digital Games puts too much on its plate. It attempts to break down the process of human development in a fascinating way, but the concept ends up being tremendously difficult to translate into typical controls and gameplay. The information conveyance and gameplay implementation are ultimately disappointing, given how much curiosity the game fosters and inspires. The game still offers interesting content, especially in the audio and visual departments. While the effort put into the game is certainly laudable, the result of Ancestors is ultimately middling.

Score: 6.0/10

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