A great jumping in point for Far Cry newcomers, but its lack of variety may disappoint series veterans
Available formats: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Ten seconds into Far Cry Primal and I managed to get 10,000 BC’s greatest hope for humanity squashed by a giant, angry mammoth. If that’s not a sign of our historical, cosmic worth, I don’t know what is. Fortunately, Ubisoft’s latest foray into the Far Cry universe is anything but an evolutionary blip, as this Stone Age-set spinoff cuts out the fat from previous entries in the series and brings this open-world sandbox back to basics, making it a great starting point for new Far Cry fans while also giving returning players a slightly different kind of game to sink their teeth into.
At first, it seems like nothing has changed. The huge map is still littered with dozens of outposts and bonfire camps waiting to be claimed, and there are plenty of rival tribesmen roaming the forests who all want to put an end to your struggling Wenja clan.
However, since guns won’t be invented for at least another 11,000 years, the set of tools you have to deal with these threats are a far simpler affair than your typical Far Cry game. With just a bow, club and spear at your disposal, you feel distinctly underpowered from the off, and its scant supply of resources mean you really need to make each hit count regardless of whether you’re being pursued by a hungry pack of wolves, or being clobbered by a cranky brown bear.
Clubs are most effective for close-range combat, but whack too many beasts round the head with it and it will eventually break. When these run out, you’ll either need to craft a new one on the fly, or fall back on your spear, Primal’s approximation of the shotgun. Again, you can only carry a handful of them at any one time, but these can often stop smaller foes dead in their tracks if they hit home, making them more effective at saving your torso from rampaging boar tusks than trying to stave them off with your bow.
Admittedly, such a small range of weapons does somewhat limit your approach to either stealth or up-close melee attacks for the first couple of hours, but later skills allow you to get more creative. Sting bombs can be made from beehives, while berserk shards can turn enemies against each other. Likewise, fire bombs can quickly tear through the forest and flush out hidden wildlife, while animal traps can disrupt wandering patrol guards.
However, Primal’s biggest draw by far is the ability to tame wild, prehistoric animals. These range from tiny hyena-like dholes (yes, I had to Google it too) to huge, imposing sabretooth tigers, and make effective weapons when exploring unknown territory. Of course, animal companions might sound a bit like old hat for anyone who’s just walked in off Fallout 4‘s nuclear wasteland, and Primal’s laughable taming process of throwing down a chunk of meat and holding down X doesn’t exactly make it much of a challenge either.
Still, there’s no denying how badass you feel when trekking through the undergrowth with a tame cave lion at your side, and once you master the ability to tame larger animals, those pesky boars and wolves that once bothered you endlessly at the start of the game will often run away in fear once they catch sight of your pet sabretooth. This kind of hierarchy is what makes Far Cry Primal such a joy to play, as the world is constantly adapting to the kind of choices you make. Yes, having large animals at your side makes pushing ahead a little easier, but when smaller animals scarper almost instantly, it makes hunting them down that much more difficult.
Thankfully, you can still stalk them through the trees by holding down the right analogue stick and activating our hero Takkar’s hunter vision. It’s a similar trick to Lara Croft’s survival instinct in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which highlights important objects and telling blood trails. It’s also handy for hunting down stray arrows and finding your kills in the bushes, as the sheer abundance of flora often makes it difficult to see where they’ve fallen at a glance, especially if they’ve tried to flee in the process.
It’s best not to rely on Takkar’s hunter vision too much, though, as some of the game’s best moments come from simply surveying the beautifully rendered world around you. You aren’t the only thing on the menu, after all, and the second you glimpse a panther stalking a goat through the reeds or get bitten by a cheeky, nigh-on invisible snake in the grass, the more natural and immersive the world becomes.
The only thing Far Cry Primal’s really lacking is a truly compelling story to go along with it. It’s immense fun journeying across the world’s dense forests and snowy mountains, and part of Far Cry’s appeal has always been that gradual creep across the map as you slowly reclaim the landscape. However, the lack of narrative drive can often feel like you’re only chipping away at that overall percentage bar rather than making great strides towards the end.
The environment itself doesn’t have a huge amount of variation either, as the lack of discernible landmarks and different types of terrain make Primal feel more like one homogenous lump of woodland than a diverse mix of themes and topography. To be fair, central Europe probably was one huge stretch of woodland in 10,000 BC, but given Far Cry’s penchant for absurd, mid-game gear shifts, it’s a shame Primal doesn’t utilise the series’ inherent wackiness to dream up something a bit more magical.
Put those small niggles aside, though, and Far Cry Primal is still great fun. The PC version looks absolutely stunning and you don’t need a beast of a machine to play it on the highest settings – although some systems I tried it on had a horrible tendency to crash unexpectedly. It might not be quite as chaotic or flexible as Far Cry 4, but for those who haven’t yet joined the Far Cry bandwagon, Primal is a brilliant place to start.
|Available formats||PC, PS4, Xbox One|
|OS Support||Windows 7 or higher|
|Minimum CPU||Intel Core i3-550 or AMD Phenom II X4 955 or equivalent|
|Minimum GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 or AMD Radeon HD 5770 or equivalent|
|Hard disk space||20GB|
|Price including VAT||£40|