Far Cry Primal Review – Queen Of The Stone Age

You can ride a bear in this.

01

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: February 23, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

I have to hand it to Ubisoft. After Far Cry 4 played it safe and delivered more of the same to a tiresome degree, Far Cry Primal represents a dramatic departure in theme, adding new meat to an old skeleton. Though it is unmistakably Far Cry, Ubi’s prehistoric jaunt is exactly what the series needed to get its energy back.

Set in the fictional European valley of Oros, Primal takes us back to 10,000 BCE and into the loincloth of Takkar, a hunter from the beleaguered Wenja tribe. Beset on two sides by the cannibalistic Udam and zealous Izila, the Wenja struggle to eke out a living in a harsh world populated by predators and threatened by desperate conflict.

The narrative presentation is true to Far Cry‘s roots – melodramatic first-person cutscenes lead to missions that involve typical “protagonist gets captured a bunch” missions and the occasional trippy dream sequence – but exposition is a noticeable step up from previous games. I found myself drawn to the plight of not just the Wenja, but the fears and cultures of their antagonists as well, as Primal fully realizes a diverse cast of characters.

Supporting characters are numerous and likable, with their own silly quirks and humorous interludes, while the main villains are oddly sympathetic despite their initially cruel actions. The Udam leader, Ull, strikes a particularly resonant tone the more he’s encountered.

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A big part of the story’s success lies in how much effort’s gone into devising each of the three tribes. Drawing from Epipaleolithic inspirations, Primal does an impressive job of creating three very distinct factions in the Wenja, Udam, and Izila, each one boasting unique dress, architecture, and behaviors.

Even more remarkable is the script, which uses a fictional language built from the Proto-Indo-European tongue and boasts three distinct dialects for each tribe. This language (translated via subtitles, of course) is a huge part of what makes this story the best in the Far Cry series.

I was skeptical about my ability to root for stone-age people so readily, but Primal is fantastic at making its ancient characters relatable, as well as amusing – there’s a surprising amount of comedy, especially when Takkar is recruiting the more isolated and unstable Wenja personalities.

With Far Cry going Mesolithic, some dramatic changes have been made to the old formula – guns are out, with the traditional bow becoming a focal ranged weapon. There is a far greater emphasis on melee combat, with a brutal club that serves to be an unwieldy but powerful ally, and spears that can be thrown or thrust into the opposition.

I’ve got to say I find Primal‘s combat more gratifying than in any previous game. Takkar’s club feels perfectly ferocious, and battles are faster and more chaotic than ever before. That said, I would kill for some adequate blocking or dodging to accompany the melee offense – there’s just no suitable defensive moves when the clubs are out and swinging.

As Takkar unlocks new crafting abilities, a few liberties are taken with history in order to provide some exotic and fun sub-weapons – bombs that explode in a cloud of deadly bees, poisons that turn enemies against each other, and a range of fire-flavored armaments.

By far the most important new addition to the combat is Takkar’s Beast Master ability. Many prehistoric creatures roam Oros, ready to be hunted for skins and meats. A number of them can be tamed with bait and turned into lifelong allies, giving players the power to command lions, wolves, bears, and saber-toothed tigers.

Most importantly, you can ride some of them. It’s rather pleasing.

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From the lowly dhole to legendary boss creatures, these archaic beasties accompany Takkar and can attack enemies on command as well as provide potential passive bonuses. Bears draw aggro from opponents, while wolves extend the range of the minimap and growl when danger is close.

Takkar can also summon an owl at will, which players get to directly control, flying overhead to tag enemies, drop various bombs, or directly swoop down to murder somebody. Yes, it involves a suspension of disbelief to accept that this otherwise nonmagical cave man can see through the eyes of one random bird, but it’s fun to dig one’s talons into some post-Paleolithic prick’s face regardless.

These new toys are draped around an intensely familiar structure. Skill progression, crafting menus, and combat techniques such as takedowns all return from previous Far Cry games, but delivered in this new context they benefit from a genuine sense of freshness. Without the usual guns to fall back on, battles are more personal and vicious, while extra caution is needed when trying to engage from a distance.

You acquire power quickly and go from feeling like prey to predator, but you’re never allowed to feel invincible, and you’re always readily reminded this a world where everything’s trying to smash and/or eat you.

Animal companions cannot be relied on fully, as they may quickly become overwhelmed and will need healing with meat. Some enemies are able to launch poison bombs, or wield fire, and are more than capable of taking an unwitting player down in seconds. Predatory animals are abundant, moreso than in prior games, giving Oros a beautiful but ultimately perilous atmosphere.

04

As is common for pretty much all Ubisoft games these days, Primal‘s sandbox of distractions is an absolutely overwhelming affair – stuffed full of nebulous content including collect-a-thons and repetitive side missions. There is a whole bunch of bonfires and encampments to capture in order to unlock fast travel points, and you’ll be expected to gather a ton of resources in the wild to craft useful gear.

Far Cry‘s religious adherence to busywork makes for a cluttered world map and the sense you’re chipping into a mountain with a plastic spoon, especially as it takes some time to work out what tasks are worth pursuing and what one’s aren’t.

There are most certainly some great side activities to indulge in off the beaten path, including brilliant hunting missions that see Takkar tracking and taming Oros’ most dangerous animals, and a number of fun optional quests given out by important Wenja tribespeople.

Even with all the content padding, Primal is so much more engaging than past releases thanks to a memorable environment that’s vastly entertaining to explore. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the settings for Far Cry 3 and 4 anymore, having found nothing truly lasting about them. By contrast, Oros is a rich land full of distinct areas and terrain that one grows to fondly regard as home.

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The Wenja village, in particular, is wonderful to watch grow, as Takkar gathers materials to upgrade specialists’ huts and draw more people to the fold.

It helps that you just don’t see worlds like this often in the big budget gaming space. Free to explore a rarely tapped vein of creativity, Ubisoft has created a striking and special place. It makes a change from drab cities and war-torn jungles.

Primal is an eminently pretty game both in terms of the artistic and technical, though some bugs get in the way of things. I encountered nothing game-breaking, mostly physics glitches that saw characters floating in the air or clipping through solid objects. The bugs I witnessed were funny more than aggravating, even if they did spoil the mood sometimes.

In addition to the great linguistic work and authentic vocal performances, sound factors heavily overall into Primal‘s world building. The way clubs smash into skulls or big cats scream in the woods makes for a damn evocative presentation. Combined with beautiful character animations (the look of shock on an enemy’s face before it’s bashed in is incredible) and a colorful backdrop, the audiovisual production is stellar.

Ubisoft’s latest open world dalliance can’t quite shake all the shackles that made Far Cry 4 a dreary affair, but the dramatic switch to prehistory and the associated gameplay elements easily balance out those wider series shortcomings. The Stone Age was a bold move, and the gamble’s paid off in spades, delivering an action-adventure game that gets its cake and eats it too – treading well-charted ground while being able to look and feel completely unique.

06

Far Cry Primal is a great example of trying new things in a smart and relatively safe manner, demonstrating how a popular series can keep itself invigorated.

While other venerable franchises like Call of Duty are afraid to challenge themselves and make only halfhearted gestures toward invention, Primal plots a course through uncharted waters with a battle-tested vessel and actually commits to making its new ideas more than vapid window dressing.

The result?

You can ride on a goddamn bear.

Enough said.

8.5/10
Great

Steven Smith
Guest
Steven Smith

Positive review for a free copy of the game. Go figure

Benj
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Benj

Never mind all that bollocks. The important thing I want to know is… are there radio towers to climb?

Bilal Ahmed
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Bilal Ahmed

Jim why don’t you do video reviews? You’ve got the charisma for it. You can do it just like the jimquisition plus you can just copy the script from the written review you just wrote and convert it to video form. I used to like reading articles but now a days I’ve gotten used to watching video reviews.

Anton
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Anton

Wow, and just as I thought that Ubisoft had been completely played out. This gives me hope that maybe they can freshen up the AC series as well.

Ahh, who am I kidding….

Tom Solearis Berecz
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Tom Solearis Berecz

Great to see a review embargo before an actual release of a game. Thank you for the review sir! Might give this one a whirl after reading your review.

Paul Barnes
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Paul Barnes

How’s the performance Jim? I loved FC3, Blood Dragon less so (amazing setting, poor execution) and FC4 didn’t stand out to me – but the always looked great visually. Is it particularly demanding?

MyBodyIsReady
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MyBodyIsReady

The classic Ubisoft map of busywork is what’s stopping me from buying this. The Division has one too

Father
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Father

I was able to get a copy today and so far I’m having a blast!

PowerSerg
Guest

It’s like being a real historic game only your white because you have to be white it is video games after all.

UncleBartek
Guest
UncleBartek

Incidentally, has anyone else in the EU PSN experienced payment errors of late? It seems like once every quarter PSN glitches out for around a week… Any tips for fixing this in time for Primal would be greatly appreciated

person
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person

How long is the main campaign of this game? I was put off by AC: Rogue which had half as many interesting main quests as other Ac games but just as many boring side quests (or more) to pad the play time out. How long does this game take to complete if you ignore the padding?

artisticMink
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artisticMink

I feel like they just jumped on the Ark / Steam Survival Game bandwagon. But i might give it a try. Even if i can’t shave the bears. That’s a minus.

ChoberiGudenswager
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ChoberiGudenswager

This review is great and all, but, how do you unlock the map?

Germanicus
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Germanicus

Might give this a go, Far Cry 4 was just dull, I gave up on it after half an hour.

UncleBartek
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UncleBartek

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like it’s been a year since the last grand AAA failure (Order 1886)? It’s almost as though there’s hardly a reason to be cynical about AAA lately. This really looks like the 2nd strong and kinda innovative UBI release in the last 3 months 🙂 (R6 being the first)

Sielanas
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Sielanas

Jim has a connection with the cannibal. Not sure if I should be reading anything into that.

Even Luck
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Even Luck

Seems like a lot of other reviewers think otherwise, in terms of story, but it looks interesting enough for me to try.
In about two years when my backlog is finished.

Alan the Reborn Penguin King!!
Guest
Alan the Reborn Penguin King!!

I’m glad they took a risk and it seems to have paid off. Innovation is in short supply in the AAA market. Although I’d be interested to see how much the success of ARK influenced Ubisoft’s willingness to proceed with this

AlreadyFlying
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AlreadyFlying

Could this have been a short game, like Blood Dragon? I thought it was a bold move to position this game as a full AAA priced title when previous launches of experimental ideas were $15 – $20 titles. Is it padded out?

Alan Baxter
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Alan Baxter

Nice review Jim, it’s good to see the big publishers occasionally trying something new. One quick question: I realise, you reviewed the PS4 version but does the PC version still require Uplay to be installed and run? I stopped buying ubisoft games after a bad experience with Far Cry 3

Chris
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Chris

Is Far Cry Primal out already? That angry commenter below seems to have already played it since he thinks your review is wrong…

Al Pi
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Al Pi

I don’t think I’ve ever seen you have a review up before anyone else. Did you accidentally break an embargo?

qqq
Guest
qqq

“Far Cry Primal is a great example of trying new things in a
smart and relatively safe manner, demonstrating how a popular series can
keep itself invigorated.”

What the flying fucc ? The game tries exactly zero things and lol, invigorated. By treading the exact same gamedesign and goals ? By having identical structure to the last two games ? Seems a different paing colour and slight change in some game elements even if they serve the exact same function as before is enough for some less adequate reviewers today to be succesfull. Jesus.

Sir Bummington
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Sir Bummington

How was the frame rates , resolutions and all that shizzle?

minty_viper
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minty_viper

At first glance it seemed to me just to be a tacked on expansion to far cry 3 and 4 that was being drawn out into a full game just to charge $60, I am glad that it is able to stand on it’s own two feet as a staple of the franchise.

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