Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Far Cry Primal - Review

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4 (version played)

Far Cry Primal is so similar to Far Cry 4 that you could criticise it for being a lazy follow-up to a series that's already begun to go the way of Assassin's Creed. Maybe it's more complex than that, though. It's possible Ubisoft are trying to say something about the fate of mankind. Everything is so similar in Far Cry Primal that maybe that's the point; we've hardly evolved at all. From 10,000 B.C. to 2016 very little has fundamentally changed. We're still violent, world-conquering apes with brains a bit too big for our own good. Perhaps this game is an ingenious ludic commentary on the miserable trajectory of humankind…

...or it's another bland reskin of a game we got to play less than two years ago. Yeah...might be best to go with that second thought.

Far Cry Primal has everything you'd expect from a game that began life as a DLC companion to Far Cry 4. It takes the base mechanics of that game and attempts to mould them to a different style or theme, much like Blood Dragon did with Far Cry 3.

The Land of Oros is well-realized; there's a woozy, dream-like quality to stalking a mammoth through the long grass before throwing a spear in its flank. And there's a somewhat earnest commitment by Ubisoft to the setting. All of the game is told in a fictional language, thrusting the player headlong into its time and setting in an immersive way.

It's a shame then, that practically every other aspect of Far Cry Primal seems to work to undermine this immersion. HUD elements dot your screen. Takkar, the player character, is frequently required to collect whatever thirty odd types of wood he needs to build a new hut, or maybe scrounge up some clay to upgrade his spear. Hitting R3 highlights everything collectible, which is essentially everything not nailed down, coating each object in a bright yellow light.

The game doesn't just provide crafting as a time sink, it builds its entire gameplay around it. Clubs and spears won't last forever, and new ones need to be crafted every few fights or so. Likewise, health resources this time around are simply meat harvested from whatever animals you've hunted. Improving any aspect of your character involves upgrading various huts back at your village – resulting in even more crafting, hoarding and scrounging.

The developers set up on an interesting setting, only to immediately butcher it with a rabid collectathon that turns every upgrade, weapon and game concept into nothing more than a tired check-list of chores. In short, it smacks of padding; artificially bloating a game to retail proportions by simply throwing so many bland activities for the player to do that they're overwhelmed by the sheer number of things they can do to realize how banal it all is.

Other aspects of the game suffer from a similar problem. Take the combat, for instance. Given the time period, there's a natural shift to melee fighting. Clubs and spears form your main close combat weapons, whilst your trusty bow allows you to do all the sneaky action that was admittedly pretty good in the previous instalments.

Only, there's little thought given to how the fighting actually feels. First-person close combat games require a certain kind of physicality. Say all you want about the good and bad in Condemned, its weapons had heft; an oomph and heaviness that made you satisfied to swing that shovel or fire axe. Conversely, everything in Far Cry Primal seems strangely weightless, there's little satisfaction to be had belting someone across the head with your newly-crafted club.

Animations are jerky, awkward motions; Takkar's hand whipping this way and that as he strikes at his adversary. Enemies don't collapse but rather awkwardly tumble to the ground. Combat devolves into rapidly mashing the trigger button until whichever target in front of you crumbles to the floor. Hell, you barely even have to aim.

The one tweak to the combat is the ability to call animals to help you. Takkar has the ability to tame various beasts and have them fight alongside him. It's a natural evolution of the Shangri-La sequences in Far Cry 4, as you now command wolves, bears and tigers to help maul enemies or hunt down prey for you.

Primal's worst sin though, is that it takes away the things that were good in the previous games and replaces them with nothing new. Scouting out an enemy camp with your owl companion is a fun way of incorporating planning, and allowing you to craft a plan of attack ahead of time. Yet, when every encounter is almost certainly going to devolve into battering everything you see in sight there's very little need for forward planning. The previous games had the toolbox of guns and toys to tinker around with, Far Cry Primal has a rock on a stick.

Even the story is half-hearted and barely cobbled together among the swathe of fetch quests that make up the majority of the core missions. There's two rival tribes threatening Takkar and his fellow Wenja, and over the course of the game you run up against both. There's an attempt to give each of them their own identity; the northern Udam tribe are hulking cannibals that live in the mountains, whilst the Izila worship fire and reside primarily in the south.

Fighting the two tribes forms the bulk of the open world gameplay, with both groups having control of various areas of the map. Beyond a change of appearance however, there's very little to differentiate the two groups in terms of how you approach them, and their respective story lines which form the major arcs of the main plot hardly give you much more reason to care.

Ironically, for a game that attempts to distance itself from the predictable Ubisoft formula through its setting, it's the very change of setting that only goes to highlight how little the game differs from those before it. Fighting opposing tribes thousands of years in the past is apparently just like fighting rival groups in the modern day. It involves the same laundry list of side missions, and the same bland, formless objectives.

It has to be stressed, there's plenty of interesting ideas here, and the potential for a really immersive world, but it's all ruined by the lazy insistence that the core game mechanics be built on the skeleton of the previous two games. The creative ideas here need more thought and care than the run-of-the-mill approach Ubisoft is willing to give them.

Far Cry Primal, like many of Ubisoft's long-running series at this point, is akin to fast food. It's enticing at first, and will perhaps fill you up for a little away, but there's very little sustenance here, or long-term benefit. The game is bloated with additional things to do in a desperate attempt to distract the player but the end result is a game that's remarkably shallow, and a series in desperate need of some new creative energy.


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