★★★★☆ | Platform: XBO, PS4, PC
Ubisoft’s oft-used template for an open-world exploration game is a time-travelling golden goose, laying delicious golden eggs at some of history’s most entertaining moments of bloodshed and upheaval. Assassin’s Creed – Far Cry’s sibling franchise – has popped up in Victorian England, 15th century Florence and frontier-era America. It was only a matter of time before the concept was pushed to its logical conclusion.
“What about... Cavemen?”
“Duuuude, cavemen would be ace!”
And so Far Cry Primal – a stop-gap between last year’s Far Cry 4 and the upcoming fifth instalment – was born.
You are Takkar, a fierce warrior in the savage paradise of Oros. His story is told through a series of mercifully brief cut scenes, with subtitles translating the caveman-speak (Ubisoft even employed ancient language experts to add to the authenticity). But the writing isn't particularly good and I felt nothing for my poorly fleshed-out tribe, who seemed like little more than irritatingly vocal quest-spawning devices keeping me from my true home: the jungle. I would have gladly bludgeoned them all to death had the game allowed it.
Thankfully, the central story-line involving these cave-idiots takes a back seat to the business of exploring the gorgeous environment, from the snowy mountains of the north to the sticky forests of the south, ticking off side quests and hunting soon-to-be extinct game.
The nuts and bolts will be familiar to players of previous Far Crys (or Assassin’s Creeds, for that matter): claim new territory by scaling vantage-points – this time bonfires guarded by enemies – collect resources, upgrade your weapons. The simple skill-trees, which give you things like extra health and quieter feet, are also suspiciously familiar. The big difference comes from your new job as Beast Master, the master of beasts. You have an owl friend who will lend you his eyes. You can tame the wildest of this land’s wild creatures: bears and sabretooth tigers and, of course, badgers.
The gameplay revels in its glorious simplicity: craft a bow and a spear and a club and start killing things. The weapons – especially the spear – feel hefty: poking them into your fellow man is endlessly satisfying. Other parts of the game, though, feel under-developed: your home village, for instance, can be upgraded in a rudimentary way but it’s nowhere near as engaging as the Mother Base business-sim bolted onto Konami’s Metal Gear Solid V.
Completing the myriad side-quests becomes impossibly moreish and you soon rack up a lethal arsenal that renders much of the main story game-breakingly easy; you can storm a “very hard” base filled with furious cavemen, knowing that victory is all but inevitable, whether your preferred method is running in gung-ho with a brown bear at your side or hanging back with your crudely crafted bow, pinging arrows into the forehead of foe after foe after foe. Morality doesn’t come into it: this is a brutal state of nature where you’re encouraged – nay required – to kill on sight.
Your relationship with the animal kingdom is just as fraught. There’s an eagle! Kill it and pluck its feathery little corpse. A deer! Smash its face in, skin it and use its hide to make a “guts bag” in which to store the flesh of other animals you’ve killed, so you can lure even more unsuspecting creatures into your cycle of destruction. There’s a mammoth! Ride it into battle and let it act as a sponge for your enemy’s arrows. I don’t care, I’m the Übermensch of cavemen and all of God’s creatures shall fall to my insatiable appetite for death.
A nice twist would be to eventually stop spawning animals and cave-people, causing the eco-system to wither and die, leaving you alone in an arid world to think upon your murderous spree. But they keep spawning, and almost 20-hours in, I’m still enjoying killing them.