Far Cry has always made you the alpha predator. Or, at the very least, it’s made you feel like one with an armoury’s worth of weaponry, a multitude of gear to give you an edge over enemies and an unparalleled sense of freedom when it came down to engaging them. Far Cry makes you the hunter, but Far Cry Primal puts you on the same level as your prey.
In Far Cry Primal there is no food chain. There’s survival and death, and it’s up to you to decide on which side of that line you fall.
That’s the message Ubisoft drilled into me and other attendees at a recent event in London, where we went hands-on with the spinoff (but fully fledged) Far Cry title for the first time. Primal was a bit of a surprise announcement – even more surprising still when it was revealed as a full standalone product and not a limited spinoff ala Blood Dragon. It’s a new direction for the franchise, but one that holds onto the roots of the games it so fondly borrows its name from.
Make no mistake, you’ll know this is a Far Cry game from the get go. The systems are all in place. Playing as protagonist Takkar (who we really didn’t get properly introduced to) you’ll take down enemy settler camps to establish more of a foothold in Oros for you and your clan. You’ll engage in the hunting and gathering of resources to burn in your crafting trees, using all sorts of flora, fauna and wild animal bits to upgrade your weapons, heal your injuries and craft items (which we also never got to see in full).
Running around as Takkar, I was introduced to Oros with a typically large, sprawling map, adorned with all sorts of markers, waypoints and activities for me to engage with. The map also featured standard wildlife locations, making it easy for me to track down any specific resource should I require it. Marking the nearest enemy encampment close by, I set off with bow and arrow in hand – one of three core weapons the game offered at this time, including a rather brutish club and more powerful – but slow – spear.
Aside from featuring no ordnance whatsoever (this is the Stone Age after all), weapons in Primal differed from what traditional Far Cry might have taught me. Each weapon featured a specific strength and weakness, but also had variants attached to each. For example, the bow could be changed between short and long range, while the club could be equipped as a throwable single hand weapon, or a more brutal (but slower) two-handed one. Each weapon could have ammunition crafted from the weapon wheel directly (and each had a sparing amount too, emphasizing the craft and gathering aspect of the game), with a slight tap on Square also allowing me to set each of them on fire; a usual tool when hunting in the dark, or keeping predators at bay.
Far Cry Primal upholds its inherited gameplay pillars with elements like these, but they aren’t what set it apart from the rest of the franchise. What does is Beast Mastery – a new way to interact with, engage, and tame the wildlife in the icy, nature entrenched world of Oros. In the past, wildlife was a means to a crafting end, but In Primal the wild is both enemy and ally, depending on what suits your needs. Takkar is the first of the humans to be able to tame prey, which makes playing around with it rather interesting.
Tossing bait draws natural, nearby predators to it, allowing you to simply hold down a button and tame the creature, bending it to your will. I tried this with some rather aggressive sabretooths, one of which was then added to my “inventory” of beasts. At any time I could have one beast at my side, bringing with it a unique set of attack, speed and stealth attributes, along with some unique traits that make them akin to different weapons.
The sabretooth, for example, excelled at hunting other prey – automatically skinning and gathering resources from any other animals of humans it killed. Setting it on a path was as easy as aiming and hitting attack, with my beast automatically tracking and chasing its target down with deadly, ruthless efficiency. For a more stealthy approach to camps, I opted for a Jaguar – who had the rather useful ability of being able to take down targets quietly and quickly. The perfect complement to my long bow, which made quick work of enemies from quite a distance. It also allowed me to free captive tribe members, who have hilariously taken the place of caged animals in camps from previous, modern Far Cry entries.
Once a beast is tamed, it’s in your inventory for good, allowing you to build an army of disposable, but varied animals to fight at your side. It’s almost like playing the game with a cooperative partner, making Mammoth hunts and hunter gathering far more interesting than if I was travelling alone. There’s certainly a bond between man and beast in Primal, and I could see myself becoming extremely attached to a handful of the animals that were on offer. Especially those that allow me to ride on their backs eventually, such as the elder mammoths and more rare sabretooths.
Beast aren’t only just for ripping out unsuspecting jugulars though. Taking up a more utilitarian roll is your own pet owl, which I could summon at any time to literally get a bird’s-eye view of the path ahead. I assumed direct control over the owl when called, allowing me to survey the area around Takkar from above. This allowed me to do the usual – mark enemies, resources and generally scout out a piece of land before running head first at it – club and all. There was something far more engaging about this than simply looking through a pair of binoculars, and the way Takkar’s owl can be used in some more offensive manners (you can swoop down for an easy kill, if you’re willing to sacrifice the recon for a minute) was rather interesting. I particularly liked the way other locals reacted to the owl too, sometimes using bows to take my eyes out of the sky before I could gather any useful information.
I had a rather large pool of beasts to play with, but they’re not simple trinkets that you can expect to acquire from the start. Beast mastery acts as one of six upgrade trees, and you’re going to have to pump points into certain trees if you really want to become a master tamer. The same goes for your owl and its abilities, which range from recon vision areas to being able to make precious resources. It all fits into the same light RPG elements that Far Cry has employed for years, but its feels more involved that unlocking the right sprint while crouched – even though that’s still actually there.
Far Cry Primal is certainly something different, and I walked away both intrigued and impressed by how Ubisoft have managed to change a formula while making it feel decidedly welcoming. There’s certainly no mistaking that Primal is a Far Cry game, and it’s going to be interesting to see how gameplay is received in general, given its similarities. But if Primal was a poker game, Beast masteries would certainly be the ace in the hole. A subtle system on the surface, but one that gives Primal the character it needs to cement your escapism into the Stone Age. And that’s even before the narrative, which Ubisoft were rather coy over, but simultaneously excited about.
It’s not really a question of whether these parts fit together; instead it’s plain to see that they do. Right now it’s a question of whether Primal can do enough differently with its time to feel like a different type of Far Cry experience. And I certainly believe it has some potential to achieve that. Far Cry Primal is out in February on Xbox One and PS4, and early March on PC.
Last Updated: December 4, 2015