Imagine if your morning involved fighting off bands of crazed savages wielding clubs and spears, or being ambushed by rhinoceroses and sabretooth tigers? That’s the sort of thing Takkar, the character you play in Far Cry Primal, has to contend with during his everyday routine.
Followers of Far Cry will note that Primal takes a very different tack to its predecessors. Indeed, it represents a brave reboot of the franchise, presumably fuelled by the sense that Far Cry 4 was too similar to Far Cry 3. With Primal, publisher Ubisoft has thrown out what were previously seen as essential elements of the franchise: because it is set in 10,000 BC, during the Stone Age, it contains no guns or vehicles.
While you can’t really describe it as an open-world first-person shooter, it is still very much an open-world game, and is positively rammed with places to explore, random events, resources and side-missions. The story begins with Takkar losing the rest of his hunting party to a sabretooth tiger attack; he soon stumbles across a cave and rescues Sayla, a female member of his tribe, the Wenja, from an attack. The cave-mouth proves the ideal location for a village and, armed with information from Sayla about local Wenjas with specialist skills, Takkar sets about bringing them back to the newly established village.
The key man is Tensay, the shaman. He gives Takkar a mind-altering, foul-looking brew, and through distinctly psychedelic visions, Takkar learns that he can tame animals to fight by his side. Which is just as well, since the Wenja are soon beset by the savage Udam tribe, based in the freezing, mountainous north. Venturing south, he encounters the Izila tribe, who are altogether more sophisticated than the Udam: they paint themselves blue and have mastered the use of fire as a weapon. But they are still savage and hostile to Wenja.
If you had to criticise one aspect of Far Cry Primal it would be that it doesn’t possess an arch-villain like previous iterations of the game. Batari, queen of the Izila, isn’t bad, but she doesn’t feature with enough consistency and the story feels disjointed at times. But then, the storyline simply isn’t the most important aspect of Far Cry Primal. The sheer joy of discovering what Oros – the land in which Primal is set – has to offer is immense; it’s a glorious place to immerse yourself in to escape the vagaries of 21st century life for a while.
Far Cry Primal’s various interacting systems are exemplary. As Takkar earns XP, he gains a broad array of skills, including the ability to ride woolly mammoths and even sabretooth tigers and bears. All the weapons – the club, spear and bow are key – are upgradable, and Takkar also acquires primitive grenades -- bags of bees that keep enemies occupied and allow you to move in for a close-range bashing. Takkar’s hunter vision allows him to act as a detective at times, tracking missing Wenja and the like. He also has an owl through whose eyes he can see, which makes a useful scout and, when upgraded, can tag and attack enemies; he only really comes in handy when you’re planning an assault on an enemy fort, though. Takkar is allowed one gadget: a grapple, which proves invaluable when negotiating mountainous territory.
If you feel you absolutely can’t do without guns and cars in a Far Cry game, then you should shun Primal as it’s not for you. But that would be your loss: it’s an incredibly immersive and – despite the outrageous setting – utterly believable game, and despite the reboot, it has preserved the essential nature of the Far Cry experience. If you’ve ever lost yourself for hours in a Far Cry game, aimlessly and contentedly hunting animals or exploring the terrain, then Primal will quickly seize you in a tight, borderline-obsessive grip. An object lesson in how to reinvigorate a franchise before it starts flagging.