Taking Far Cry back to more primitive times adds an interesting spin to a familiar franchise, says John Robertson.
“In the place of Far Cry’s traditional supplement of guns and grenades, animals are the player’s mightiest form of offence and protection.”
A master of beasts, that’s how Far Cry Primal portrays its hero, Takkar. He’s a hunter, one able to control the actions and garner the affections of those animals that would otherwise treat life as an excuse to exercise, and eventually, dinner.
Given that he lives in a time some 12,000 years before the present day, those animals include everything from dire-wolves to sabre-toothed tigers, some genus of bear and, historically accurate or not, the honey badgers of David Attenborough and Far Cry 4 fame. In the place of Far Cry’s traditional supplement of guns and grenades, these animals are Takkar’s mightiest form of offence and protection.
If you’re attacked, the animal you currently have escorting you (you can only be accompanied by one at a time) will assist in taking revenge. That might be against a wild dog that has let meal ideas well above its station flow into its head, it might be some other more dangerous beast or it might be your fellow man – that most understanding and good-natured of all animals…
Alternatively, you can initiate the fight. Give the order and your quadrupedal ally will remove the life from your target… well, it will attempt to. A wolf tends to fare poorly against a sabre-toothed tiger or, it seems, anything bigger and heavier than it is. It can kill a human with ease so long as you time the attack to allow it to get the jump on one, but a group of humans is a different proposition entirely.
Knowing when and where to direct your animal is essential rather than merely beneficial, then. Instructing it into the midst of a group is going to get it slaughtered, whereas waiting until you can have it silently pick off someone that has wandered too far from camp is going to reduce your targets’ numbers with relative ease. Common sense and patience reap rewards.
It’s important to remember that, despite the prehistoric setting, this is still a Far Cry outing. Scale is as important to acknowledge and understand here as it has been in every game that this series has put its name to. Surly humans occupy bases that must be won if you’re going to open up more of the map, and how you use the expansive environment to your benefit is key to winning these landmarks.
The best way to get a sense of scale, and to define a strategy that makes the most of it, is to employ the assistance of a winged helper; an unassumingly patterned owl. When called upon, you take direct control of the bird (meaning you should only plump for it when Takkar is positioned safety out of an enemy’s reach), allowing you a literal birds-eye view of the ground which you can use to co-ordinate future action. We might be 12,000 years in the past, but surveillance technology is alive and well. Some things never change, it seems.
Making the task of seeking out enemies that bit more straightforward is the option to employ a special vision filter that highlights enemies in neon, whilst simultaneously turning the environment monochromatic to make dangers as easy as possible to observe. Area of operations understood, you can make whatever move you think best.
“Despite the prehistoric setting, this is still a Far Cry outing. Surly humans occupy bases that must be won if you’re going to open up more of the map.”
The settlements you’re looking to win are, based on the little we’ve played, on the small side in comparison to other Far Cry design approaches. This is a land of hunter-gatherers and, as such, towns and military camps make way for tiny hunting outposts and makeshift tents encircling central fire pits. Remove the enemy presence, light the bonfire found within the camp and claim the place for you and your animals. Possibly for your tribe, too, but the details of Primal’s story are almost non-existent at this point – the demo we played having been gutted of almost all narrative.
If you prefer not to rely on your pets as the weight that determines the balance between success and failure then you can choose to ignore them and place all of your eggs in your own basket. Takkar’s basic weapons include crude spears, blunt clubs and a bow and arrow. If you manage to sneak up on an enemy you can end them without a fight by employing a preset takedown option, otherwise you need to get creative with your limited arsenal.
As per usual video game rules, a headshot with an arrow kills your target immediately. Otherwise multiple shoots are needed. The spear can be thrown like a javelin or used like a lance to puncture foes without getting too close to them. Better, though, is that the club can be set ablaze and swung at your enemy in an attempt to set them alight. You’ll need to be careful, though, as any wood in the area will catch fire if you’re too wild with your flaming swings – putting you in very real danger of unwittingly killing yourself along with everyone else. As mentioned, it pays to have a plan of attack as opposed to just jumping into the fray and hoping to rely on your reactions and quick-thinking.
Alongside the danger of accidentally killing yourself, other familiar Far Cry staples return. Plants and rock can be collected and, once you’ve got enough, fashioned into new and/or better instruments with which to keep you safe. Time moves from day to night and back again, the difference in lighting making quiet infiltrations that bit more dangerous and difficult depending on your preferred approach and skill set. Then there’s hunting of animals, which can be achieved through either your own barely evolved hands or by getting your beasts to do the dirty work, leaving you to move in and enjoy the ‘glory’ of skinning the dead.
As ever for this franchise, blending all of this into something bearing a definitive vision, whilst also wrapping a narrative around it all, is where the design hurdles reside. The fact that we’ve not properly seen the narrative in action means it’s almost impossible at this point to judge how well the collective package is being crafted.
The setting is interesting enough to make us curious to play more, though, which is more than you can say about a lot of franchises that have been doing the rounds for as long as this one has.
Far Cry Primal is out Feb 23.