Far Cry Primal literally takes the Far Cry franchise back to the Stone Age; literally, but not figuratively. Primal feels different and fresh compared to any previous Far Cry title, although it doesn’t do a lot to innovate in terms of core mechanics. The game isn’t a sequel as much as it is a spin-off or a new take on the series, and some might even consider it to simply be a really big expansion to Far Cry 4. It is easy to see why, since Primal looks as if someone at Ubisoft really liked the Shangri-La missions in Far Cry 4 and decided to make a whole game around them. And to tell you the truth – I think that was a great idea.

Instead of travelling to the ancient Himalayas, Far Cry Primal takes place in central Europe in the year 10,000 BCE. You are Takkar, a hunter and one of the last surviving members of the Wenja tribe. After an unsuccessful hunting expedition, Takkar finds himself alone in Oros – a beautiful but untamed land filled with promises of a new home, but also with mortal danger. It’s up to Takkar to help his people prosper in Oros, while guarding them from two rival tribes that wish to either eat them or burn them to a crisp. True to its title, Primal tell a most fundamental story of survival. There are no hidden agendas, no deep secrets to uncover – just us against them; do or die; kill or be killed. The story might rely on a simple premise, but it fits well with the primitive struggles of the characters.

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Even so, don’t expect to be blown away by the story, or even by the characters you meet. Some of them are funny, like the one-armed trapper who likes to piss on his enemies, while others are mysterious or just plain weird. Primal has a diverse cast of supporting characters, but none of them provokes any sympathy or other kinds of emotion. You’ll do their missions to get additional skills and perks, not because you care about them. Even the villains feel very generic, and worse yet – forgettable. None of them has the presence of Pin Ming from Far Cry 4, and you won’t even think about them most of the time, not even when you kill all their tribe members.

The true villain of Primal is Oros itself, or rather the animals that inhabit it. From dire wolves that roam in packs, to vicious saber-toothed tigers all the way to the monstrous cave bears, every step you make across Oros can be your last. Even the herbivores can pose mortal danger, and I can’t count the number of times I was trampled to death by a mammoth or an elk. Luckily, Takkar has a way of subduing these dangerous animals and even use them to his advantage. You see, Takkar is what shamans call a “Beast Master”. This unique ability to calm and tame wild animals in an instant was bestowed upon him by a magic owl in a vision. Because it wouldn’t be Far Cry without unlocking your character’s hidden potential through drug abuse. Using bait and a bit of patience, Takkar can tame wild animals and make them do his bidding, which mostly consists of tearing other cavemen to shreds. He can also summon the aforementioned magic owl to tag enemies from above or even drop bombs.

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There are actually quite a few different animals to tame, and each has its own advantages and uses. Wolves are great at spotting enemies, jaguars are stealthy and quick, and bears are basically a tank. You’ll always find an animal companion that suits your play style. Once you tame an animal, it will always be available for you through a quick menu, so you can switch between them if the situation calls for it. You can sneak around and execute simultaneous takedowns with your leopard, or charge with arrows blazing into an enemy outpost on top of a crazed bear. This new Beast Master mechanic is a simple one, but one that adds many gameplay options to have fun and experiment with. Plus, the collectors among you won’t rest until they’ve tamed even the rarest of predators.

Your feral companion is an invaluable instrument when fighting both man and beast, but you can’t rely on it to bail you out of every situation you find yourself in. You’ll have to do your fair share of fighting to survive. As these are prehistoric times, guns are naturally absent and you’re limited to clubs, spears and arrows. These lead to a slower, more calculated combat. You can run-and-gun (dash-and-bash, in this case) with powerful swings of a club at close range, but being a true hunter and thinning the herd from afar can be just as satisfying. Admittedly, I found it hard to stay stealthy most of the time, as enemies can spot your beast as well, unless you’re using the stealthy jaguar. Whether you choose to use stealth or ride straight to the middle of an outpost on the back of a mammoth, combat in Primal is solid, especially once you upgrade some of your weapons.

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If you take a break from crushing skulls and fending off bloodthirsty large cats, take a look around and you’ll notice just how beautiful the land of Oros is. It’s a lush place, filled with trees, lakes and mountains. There’s also a snowy area to the north that offers a slightly different exploration experience. The only area on the screen that doesn’t look amazing is the mini-map, which is all pixelated for some reason. Still, as you travel through Oros you’ll stop to enjoy the view on more than a few occasions. However, the most impressive aspect of the game’s graphics are the characters. NPCs are highly detailed, with scars and even visible expression lines that appear and disappear as they talk. And they talk in a weird dialect developed especially for the game. This made-up language does bring a sense of authenticity to the game. Those who don’t like reading subtitles might be annoyed, but I think it’s worth it just to complete the caveman experience.

Far Cry Primal is a beautiful playground where the only game you’re allowed to play is survival. Having an animal companion to roam with opens up a lot of new options when it comes to fighting cavemen, and the setting somehow makes the game feel somewhat different than Far Cry 4, even though the two are very similar. Ubisoft went out of their way to try and deliver a prehistoric experience, and it works perfectly with the Far Cry formula they spent years perfecting. The story might not be as compelling, and the characters are not as deep as you might have hoped for, but the open world gameplay is once again top-notch. Far Cry Primal might not be a completely new or original game, but it’s definitely the next evolutionary step for the series.


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