Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Far Cry Primal

Post-Launch Review
Far Cry Primal (PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: February 2016
Played: story complete, 62% overall in 19h24m


Twelve thousand years ago, the fractured Wenja tribe has made its way to the land of Oros, where its people are beset on all sides by the Udam tribe who eat the Wenja and the Izila tribe who burn Wenja in sacrifice. The hunter Takkar, who traveled far seeking his lost Wenja kin, discovers that he can tame and command the vicious predators of Oros and works to unite the tribe and triumph over the threats to to his people.

At Launch

Far Cry Primal earned average review scores of 75%. Reviewers praised the setting, language, visuals, and animals, but were disappointed by lack of depth in story and mechanics and overly aggressive enemies.

Post Launch

Several updates were released to address bugs. An extremely comprehensive survival mode and permadeath mode were added for free, with massive balance and gameplay alterations for added realism and difficulty. An HD texture pack is available for free on PC. The Wenja pack DLC adds some extra resources and conveniences.

I was really excited about Far Cry Primal last year. Mammoths! Prehistory! A friend of mine worked on the game and was able to get me a heavily discounted copy at launch... which I proceeded to not play for over a year. But now I've finally gotten around to it and finished it, so it's review time!

The prehistoric setting I was so happy about turned out to be amazing. The wildlife, the weapons, the clothing and culture and language... it's all very convincing and really cool. In fact I read that the language is three dialects based on research and reconstruction of the real-world Proto-Indo-European language, the common ancestor of most languages in Europe and some in Asia and the Middle East. So the entire game is subtitled, and that's a brave - and effective - choice. Also, spear hunting mammoth while riding a sabertooth tiger is pretty awesome.

The high-quality visuals go a long way to help set the tone. Lighting from the sun and fire is excellent and the ray effects are beautiful, particularly at sunrise/sunset. The world looks gorgeous, especially with the HD texture pack installed (I'm using it in all screenshots). Character and creature animation are very strong, and facial animation is above average. Vegetation bends and sways, fire effects are great and spread well. The old forest and the snowy mountains are a great contrast, and there are a few other small environment types that look great too. I feel like the only thing missing is more weather effects. Not that it's a problem.

Gameplay is solid, if a little sparse. There are only a handful of weapons - club, bow (with a few variations on each), spears, and grenades - but they each feel different and have particular roles. Personally I preferred the spear, both for the short-range power and because it's cool to throw spears while riding a bear or tiger. There aren't a lot of enemy types or behaviours, and the enemies are limited to the same small variety of weapons (or are animals with fairly minor differences in health, speed, and behaviour). The map is big and there are a lot of things to do, but those things aren't much different from each other, compounded by the small variety in direct combat options.

By far the best gameplay element is the animals. You can tame many types of predators, most of which also have rare variations. Each animal or variant has different abilities and strengths: wolves mark enemies and reveal more map, jaguars can do stealth takedowns, dholes (kind of like a dog) skin animals automatically after a kill, bears draw enemy attention, etc. Once you make enough progress you can ride mammoths, bears, and tigers, which is pretty much the best replacement for cars that there could be, especially since you and the animal can still fight while riding.

Plus there's the owl, which you always have access to, which you can control as it flies above the landscape to scout and (later) attack enemies, direct your beasts, or drop bombs. Another excellent variation - never thought I'd actually enjoy long range scouting.

There were a few standout side missions I have to mention: the great beast hunts, where you track and battle exceptionally strong unique beasts in areas purpose-built for the hunt. There are some minor but neat gameplay elements that don't show up anywhere else, and being able to tame the powerful one-of-a-kind legendary animals is super cool.

While I loved the setting, the characters were mostly fun, and the beasts were great, I did find that I got tired of the open world. Normally this doesn't happen to me so quickly. Combat isn't as exciting or fast-paced as in other Far Cry games, and animals are annoyingly aggressive when you're just trying to go somewhere, but I think what bugged me was the lack of story.

From the beginning, you're told of the Udam and Izila threats, and that your job will be to take down their leaders. Well that's pretty much the whole story. The wolf shaman gives you some insight into the motivations of the enemy tribes and makes them more sympathetic, but that's kind of at odds with having to violently slaughter every one you see, and is more background info than plot. Since the missions are designed such that you can tackle the two tribes and your villagers in any order, there's no real plot, rising action, climax, or conclusion - when you finish the second tribe it's just "yay you won, go play with the open world some more". 

Primal ends up feeling like the biggest DLC or expansion pack I've ever played rather than a true standalone game: there's not a story so much as a mission pack, and the gameplay is fairly light. But what's there is a lot of fun, and the world and creatures are gorgeous. The atmosphere is very unique and engaging, and the beast taming and commands are excellent. I didn't enjoy the open world gameplay enough to push for 100% completion, but I very much enjoyed what I did play, and now I want more games that let me ride mammoths and trample everything in my path.

Recommendation: play it.

P.S.: the bonus mammoth missions are kind of garbage. Short, frustrating, mechanically uninteresting, insignificant rewards.

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