It took about 20 years, but a developer has finally found the secret to creating a believable action-survival game: Take the player back to a time when living to the ripe old age of 30 was far from a certainty.
Inserting players into the tail end of the Stone Age, arming them with a rock and a stick, then asking them to survive in a word populated by cannibals, saber-toothed cats and giant mammoths gets to the heart of the genre much better than shipwrecking Lara Croft on a remote island.
A moment of true terror crept up my spine upon loading “Far Cry Primal.” The screen went black before flashing the current year.
My God, I thought to myself, how will I clean up my newly renovated apartment after I projectile vomit when this game turns out to include time travel? Will I ruin all of my electronics, which are important for both my free time and my career? Will I get that security deposit back?
Time traveling – and inter-dimensional gimmicks, to a lesser extent – have to be the laziest plot devices in all of pop culture. A writer needs the hero to be smarter or more clever than everyone in order to explain how he or she is able to overcome impossible odds.
Yes, I look at you, “Assassin’s Creed” franchise. Considering the same development studio, Ubisoft Montreal, created the first “Assassin’s Creed” and “Far Cry Primal,” I thought for sure the Canadians had duped me once more.
The year mercifully crawled back to 10,000 B.C.
And thank goodness for that, because the world in which “Far Cry Primal” players find themselves is far more believable than the part-savage, part-civilized settings of the other action mainstays.
Takkar, the main character, faces a brutal reality from the get-go. His tribe hasn’t eaten. Their mammoth hunt has become desperate, and other – much larger – predators are looking to steal their food or make a meal of them.
He is a natural warrior, but he is lost. Unlike previous “Far Cry” protagonists, he does not have the knowledge needed to survive and thrive in this environment. He has a club, a pretty good idea of how to use it, and little else.
Takkar finds what he needs – often by accident or word-of-mouth – during his journey. One companion teaches him about medicine. Another one can make better tools than the flimsy sticks you’ve used so far. Several can improve Takkar’s hunting and fighting tactics. He offers them protection and help.
The introduction of these characters unfolds over a dozen rewarding hours or so. I felt as if I was truly rebuilding my tribe in the face of murderous rivals and angry kitties.
After you meet the whole gang, the game falls off. These colorful and diverse characters are basically confined to handing out errands and begging for upgrades to their huts after their engaging introductory quests. Ubisoft spent all this time designing a great cast, then shackled them to the base while Takkar does all of the work. That’s too bad.
There’s not much to write about as far as mechanics, gameplay and controls. It is pure “Far Cry.” If you’ve played any of the previous games or their “BioShock” cousins, you will be right at home.
I did have one problem, though: the grappling hook.
I will never understand the genre’s fascination with grappling hooks. Why does every character have to be Batman? It’s such a prevalent mechanic that I am certain the developers donned hoods and met in a secret location to forge a blood pact requiring every action title come complete with a grappling system.
It isn’t a good fit for most of the non-Batman action titles, and it is especially terrible for “Far Cry Primal.”
One of the game’s true strengths is its stripped-down, realistic approach to life in the Stone Age. Except for a few silly exceptions such as bee grenades, basic tactics and tools suit Takkar and his emerging tribe just fine.
So why ruin this with a grappling hook? The game takes place before agriculture or the domestication of animals. But his people have learned how to repel on mountainsides? They’ve even set up little grappling notches across every mountain on the continent? Give me a break. I’d much rather “Far Cry Primal” force me to walk up a hill and keep its gritty realism.
Once you get past the grappling debacle and learn to make your own fun in its beautiful, interactive environment, “Far Cry Primal” is a great game that will suck hours of your time away. It’s one of those titles that requires you to set alarms in your phone to remember to do things like eat, go to the bathroom and sleep.
Or you can do what I do: Grab some beef jerky and a few adult diapers, pick your comfiest plastic chair, and don’t let society dictate how you live your life for a few days.
Far Cry Primal
Video game review
▪ Rated Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content
▪ Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
▪ Publisher: Ubisoft
▪ Available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.