by Matthew Thompson
In place of reviews which I have grown to not particularly enjoy writing, I am going to try out a new recurring feature called Five Thoughts. Here I will simply focus on a handful of things that stood out to me about a game as a way to give some impressions, but without feeling my usual need to cover everything in an exhaustive fashion like I do in reviews. For my initial attempt at this new type of post, I will be talking about the first major new retail release of 2016 I managed to complete, Far Cry Primal. Here it goes!
A Well Realized, Unique Setting
Primal’s biggest departure from recent Far Cry entries is its setting and that is certainly one of its biggest assets as well. Ubisoft Montreal has done a fine job crafting a prehistoric landscape that feels alive. Part of this comes down to technological know-how and talented artists. Far Cry Primal presents strikingly beautiful environments with some impressively short load times for fast traveling in an open-world. I love how dangerous things feel at night when you are left to fend off animal and human predators alike with little more than a makeshift torch and a handful of arrows for your bow. With the slew of upgrades available as you progress, that sense of danger will disappear as you become overpowered, but that comes along with its own brand of fun. Those yearning for a trip back to the Mesolithic era to explore ancient locales dripping in atmosphere will find plenty to like in Primal’s world especially with numorous HUD options available for anyone looking to up the immersion.
I Miss Modern Technology
Sometimes less is more. Sometimes less is just… less. One of the things that made me such a big Far Cry fan is all the options you have to approach enemy encounters. All the weapons. All the explosives. All the vehicles. And all the ways to utilize them (like strapping C4 to a jeep, cutting its brakes and letting it roll into an outpost before blowing it all to hell). With that ancient setting I described above comes a much less varied arsenal of tools at your disposal. They do their best to come up with unique solutions given the time period. And some of it I loved. Tossing spears at baddies? Extremely satisfying. Bee bombs? Super cool. Still I couldn’t help but miss the greater range of options available in the more modern Far Cry outings. Primal’s greater emphasis on melee combat – and its general clunkiness – probably didn’t help either.
Having Animal Buddies is a Plus
I love animals. If I retweeted every cute animal picture I wanted to, I’d have lost most of my Twitter followers years ago for flooding their timelines. Animals are the best. In Far Cry Primal, you can tame animals and have them fight alongside you. Needless to say, it’s pretty sweet! Eventually I had the ability to call in bears, wolves, jaguars, badgers and even sabretooth tigers for help. Many of Primal’s most memorable moments came from time spent with my animal pals. Skulking through enemy encampments and stealthily siccing my jaguar on unaware foes. Taking a more head-on approach aside my Giant Scar Bear. Dropping fire bombs on baddies from the sky with my owl. Some you can even ride. Charging through the wilderness atop a sabretooth isn’t a bad way to get around. Bonus points for including a pet button. Scratching my jaguar’s chin was particularly adorable. It reminded me of my tabby at home!
It Lacks a Driving Force Behind the Main Campaign
I’m not the kind of person who needs an interesting story to push me through a game. If the gameplay is good enough, I’m fine. But I do think it helps to have some sort of thrust propelling you along the critical path, especially in an open-world game like Far Cry. It just isn’t here in Primal. As a result, it feels like you are just sort of doing a bunch of stuff. Early on, I didn’t even really feel much of a distinction between the various side missions and the story ones. Far Cry 3 and 4 both had compelling antagonists. Each were underutilized in their own ways, but Pagan Min’s constant chiding and the promise of seeing more Vaas helped guide you forward. Both of those games also presented memorable story missions that made progressing the main narrative at times just as worthwhile as exploring the sandbox and the side quests that lied therein. I just didn’t feel Primal had either of these things working in its favor and it hurt the game for me.
It is possible that my lack of enthusiasm for Primal may be the start of franchise fatigue setting in for me. It is very close to being an annual series at this point (3 in 2012, Blood Dragon in 2013, 4 in 2014 and Primal just missing 2015 by a couple of months). I generally think larger gaps between series’ releases are good for both the developers and the players. For devs, it helps them incorporate more fresh ideas. For players, it helps you miss familiar gameplay loops. I don’t actually play any yearly franchises anymore. I don’t think it would be impossible for me to enjoy something that was releasing annually, but I don’t think Far Cry is the series that will make it happen. Outside of Blood Dragon, these are all beefy open-world titles that I spent 20-plus hours playing. It just doesn’t strike me as something that I need a new version of every year. It is very possible fatigue isn’t an issue here at all. Maybe I just simply like this one less, but I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it was a factor.
Overall, this is probably my least favorite of the Ubisoft Far Cry games, but I still enjoyed my time with it. Capturing outposts and stringing together takedowns is still a blast. The setting was unique, beautifully constructed and fun to explore. The beast master abilities were a nice touch and the special animal hunts provided some memorable sequences. It was just lacking in other areas – a couple of which I talked about here – that made me less taken with it than I typically am with a Far Cry game. I could certainly see it striking a chord with the right audience, particularly those looking to immerse themselves in a prehistoric world, but for me, it was just a solid outing that didn’t compare to Far Cry 3 and 4 which rank among my favorite FPS titles.