Far Cry Primal Takes Its Prehistoric Theme Very Seriously

A deadly, wide-open frontier filled with interesting characters, wild animals and the potential to turn to chaos at any moment. These things characterise the long-popular Far Cry series of games, which until now has been set in wild, uncharted pockets of the modern world.

The latest game doubles down on the formula, removing the guns and vehicles of prior entries, ratcheting up the deadliness of the world and its inhabitants, and transporting players back to 10,000BC, an era defined by the series' tenets of a lawless frontier and the darker side of human nature.

To bring the Mesolithic era to life, the development team at Ubisoft spent countless hours researching the society, tools and conflict of the time, even going so far as to reach out to linguists and anthropologists to lend its new game an authoritative edge.

Far Cry Primal opens on a mammoth hunt, as main character Takkar and his Wenja tribe family fight for food on their way to settle in the fictional land of Oros. The Wenja aren't the only predators in the vicinity however, and the group is scattered by a tiger attack, leaving Takkar to fend for himself.

The early game introduces players to the basics of crafting tools and weapons — which of course can not be purchased by arms traders as with the guns of previous games — with Takkar making a torch to fend off hungry wolves.

The world is immediately notable for its scale, as plants and animals alike tower over the human player in stark contrast to those in previous Far Cry games set in the 21st century.

"We wanted to give you the sense that you are not the dominant species here," says lead writer Kevin Shortt.

That sense had diminished somewhat by the time I was a few hours into the game — commanding my owl to drop bombs on groups of foes before crafting a set of spears on the fly and dispatching them into enemy faces with impossible precision — but the scale and unpredictability of the world remained terrifying throughout.

A mix of convincing Mesolithic aesthetics and good old video game fun, Primal plays out more as a riff on our knowledge of pre-history than a straight-up ancient tribe simulator.

"It's not a history lesson, for sure. But we want to make sure we're being true to the period," says Shortt.

"The region is reflective of what we believe was going on at 10,000BCE."

Perhaps the most convincing aspect is the language spoken by the other humans in the game. Based on Proto-Indo-European, linguists took the common features of known languages to estimate what spoken conversations may have sounded like 12,000 years ago. The result is a perfect fit both in the exposition of your tribe members and the primal yells of enemies.

"[Prot-Indo-European] is the language we know they probably spoke back then. We kind of reverse engineered the language [...] from research and from the linguists that were working with us," Shortt says.

Asked if there were concerns players would be intimidated by their character speaking a dead language, Shortt says recordings of actors speaking the created language were tested against actors reading English, but the latter made interactions uncomfortable.

"The English just popped," he says. "You felt it immediately, and we just thought, 'We can't do that'."

To ease the burden of players needing to read subtitles while they play, anything said outside of direct conversation (for example something shouted by an enemy during combat), is left captionless, which makes for a scarily authentic vibe when exploring the world.

Even direct conversation between Takkar and members of his tribe are very light on reading, with much of the communication being non-verbal.

"We wanted to make it dynamic, so you're getting the story visually as much as looking at the subtitles," says Shortt.

Since there's no concrete records of Mesolithic life, the team was afforded some creative licence, inventing a pair of menacing tribes — the brutish, neanderthal-like Udam and the lithe, fire-worshipping Izila — to serve as antagonists for the settling Wenja. As players explore the world at their own pace or take on missions to help tribe members and build their village, these factions are every bit as dangerous, intimidating and intelligent as the mercenaries and militia of previous games in the series.

While much of the Far Cry formula — including brutal combat, gathering resources and stealthy infiltration of bases — fits neatly into 10,000BC, anthropology provided the opportunity for some new mechanics as well.

"[Humans] used to be nomadic, and they started settling, they started building villages," Shortt says. "Also, they started domesticating animals."

Both of these developments are present in-game, with the main narrative focused on building a new home in the land of Oros. Some liberties have been taken with the animal training, as while evidence would suggest taming wild creatures was a long process, Primal sees Takkar imbued with mystical powers that make him the first human able to commune with animals.

In addition to the aforementioned owl, players will be able to command quick and far-seeing wolves, stealthy cats and tank-like bears in battle. There are even rideable animals, including the sabre-toothed cat, cave bear and mammoth.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


    Far more eager for this than I was for part 4...

    Itll be interesting to see if they can find a way to stop the animal attacks seeming like the non-RPG version of random encounters.

    As a general rule you couldnt run for more than a few minutes in any direction in Farcry 4 without some annoying random battle/ attack/ pickup coming along, it made setting yourself up for a story mission annoying as hell.

    Id imagine that setting the game in a world filled with more frequent, dangerous and aggressive animals will only make the situation worse. I know itll be awesome hunting these things for a while, but if I find myself getting randomly attacked by my 400th ancient badger 20 hours in Im going to turn it off like I did Farcry 4.

      Geeze it wasnt that bad! Platted farcry 4 pretty easily... A lot of whinging about those badgers but i struggled to find enough of them for their skins!!!

        Its not just the badgers, it was the full suite of Ubisoft open-world padding that made the game a drag IMO.

        Find 100 parts of 10 different types of collectables, climb 40 radio towers, pick up plants constantly, get attacked randomly, defend bases constantly. just going from point A to point B to do a mission was a pain because the game was constantly harassing you to zig zag across the map doing repetitive filler tasks.

        This looks like a bit of a fresh direction for the series, but Im still half expecting to spend 90% of my time collecting ammo and health and then losing it in random attacks while trying to get to the mission start point.

          that's the thing with those side mission/filler quests - they're not mandatory and you only really need to do as many as you like.

          i played through far cry 4 with a friend, and we spent a lot of hours in the game. we did almost everything, bar some of the side missions we didnt really enjoy.

          side missions for every game almost generally boil down to how much time you want to invest in the game. more often than not side missions are generally repetitive.

            Yeah some games i completely iognore side quests but this was one there was some fun to be had there

            By the same token, however, it's easy to say 'they are not mandatory' but they sort of are necessary.
            You really do (did, at least, FC 3 n 4) need the bigger wallets, bigger ammo pouches, more weapon slots, more syringes, unlocked towers etc, and the only way to get them was doing all the 'side quests'.
            I realise that technically you can go without, but trying to do that game with the default item/weapon/ammo pouches/wallets they give you from the start would be pretty hard/bad/annoying.

            And the main problem for me with Ubi games these days are they pretty much ALL contain the same checklist of 'side quests'. The main reason I stopped Black Flag (last AC I played) was that while all the ship sailing stuff was awesome, all the 'assassins creedy' collect-a-thon stuff on land was a real drag. (I did however ensure I collected all those shanties lol)

            This Primal looks interesting, but I fear it will be brimming with the same boring Ubi checklist of side quests, with perhaps some slightly more interesting animal based things

          I get ya but i really had no problem with the added elements in far cry 4 - i kinda enjoy being distracted and not getting to where i wanna be... its kinda like life lol

      I agree with this. I am currently playing Far Cry 4. Started last week. It feels like every time I go off to do a mission I either get a "nearest outpost is being attacked" message or a random courier rides past that I need to catch and kill. Which I know, I don't have to do. But it's also when I'm stalking an animal and an eagle attacks me EVERY TIME and the animal runs off. When I'm stealthing into a base and those stupid dhole dogs attack me out of nowhere and I get detected. When I decide to take a short cut across the lake/river (because running the long way around takes forever) and I get bitten by demon fish. I find the latter two the most annoying because of how annoying it actually is. It's super easy to kill the wild dogs, it's just annoying to have to stop and do it every 5 minutes. You can cross the water without dying, but those bites cost you health. Urgh.

      I am looking forward to Primal in the hopes the stealthy hunting is a bigger thing, but I'm not expecting miracles. I suppose at least I won't be finding birth control, condoms and porn whenever I search bodies in Primal. yay?

        HAHA! Our experiences sound identical.

        Its still a fun game, but they need to fix the balance between narrative and distraction.

        It goes both ways though. Sussing out the best angles to infiltrate a base, pack of wolves hanging around between me and the base. Wolves start walking towards me, I throw at rock at one to get them to fuck off, wolves get mad and attack the guards, I start walking toward the base to get a closer look at the chaos and all of a sudden OUTPOST CLEAR screen appears - the wolves killed EVERYBODY.

    My biggest concern with this is that it doesn't seem like there's a great deal of variety to be had from the setting. There might be more depth to it than I've seen so far but it really isn't selling the idea to me at this stage.

    I really enjoyed 4 (much more so than 3, which was still decent), so I'm quite looking forward to this. It'll be a good time filler for me before The Division comes out.

    For me, some of the most fun parts of FC3/4 were using the bow and knife during takedowns, so a gun-less Far Cry could be fun for something different.

    (inb4 last act of the game reveals the whole prehistoric thing was just set in the Animus. You are actually Desmond Miles and the rest of the game is played with guns in the modern day)

    heres the big questions, will i finally beable to skip the fucking cutscenes.

      I don't think they had that technology back in 10,000 BC... so probably not

    REALLY pumped for this. Hope it leads to one with dinosaurs too.

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