Far Cry Primal Could Be Exactly What The Series Needs Right Now

Far Cry Primal Could Be Exactly What The Series Needs Right Now

At face value, Far Cry Primal looks like an easy diversion for Ubisoft to take from its main line of militaristic shooters -- a side project full of vicious animals instead of rifles and rocket launchers. I'd argue it's something more than that. Primal is the apotheosis of the series' post-Far Cry 2 design trends.

First announced at the beginning of October, Far Cry Primal steps away from the series' contemporary paramilitary settings in favour of transporting players all the way back to the stone age. That means no guns (at least that we know of now...maybe there's some big Assassin's Creed-style meta-narrative, though let's hope there isn't). No super-soldiers either. Just primitive hand-made weapons and vicious prehistoric beasts.

Gamers got their first real look at Far Cry Primal last week during the Video Game Awards, and the word of the night, Far Cry-wise at least, was "animals".

So. Many. Animals. You do battle with saber-toothed tigers, wooly mammoths, and big scary-looking bears. But that's not all you do with them. You can also pet them, then tame them, and, ultimately, fight with them by your side as a "beast master".

This all sounds like it could just be a big gimmick -- the kind of thing that's perfect for a less-than-consequential spin-off like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a cheesy sci-fi spoof expansion to the 2012 shooter that added giant neon dinosaurs and stuff like that into the mix. And it is called Primal, after all, not Far Cry 5. But don't let Ubisoft's branding confuse you. Primal is exactly where Far Cry's been heading for years now.

One of the main things Ubisoft added to Far Cry 3 was a robust wildlife system that challenged the player to hunt and kill a plethora of tropical beasts: boars, tigers, dogs, even sharks. On one level, the animals all existed to support the game's crafting system, which allowed you to create things like bigger ammo pouches once you killed and skinned enough of a certain critter. But they also emerged as one of the game's defining motifs once players realised how bizarrely humorous and thematically discordant it was to, say, dive underwater and frantically try to punch a shark to death in the middle of your journey through what seemed like it was supposed to be, again, a gritty militaristic first-person shooter.

Things only got weirder, and sillier, when Far Cry 4 arrived in late 2014. While it was, at face value, a sombre-faced first-person shooter much like Far Cry 3, the main thing that Ubisoft fleshed out in the sequel was the cast of animal characters.

You still shot at people too, of course. But as I wrote in my review last year, human beings were the least interesting parts of Far Cry 4. The animals were far more memorable. There were the cute little monkeys that looked up at you helplessly. The packs of vicious dogs who'd lunge at you before you could outrun or outgun them:

Those nasty honey badgers who'd slash at your shins and once knocked me off the face of a cliff:

And, dear god, let's not forget the eagles. They'd drop in from out of nowhere and start attacking your face:

Far Cry Primal Could Be Exactly What The Series Needs Right Now

One of the most surprising moments of the game came when one such devil bird swooped down while I was hunting a wild pig and snatched my prey right out from under me.

Far Cry Primal Could Be Exactly What The Series Needs Right Now

As my colleague Luke Plunkett put it to me last year, it's an amazing testament to how well Far Cry 4's animals were designed and implemented in the game that when an NPC character shouted, "Oh no, an eagle!" it actually meant something for you, as a player -- i.e., it meant you were supposed to either run or get ready to defend yourself. That's why I began my review of Far Cry 4 by saying I'd wished that Ubisoft had centered the game more squarely around your relationship with its animals rather than their comparatively dull human counterparts:

I want to write a letter to all the animals I've met in Far Cry 4.

[...]

I want to write a letter to all these wonderfully insane, antagonistic creatures -- the best characters in Far Cry 4. If I could go back in time, I'd wrap this letter around the pig's leg and pray that the eagle helps it find its way to the right place.

"Dear animals," the letter would read, "take me to Far Cry 5."

Separate from the game's mostly forgettable narrative, let's just look at this from a gameplay standpoint. There were many different animals in Far Cry 4, each with their own unique traits and threats posed to the player. They all demanded unique techniques and tactics to counter in turn. As for the humans? There were two main types of human bad guys in Far Cry 4: the ones who had heavy armour and took a lot longer to kill, and the ones who didn't. There were only a few ways to deal with these people in turn: shoot at them, maybe lay some explosive trap for them if you felt like going through the trouble, and, most memorably, running up and stealth-stabbing them.

Far Cry Primal Could Be Exactly What The Series Needs Right Now

...though even Far Cry's melee attacks lent more towards the game's animalistic qualities than its human ones. I argued in my review that these viscerally satisfying stealth-stabs only felt that way because they made me feel "like a wild animal," not like some standard shooter bro running around killing standard shooter bad guys.

Be warned: Far Cry Primal might end up being a botched experiment that's not all that enjoyable to play. But what I find intriguing about the game, and what makes me more excited for it than I would be if Ubisoft had just unveiled another modern-day shooter, is that it shows that Ubisoft actually notices and appreciates what it is about its own series that makes it feel distinct, special, and, most importantly, fun. It may just be a spin-off. But I hope that Ubisoft keeps going with the gameplay motifs its established for Primal, at least until the studio's figured out how to make shooting in Far Cry games feel quite as fresh and interesting again.


Comments

    After far cry 4 and it's wild life I really wanted a far cry with dinosaurs and the focus on them. I guess primal is the next best thing to that!

      Have they ruled out Dinosaurs? I know it doesn't fit the time, but finding a land of the lost type deal doesn't seem out of the question.

        Yep no dinosaurs. Trying to keep it relatively believable in the historical timing at least (humans n dinos never co-existed).

    20 bucks says you have to climb tall rocks or trees to reveal the map on your leather scroll.

      How would you chart the map if you are not on high ground? Speaking to a shaman doing a ritual to map the leather scroll?

        Stars and land marks?

        I get that it works as a mechanic, but it's almost a guarantee in Ubisoft games these days.

      Supposedly you use an owl much the same as a UAV

    I felt much the same, when they first announced it I thought it was pretty stupid, but when I took a moment, I remembered that the best parts of 4 and 3 were the struggles for survival against the animals.

    This has potential...however I really didn't enjoy the Shangrila quests, and they appear to be the closest comparison...so I'm still wary.

    What it needs is a break before it becomes the next yearly Assassin's Creed.

      I don't mind the way fallout's releases have been. They are stand alone and blood dragon and primal look to just build off the main franchise entries.

      thing is far cry already does that, 3 came out in 2012 and 4 came out in 2014, and this is comming out 2016,. Yes blood dragon came out in 2013 but it was more a standalone DLC sized game like Assassins Creed Freedom Cry

    It'd be nice if they had proper co-op support. Far Cry 4 was a massive let-down in that respect.

      i completely agree!
      i guess 4 was a testing ground for the idea and hopefully they have polished it for this experience

    Ive seen a craptron of footage and it really looks like a step backwards tbh. Very limited weapon set, same crafting, same blue, red n yellow leaves. Hell, the footage even had the same typeface n menus from FC4! And what really got me was "use beast menu to heal animal companion" tip onscreen, not use "meat" or "healing leaves" or even a frickin magic stone. Just a glaringly immersion breaking permanent reminder to go to a menu. And nothing shown hasnt been done already in the FC4 spirit/flashback levels. Granted it was alpha footage, but if this is coming out in feb id say this stuff is pretty locked in by now. Dont get me wrong, i loved 1,3 n blood dragon and i liked 4 (fuck fc2, seriously) but this seems like a weak cash in with less features that should have been dlc. I really do hope im wrong though.

    Fucking honey-badgers. Fucking eagles. *stomps around ranting and swearing for a bit*

    Am I the only person on this planet that is NOT excited about Far Cry Primal? Can't really put my fingers on the reason... I am just not into it.

    I'd be a lot more excited if it is about dinosaurs.

      no youre not. despite the hype train that the media is trying to get rolling for it.

    Looks okay, i think the gameplay will get old fast with due the limitation of weapon types. The setting looks amazing :O It'll be interesting to to see how its goes though.

    Love they used Chelsea Wolfe's music in the game trailer as well :O

    ...They've just attempted to steal Ark: Survival Evolved.

    This disgusts me how blatantly obvious it is... They didn't even try to hide it.

    Your pretty much throwing the EXACT same spears, giving the same whistle commands to your minions, in an almost identical environment with effectively the (again!) exact same set of animals.

    It's like a child's attempt at theft, crudely scratch off the previous owners name and scrawl yours over the top, real classy. Get stuffed Ubisoft, your a bunch of idea poaching assholes.

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