To me, there are very few games in the world that better represent the surrealist aspect of action games than the Far Cry franchise. And to be clear: Far Cry is not The Expendibles. Far Cry is a draft of The Expendibles script as written by Hunter S. Thompson. Explosions, drugs, and an arsenal that would make Alexander The Great blush.
Does that make the Far Cry franchise perfect? Well, some people might say so. For some, the idea of high octane action in exotic locales is basically all that you need for an excellent experience. For many of us who look deeper than that, Far Cry still embodies a very strange and bewildering current in the first person shooter genre. So much of what you’re used to is taken full advantage of. And so many moments that you’d never expect are howled into the process as well.
Because Fry Cry is like a summer vacation in the mind of a madman. You visit a gorgeous, out-of-the-way landscape, and play god. You annihilate your enemies—you take on the local wildlife. Perhaps you sleep with one or two of the natives. And all the while you retain your visage as the great, invincible hunter. The most basis analysis of all of this has problems enough of its own that I’m not going to get into. But needless to say, the idea behind the Far Cry franchise is that of a massive power trip.
So isn’t it funny that the powers that be decided to set their next Far Cry game in the time of Neanderthals and Saber toothed Tigers?
That’s not to suggest that you don’t indulge in your power fantasy during Far Cry: Primal. You absolutely do. But there isn’t really a central need for your power and badassery. And that lack of a central motivation forces you to question your role here in the first place. Far Cry 3 and 4 took to the important moments immediately. You are here to kill this villain and avenge your friends and/or family. No such moment exists in Far Cry: Primal. And that sounds like a minor quibble. But it explains the lack of spine which turns Far Cry: Primal’s suspenseful gameplay into the motions that you must go through.
Just like previous entries, Far Cry: Primal demands that you put your protagonist through hell for a better central understanding of one’s self. And for some reason, that always involves stalking the wilderness in order to upgrade your pouches and weapons. And that involves slowly getting to know dozens and dozens of creatures and wildlife that want nothing more than to kill you. And when those aspects are attached to a fascinating storyline or a charismatic villain, it makes for some devastatingly fun gameplay. But, Far Cry: Primal is essentially “Side Mission: The Game”. And that might not initially sound like a major issue, particularly if you like collect-a-thons. As long as stepping back in time doesn’t also equal stepping back the fun of the game itself.
But it does.
I really wanted to love Far Cry: Primal.
From the first day that I read about it, I was excited. The idea of a franchise as well known for its crafting and combat setting itself in a world where hunting and building is literally the only way to survive—that sounded ideal to me. It sounded perfect. But in practice, none of it feels like enough. All of the selling points sort of fall hollow in the end. You play a member of the long-lost Wenja tribe: a clan of prehistoric people that have been cast to the wind. You discover the land of Oros and begin to rebuild your tribe, member by member. That’s it. That’s the entire storyline. And while it does have Ull—a vaguely interesting antagonist, you really don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him. And I mean, hey: who’s got time to worry about Ull and the future of my tribe? I’ve got sabertooth tigers to tame! That’s right: in Far Cry: Primal, you’re the Beast Master.
And that means bending nature to your will. Want a honey badger sidekick? You can make it happen. Want to ride around on the backs of wooly mammoths? You’re on your way, friend-o. It’s definitely one of the most memorable parts of this game. I might have been sick of going from one faceless side mission to the other, but I rode a sabertooth tiger on the way there!
And that’s actually the best indicator of my overall experience with Far Cry: Primal. Like other entries in this franchise, Primal is a gorgeous, surreal experience that hits all of the notes that you’d grow to expect from this franchise. The process of building up your tribe and upgrading its features is a lot of fun, and the cutscenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a AAA game. Unfortunately, getting from one to the other feels tedious and overdone. By the time I’d finished the main storyline, along with a very healthy number of side quests and exploring, I was told that I hadn’t even completed 40% of the game. And, sad to say, I’m truly uninterested in going back for that remaining 60%. Some franchises, like Grand Theft Auto, do a brilliant job of making their side quests fleshed out and individual. But here, it’s just more of the same, over and over. Occasionally they shake things up with big game hunting quests, but that’s far and few between.
To me, Far Cry: Primal feels like it was originally meant to be a stand-alone expansion of Far Cry 4, much in the same vein as Far Cry: Blood Dragon was.
The lack of extensive weapons and equipment, the lightweight storyline, and the niche setting of it just suggests that this would have been a tighter, better game if it had been fraction of the length and the price. But for a full, $60 release, Primal has little to offer beyond the genuinely interesting novelty of playing Far Cry in the Stone Age. It’s Quest For Fire as written by William S. Burroughs, and that is very appealing in theory. But with a narrative that’s as flabby and padded as this one is, Primal is mostly for collect-a-thon junkies and the most hardcore fans of the Far Cry franchise itself.