This should have been another Blood Dragon. No, really, it should have. While that might sound like a negative start to this review, it’s really the crux of Primal’s main problems. It tries to add new life by shifting the setting, massively altering the landscape and with a wholly new story; the new gimmicks should have been left to a ten-hour standalone experience. That said it’s hard to completely deny the game’s merit, once you truly start to get into the meat of the story.
Set during the Mesolithic era, you play as a caveman trying to survive in a world of giant carnivorous beasts and hostile tribes. After you’re stranded during a hunt and left to face down a rival tribe, you start to learn just how to use these monsters to your advantage, unleashing them upon your foes. While certainly simple, there’s an oddly charm to the game for its bloody and primitive atmosphere, steeped in mysticism and men speaking complete gibberish. While it certainly goes off the deep end even more than the average Far Cry game, that willingness to embrace this madness makes the whole thing surprisingly endearing.
Much of the game hinges upon your ability to summon and control beasts, thanks to your limited weapons selection. Thankfully, the developers nailed this from the outset and the sheer variety of beasts on offer means you’re constantly keeping an eye out for what might turn up next. From tigers to giant wolves and mammoths, you have to search far and wide to find each and every one, and doing so earns you more than a few great rewards. Don’t like one beast in combat? The AI means that no other one will act exactly like them, and will instead be beholden to their quirks and instinctive strengths.
As you would expect from any Far Cry release by this point, the landscapes are truly gorgeous and stretch across a multitude of various biomes. Each has been carefully built up to take advantage of the new systems, especially fire, which you need to help give you a major edge in enemy engagements. While you can’t completely rework the entire map, the greater level of interactivity and flashes of brilliance help to keep you engaged. Really, use fire, you wouldn’t believe how truly effective a weapon it is in Primal.
While melee combat is an obvious focus over ranged or sniping here, a few tweaks helps to keep things somewhat fresh. While it has hardly been completely reworked, the greater variety of stealth takedowns, heavier swings and vastly improved sound and visual assets gives it more depth. Rather than leaving you mashing the same attack key until someone falls, seeing a foe recoil from your blow and timing your attacks in the middle of pitch battles, offers a kind of savage joy rarely found outside of Chivalry.
However, the real problem is that there’s just not enough content here. As the opening stated, once the gimmick is established, there’s little left to help truly build upon things or develop new ideas. In its place, you’re left with the same old dull fetch quests the series has done to death, increasingly grindy tasks to help build your village and radio towers. Well, they’re not called radio towers, but they serve the same purpose. As big and as bold as the new environment is, the content is stretched out until you’re left with a broad open world with the depth of a puddle.
Matters aren’t helped by the disastrous state of the PC port, which turns the lush environments and sweeping landscape into an eyesore. Even beyond the usual DRM issues Ubisoft forces upon gamers, Primal suffers from some astounding performance problems, especially in the frame rate and optimisation departments. Many bugs found on release have yet to be truly fixed and errors are abounding, even in the most central parts of the map.
So, is it ultimately worth it? On PC, definitely not. On console, if you are truly in love with the idea of an open world caveman simulator, then give this one a stab. It has its failings, but there’s nothing quite like the same visceral fun of playing through the game, as if it were a bloody primordial alternative to Pokémon. If you’re already in love with this series, then give Far Cry Primal a chance, but don’t expect anything truly revolutionary.
FAR CRY PRIMAL / DEVELOPER: UBISOFT MONTREAL / PUBLISHER: UBISOFT / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW