When Far Cry Primal, the newest entry in the Far Cry series, comes out later this month, it will presumably take the hallmark open-world exploration, hunting, Ubisoft-standard tower-climbing and oversaturation of content and send it right back to the stone age. I was immediately struck by what a bold aesthetic departure Far Cry Primal was from its predecessors until I realized that I was actually watching the trailer for Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, but nevertheless setting an open-world action game in the Paleolithic is pretty novel—the prehistoric era just isn’t a setting that’s often tapped in videogames (not enough guns, I reckon).
With that in mind, here are a handful of games that are set in prehistory, or some version of it. Maybe by taking a look at what’s come before, we can attempt to glean some notion of what to expect from Ubisoft’s new Cro Magnon epic.
The TurboGrafx-16 didn’t have nearly the install base of the SNES or the Genesis, but it did have a mascot to go toe-to-toe with Mario and Sonic: Bonk, the Charlie-Brown-lookin’ caveman, whose primary method of attack was (appropriately) to smash his head into things. The Bonk games didn’t have the flash of Sonic or the polish of Mario, but they’re fantastic little platformers with bright, cartoony visuals and plenty of prehistoric enemies: parasaurolophuses, giant dragonflies, some sort of iguanadon wearing boxing gloves… At the end there is a tiny, pink plesiosaur princess who gives you a kiss for finishing the game. I think that’s nice. (Far Cry Primal will almost certainly not feature this.)
Few developers released more out-and-out odd games for the PlayStation than ArtDink, and Tail of the Sun is no exception: the game sees you taking on the role of a series of cavemen as they attempt to grow their tribe, explore their territory, and collect enough woolly mammoth tusks to build a tower to the sun. Mostly, this involves wandering a vast, green landscape, picking up items and eating them to improve your caveman’s (or cavewoman’s) stats, but there’s also a fair amount of battling wildlife, from saber-tooth tigers to paleolithic bison to the mammoths that are your ultimate objective. Actually, laid out like this, Tail of the Sun sounds an awful lot like what Far Cry Primal is probably going to be like, minus the whole mammoth-tusks-stacked-to-the-sun thing.
Okay, full disclosure: Tomba! isn’t really set in the prehistoric age. But Tomba himself, the protagonist, is obviously a caveman. He’s got the big hair, the green loincloth/shorts ensemble, the pronounced canines—if he’s not an anime teen caveman, I’ll eat my bearskin. Tomba! was unique and interesting when it was first released because of the way it structured its objectives: having multiple missions running simultaneously and asking the player to backtrack and accomplish side-missions in order to unlock new areas. There’s, uh, there’s a good chance you’re going to see something like that in Far Cry Primal. Just a guess. What you probably won’t see in the new Far Cry: anthropomorphic pigs, gliding using an umbrella, mermaids.
E.V.O.: Search for Eden has as its central conceit a mechanic that I’m flabbergasted nobody has copied by now: you hunt prey and evolve your creature body-part-by-body-part until you become an apex predator. Starting as a lowly fish in the primeval oceans, you gradually evolve legs that let you emerge from the water, then dominate the continents as a dinosaur, and then proceed as a mammal through the ice age until you eventually become a human in time for the final showdown with a giant amoeba. Just kidding! No one chooses to evolve into a human. Why would you, when you could be a colossal, armored behemoth with razor-sharp fangs and claws? Far Cry Primal is almost certainly not going to copy any of these amazing, fabulous ideas.
It’s pretty easy to imagine the brainstorming session that got Primal Rage greenlit: “What if we did Mortal Kombat but, like, with dinosaurs?” Hot on the heels of Jurassic Park, it must have seemed like a combination custom-built for success. Unfortunately, with its meager seven playable characters (four of which are palette-swaps of each other!), Primal Rage never quite built up the following of its more humanoid predecessor. Still, the character models are all done with stop-motion animation, so if you squint your eyes a little, it does have a kind of Harryhausen-esque charm to it, at least until an ape-man pees on his defeated opponent as a “fatality.” Like Primal Rage, Far Cry Primal will almost certainly have “Primal” in the title.
Lost Eden was one of a handful of point-and-click adventure games by French developer Cryo Interactive (another one was Dune!). It tells the story of Adam of Mo, a young human who must venture out into the world to heal the rift between humanity and the dinosaurs before both races are destroyed by a horde of Tyrannosaur invaders. As a point-and-click, it’s pretty dull—simple puzzles, linear narrative, lots of backtracking—but as a story, it’s excellent, with above-average writing and voice acting for the time, an intriguing cast of characters both human and dinosaur, and a dark, haunting soundtrack by Stephane Picq (which I had to import from France when I was in middle school; today you can just buy it on Google Play or whatever). If Far Cry Primal borrows anything from Lost Eden, I hope it would be: good writing. Fingers crossed.
The best first-person shooter for Nintendo 64 that wasn’t GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, or any of those other ones, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a game about a Native American time-traveler who, on the cultural-sensitivity scale, falls somewhere between Chief Wahoo and that guy from the Super Friends. The game definitely delivers dinosaurs in spades, and plenty of weapons both primitive and futuristic with which to hunt them, even if there’s so much fog that the game appears to take place in Silent Hill. Probably Turok’s best asset is the way that movement and gunplay in the game feel fast and dynamic like they did in Doom, even if it lacks that game’s superb level design. If there are as many guns in Far Cry Primal as there are in Turok, I will be very surprised.
Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja dropped the subtitle when it was ported from the arcade to home consoles, presumably after developers Data East lost a false advertising lawsuit, because while it is immediately clear to anyone who plays this game that Joe and Mac are cavemen, in no way are they ninjas. The game’s prologue introduces them as “cave dudes” for whom “life was pretty cool” until “a bogus bunch of Neanderthal nerds crashed their village and scared off all the cave babes.” Who ever thought that a game set in the stone age could be so painfully from the ‘90s? Anyway, Joe & Mac is a little bit Bonk by way of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I don’t think that Far Cry Primal is going to include any “cave babes,” but looking back at the history of the series, I’m not sure we can rule anything out.
Chuck Rock is a bit like Joe & Mac without any of the charm. The eponymous protagonist, who enthusiastically shouts his catchphrase “Unga Bunga!” at the beginning of each area, sports a slouching posture, a protuberant chin, and a huge beer belly which is his primary means of attack. With the exception of the game’s few bosses, every enemy in the game is smaller than Chuck, and the effect is that the game feels very much like a grown caveman stomping, belly-bumping, and crushing with rocks a bunch of tiny, harmless critters. This is the kind of savage cruelty we can probably expect to be a facet of Far Cry Primal.
Caveman Games, which has some unnervingly catchy music, was originally known as Caveman Ugh-lympics, a title which I can’t figure out whether I’m sad they dropped. The visuals are appropriately crude, but the game is nothing short of brilliant in its conception, featuring such “ugh-lympic” events as fire-starting, “saber-racing” (in which both contestants try to be furthest ahead of a pursuing sabertooth tiger), and the “mate toss,” in which the contestant’s cave-wife or -husband must be swung around by their legs and then hurled like a human hammer throw. Each of the six selectable cave people has their own detailed biography. (Gronk “has a slight tendency, when clubbing, to get over-zealous and start clubbing himself,” an affliction with which we can all sympathize.) The “clubbing” event, which seems cribbed from American Gladiators, is preceded by an “intimidation phase.” All of the distances in the events are measured in “foots.” Far Cry Primal is not going to borrow any of these ideas from Caveman Games. And in a way, that’s kind of a shame.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.