Far Cry Primal is out tomorrow, and although our review isn’t quite ready yet, we figured we’d share some notes from our time with the game so far. The premise seems straight-forward on paper—it’s a Far Cry game that eschews the typical third world setting and jumps back 12000 years to the days before history—but it’s understandable to wonder if a series built largely around guns and technology (and, um, uncomfortable race relations) would still feel like itself at the start of the Mesolithic. The short answer is that it does and it doesn’t: Primal feels like a Far Cry game but is just different enough to promise a new independent spin-off series. A longer answer is below.
Ubisoft’s big action games tend to follow a similar template. They’re usually first-person adventures set in large open worlds that gradually expand alongside your progress. They give you lots to do, with main storyline missions, various secondary adventures given to you by multiple non-playable characters, and random objectives that just pop up as you’re roaming the countryside. Between missions you can open up new territory on your map and possibly unlock a new fast travel spot by travelling to a camp or tower or some other kind of outpost and clearing out the bad guys. Primal ticks off most of these boxes. You’ll often find enemy camps of various sizes to seize, which are promptly taken over by your tribe, increasing your population. There are also bonfires throughout the map, which act like the radio towers and bell towers from the last two Far Cry games. If you take over a camp with a bonfire and light it, a swath of new land will be opened up on your map and every camp you’ve taken over in the area will be converted into a fast travel station. It’s about as faithful to the Ubisoft formula as you expect a Far Cry game to be, with an almost overwhelming amount of side business to pursue and a map littered with targets and icons.
The biggest difference between Primal and the earlier Far Cry games probably involves the way you kill things. The fairly substantial arsenals of the past are gone, replaced with a handful of simple tools fashioned from rock and wood. Your main weapons are a club, a spear and a bow and arrow. You have limited ammo for all three, and will have to either craft new ones on the fly or retrieve the ones you’ve already used from the bodies of your prey. You won’t be able to post up on a spot and spray a camp full of lead—you’ll have to pick your spots and hope your aim is tight, or else try to isolate the bad guys and bash them one by one with your club. The stealth kill is more important here than in any other Far Cry game. Without explosives or machine guns camps can get hard to raid in a hurry, especially if your rival tribesmen have horns to call in back-up. This is where Primal most feels like a new game: you’ll have to plan your exploits more carefully in the past because you won’t really be able to just shoot your way out of a problem anymore.
Animals are more important in Primal than in the other Far Cry games, both as enemies and as servants. If you’re like me, bears and big cats will kill you more often than the brutal Udam tribe. You won’t just be killing (and being killed by) big game, though: hunting more docile creatures is crucial, as you need skins, fat and meat to heal yourself, upgrade your village and craft certain useful tools. If you cringe at killing animals, even virtual ones, take some comfort in knowing that you can also tame them and use them as crucial allies. (You’ll still have to kill, gut and clean a lot of others, though.) Since binoculars didn’t exist 12000 years ago, the game quickly has you tame an owl that you can use to scope out your surrounding area and help plot your attacks on enemy encampments. You’ll probably spend a lot of time with a friendly white wolf who can help you tear your enemies apart, and as you level up can eventually tame all manner of beast. You’ll be a regular Marc Singer in no time.
Ubisoft is proud of the theoretical version of Proto-Indo-European that linguists and language professors devised for Primal. Obviously we don’t know how people actually talked 12000 years, but experts can make an educated guess, and Ubisoft hired some to do just that. That means every character in Primal speaks a language that nobody outside of the professors who created it can understand. Thus every line of dialogue is subtitled during the frequent cut-scenes. If you care about the game’s story, you’ll have to pay attention and read along, unless you somehow know how to speak a fake version of an unknowable language.
I’ve never been a fan of Far Cry’s multiplayer jive, but if you are, you should know that Primal doesn’t have any of it. No co-op, no player vs. player, nothing but the story of warring tribes in quasi-mythical prehistory days with you controlling the almost superheroic “beast master” leading the ostensible good guys. You shouldn’t worry about it, though: it’s an Ubisoft game, so there’s so much biz on the side to do and explore that you won’t even miss the online stuff.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.