Written by Gav Weir, Twitter etc.
I’m sorry, I’ve tricked you. So that last ‘review’ was obviously a bit of a joke. A ‘lol’ if you will. We still friends? That’s good, I’m glad we’re cool. We should hang more…how’s next Friday? Yeah, I’ll drop you a text.
Anyway. Since writing that, I’ve been thinking about Far Cry Primal and there’s things I actually need to say about it, things I need to say out loud to properly grasp.and to understood why it fails to match up to the games before it. But to do that, let’s step back a year to when Far Cry 4 graced our consoles.
During Gav R’s utterly insane attempt to write about a game a week (before it was cool to do such things), he covered FC4. I went back and read that blog recently to refresh myself on what made me love that game. This paragraph here sums it up pretty well:
Within the next 2 hours of play I watched a rhino ram an enemy 4×4 off the road as I chased after them and later had my eyes gouged out by a hawk. Following this, I drowned while diving for treasure in an underground cavern and shot a fish out of the water with an RPG while hovering overhead in a one-man helicopter. Since then I’ve tracked snow leopards, honey badgers, Bengal tigers and a serial killer; embarked on a paraglide that saw me gracefully soar over the entire Southern part of the map only to smash into the side of a hut and kill myself during my descent; I’ve taken drugs and murdered my way through a hallucinatory quest that saw a white tiger act as my accomplice and just before bed last night I drove a quad bike off a cliff and tossed a grenade into a plane before parachuting to safety.
The sheer scale of that game was unmatched. Leap into a car, smash it through an enemy outpost, leap out, release an elephant and watch it stamp through the base. It was a glorious exercise in giving the player choice. Maybe you want to take out all the outposts, or you could just go create some Go Pro videos of you battering around on a quad bike…the scope was just crazy.
But more so than this freedom to be as mental as you want, the game offered a truly great enemy in Pagan Min. An antagonist dripping in charisma (thanks to an incredible performance by ya boy Troy Baker), Pagan spends most of the game talking to you over the radio, like the great bad guys of cinema, he remains in the shadows, taunting you as you get closer to over throwing him. You only hear of his deeds though word of mouth and when you do eventually come face to face, you’re given plenty of choices in how to deal with him.
It’s here that FC: Primal just can’t stand up to its predecessor. Obviously cars and helicopters are out of the question due to the setting, but the decision to seemingly have no antagonist almost purposefully throws everything great about FC4 out the window. Besides ‘gather your tribe’, there’s no driving force, no bad guy to rally on, no dictator to take down. By the end FC4, I wanted nothing more than to put a bullet in Min’s head; but so far in Primal the only person who’s pissing me off is the person who designed the laborious upgrade system (BURRRRRRN).
Primal at its core has everything that makes the other FC games great: Scouting an enemy outpost is still great fun, more so now since you can control an owl and have it drop a makeshift bomb full of angry bees on people. Stalking around, figuring the best approach and taking the outpost with silent precision is still as fun as it’s always been; but the crafting has been really drawn out. Having to trek to 3 separate parts of the map in order to get the resources to upgrade my bow just feels like cynical padding.
To upgrade your bow you need 2 different types of wood, 3 different types of stone and reeds – oh and your cave needs to be levelled up, which needs animal hide, wood, stones…all of which you’ll never find near each other. Crafting has always been part of previous games, but they would have you naturally accrue the resources to craft new wallets and bags- here it’s the focus of a game and it really isn’t any fun.
This extends to the campaign and the total lack of variety in missions. Every mission consists of ‘go to A, get person Y, unlock item 1’. The whole game is focused on collecting things: people, resources, animals…there’s nothing here pulling you through, nothing to keep you guessing about what’s next and more importantly, nothing to keep you hooked in the story…because there simply isn’t a story.
‘Become The Apex Predator’ the game tells us, but sadly there’s no Randy Orton in sight, just a bunch of placeholders where carachters presumably should be. The game starts with your tribe, The Wenja, travelling to the land of Oros to live…not sure why…and another tribe, the Udam don’t really like you. That’s ah…that’s it. I think there’s a third tribe in there somewhere, but they’ve barely dented the story after a solid 9 hours of play. I’ve been given no reason to care about this tribe, why they want this land or any real reason why these people are willing to follow my character other than ‘you can talk to animals so, I guess I’ll hang out at your cave? Is that cool? You could you make me a hut whilst you’re here…’. Where’s the hook here? show me why I should care. So far there’s been a rival tribe leader tell me I’m weak…but that’s nothing to get into to. Why not provide a deeper narrative? A conflict within the tribe that you can shape based on choices perhaps? Sure that idea is generic as hell, but at least it’s something. Maybe a Loki/Thor rival brothers vying for control of the tribe situation…honestly, any trope would be preferable to the void that currently exists where a narrative should be.
On the small positive side, the game is absolutely stunning to look at, easily one the best looking games of this generation so far. At sunrise the light blooms over mountains and kisses the morning fog with an orange glow. At night the world is a ghostly blue, with fires cutting through the shadows in the distance and the moon hovering large in the sky.
It’s the first game that’s really created a convincing forest, with a truly amazing density to the trees punctuated by expanses of clearings and rivers. The engine has clearly had a big boost since FC4 and if this is the state of things to come, I’m excited.
Combat too feels great considering the game has all but ditched ranged weapons, the new melee ones work well. There’s a decent weight to hitting someone with a club and a real visceral feel to driving a spear through someone’s back…and a headshot with an arrow still produces a really satisfying splatter…erm..which totally makes me sound like a psycho…so…moving on…
It’s possible that there’s a twist coming up, that something will happen and flip this on its head. Bit after a good 9 hours of play, I shouldn’t be this turned off and I should really have enough of an idea of a story. I feel like I could happily step away from the game and not feel any drive to come back.
Primal shows all the strengths of this series, the world, the combat, the exploration, but it highlights all the limitations too. Without something to push the narrative forward, to engage you, the world feels like a playground with no rides. Sure you could just run around for a while, giggling with glee…but without a slide or some swings, you’ll get bored.
All credit to the devs for trying something new and for the most part pulling it off. A interesting experiment, but let’s get back to what makes these games great next time. To mis-quote Limp Bizkit – ‘give me something to hate, how bout your fucking face?’ Ok, so only 4 of those words are relevant and they’re not even from the song, but without a conflict, something to make me want to go from mission to mission the fancy environment may as well be a tech demo.