Far Cry Primal Review – PC

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Far Cry franchise from the very beginning and that “beginning” just had its clock reset with the release of Far Cry Primal, a game that transports us 10,000 years into the past in only a matter of seconds during the opening cinematic. Far Cry veterans might ask, “Just what is there to do in 10,000 B.C.”, and you might be surprised at the answer, because while you will find no vehicles, guns, or other familiar trappings from previous Far Cry games, all of those great systems like crafting, skill trees, and countless hours of hunting down collectibles is back and has never been better.

Gamers are introduced to this land before time with a brief narrative told in true caveman style, complete with cave drawings and creepy shaman speaking in some fictional (but totally believable) language.  Interestingly enough, every bit of dialogue in the game is subtitled, so put on your reading specs if you need them, although aside from the sporadic conversations with your fellow tribe mates Primal is decisively light on story.  It mostly boils down to you rescuing your fellow Wenja, and bolstering your own numbers in order to defeat the enemy tribe of Udam cannibals at the end of the game.

That end can come as early as 20-25 hours in if you are focused, but for gamers like me who become immersed in the world and hopelessly lost within all of the hunting, crafting, and discovery elements, 25 hours can easily pass before you ever do that first story mission. Finally, all of that mundane crafting makes sense. It was easy to scoff when Far Cry 3 asked you to kill three sharks to craft a wallet so you could carry more cash, but when you are running around in a loincloth avoiding deadly cats, bears, and mammoths, armed only with a club, bow, and spear, the whole “survivor” element really hits home.

Far Cry Primal is non-stop collecting, so the first thing you need to do is turn off those gathering animations to shave several hours from your game time. That way you can be running across the land holding down the button to gather wood, reeds, slate, herbs, etc.   Even your tribe will gather resources for you that you can claim in daily drops from your camp.  A night and day cycle adds some diversity to the experience as new and usually more deadly critters come out at night.  With your vision limited to the glow of a torch or flaming tip arrow, it’s usually best to just go home and sleep till dawn.

One of the more exciting features of the game, and perhaps the most touted by the publisher is the “pet system”.   Early on you will learn how to tame wild beasts; first an owl then later wolves and other larger and deadlier creatures as you move up the food chain.   At first it seemed a bit gimmicky but after 20 minutes of working in concert with my white wolf to hunt down both man and beast I had a new best friend – to the point where I nearly shed a tear when he got trampled by two wooly mammoths shortly thereafter.  You can develop intricate strategies, as you summon your owl and take control from the sky locating and marking targets.  You can then send in your wolf to clear out enemy camps or outposts, or even use your owl to knock guys off cliffs or drop a beehive bomb a group of enemies.

The complexity of the underlying systems in Primal is nothing short of genius. There are all sorts of primitive technology gates whereby you must have access to certain individuals or build up certain elements of your base camp to unlock tiers or items on your skill and crafting trees.  One of the first items you’ll probably have an irresistible urge to unlock is the grapple hook, only because you will see hundreds of points where you need one before you can get it.

But even going beyond the mechanics of the game systems, just watching nature unfold is breathtaking thanks to some wonderful creature AI that accurately recreates a primal food chain whereby you can watch a pack of Dholes bully a herd of goats or spy a sabre-tooth tiger stalking an unaware group of hunters who are focused on their own mammoth kill. Even the birds in this game have some killer instinct and I was constantly harassed by some evil hawk every time I was out in the open.

In addition to your main story missions there are dozens of side-missions tossed into Primal, mostly involving rescuing your wayward tribe, so they can join you back and camp and boost that population meter to new heights unlocking even more goodies for you. These can be simple defense missions or perhaps rescuing someone who has been captured by the enemy and being marched back to camp.

From a presentation standpoint, the PC version of Far Cry Primal is definitely the superior format if you have the powerhouse rig to run it. For those who do, you can enjoy smooth 60FPS and all of the visual bells and whistles that Xbox One and PS4 just can’t manage.  Load times are surprisingly fast, and I was pleasantly surprised to find only a 3-5 second delay when using the game’s fast-travel system.   The audio is just as immersive.  The foreign language really sells the whole “caveman” theme and the environmental and wildlife sounds are perfect, both in their authenticity and their placement within the 3D space.   If you have a surround system or some awesome headphones you’ll actually hear that bear lumbering up behind you or the shriek of a falcon before it dive-bombs your head.  And the score composed by Jason Graves is nothing short of epic, worthy of its own soundtrack release which we’ll be reviewing shortly.

Far Cry Primal offers up a huge intricate world loaded with adventure and discovery; a world so vast and believably “alive” you can exist within its systems regardless of the narrative experience, which easily turns this 25-hour game into a 40, 50 or even 60-hour completionist’s dream come true, as you unlock every last skill and find all of those hidden hand-print stones.

People argue that Primal doesn’t have enough core content to make it worthy of a full-priced release. Sure, Far Cry 3 had the Blood Dragon spinoff, but Primal is much more than a standalone DLC for Far Cry 4.  There may not be a huge arsenal of weapons or some evil plot with a diabolical villain lurking at the end, but for a game that relies on dozens of interweaving systems to fuel the instinctual fires of survival buried in all of our DNA, Far Cry Primal is testosterone in a can. It may seem like an arts and crafts simulator at times, but the first time you go riding into battle on your giant saber-toothed tiger shooting flaming arrows at your enemy you will never feel more manly or more of a badass.

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