Nature has a way of capturing our attention. There’s something about the struggle for survival that mesmerizes us. I’ve seen people spend breaks watching a spider spin a web or visit a park to observe seabirds dive into the bay for fish. The outdoors offers a wide array of spontaneous entertainment.
As video games evolved, several companies tried to emulate the magic of the wild, but few have done it well. One of the best attempts to simulate nature is the Far Cry series from Ubisoft Montreal.
Its developers have used animals as one wild card among random game elements. Sometimes players will experience moments of serendipity, as when a tiger wanders onto an enemy base and wipes out the mercenaries inside. At other times, they discover that animals can be a hindrance. On a mission in the jungle, for instance, I’ve run into an angry rhino that stomped me into the dust.
Despite such challenging moments, the Far Cry series’ unpredictable creatures and bow-and-arrow combat are some of its best features. Apparently Ubisoft Montreal noticed this, too. The studio has figured out a new way to showcase both by sending players back to 6000 B.C.
That’s right. Far Cry Primal takes gamers to the Stone Age. Specifically, it’s in the mountains of Central Europe that they step into the role of Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe who is on a hunting expedition when most of his party is killed. Upon returning home, he discovers that his village has been pillaged, too, and his people scattered across the land of Oros.
In the role of Takkar, players strive to reunite his people, rebuild his home and wipe out the two factions bent on destroying the Wenja: the Udam clan of cannibalistic Neanderthals, and the Izila, who have achieved mastery over fire but force the Wenja into slavery.
Takkar, meanwhile, is a beast master who can tame as many as17 predators, including wolves, badgers, tigers and bears. These creatures are the most effective weapons at his disposal, and he can command them to attack enemies and/or defend him.
Advanced players also can use the animals to distract their foes, so Takkar can sneak up from behind and dispatch them. By unlocking more game possibilities, players can even ride the saber-toothed tiger.
The only problem with the animals is that many of them act the same — as brute-force weapons capable of tearing apart adversaries. So once a player tames the top beasts, there’s little reason to try others.
When it comes to conventional weapons, Takkar can obtain an arsenal of clubs, spears, bows and shards, but the most effective one is the bow and arrow. Veterans of this series will have no problem conquering enemy outposts, because the bow allows them to kill silently from the shadows or take out a slew of foes with a shower of rapidly fired arrows.
One of the better touches in Far Cry Primal is the leveling of the playing field that comes with growth of the new Wenja village. As Takkar meets and rescues refugees, they join him in his clan’s new home. Those allies and their upgraded huts create new possibilities, giving players proof of their progress and making them feel invested in their territory.
Ubisoft Montreal has done a remarkable job of making the Stone Age believable. The team enlisted linguists to simulate an Indo-European language and sprinkled this world with complex features. For example, players may encounter bears brawling over territory, and at night, wolves prowl the darkness. Giant eagles have the strength to lift goats off the ground.
Everywhere in the land of Oros, players encounter savagery seldom seen in other games, giving Far Cry Primal a raw, primitive edge. Problems are solved with brutality, and motivations are unambiguous. Unlike players of earlier games, Primal gamers won’t face hard choices.
The straightforward story line is refreshing, because gamers needn’t second-guess their decisions or fret over complex systems or stats. They can just dive into the Stone Age arena and lose themselves in its vividly imagined natural world.
Video game review
‘Far Cry Primal’
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC