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Far Cry Primal: Ambitious but Noncommittal

Far Cry Primal is the latest installment of Ubisoft’s best-selling Far Cry franchise, and is available on PC, next-gen consoles. Primal, much like its predecessors, follows the story of a fish-out-of-water hero, who must personally grow into a hardened murderer in order to retake land from an evil faction, in order to save his people and himself. In this iteration, you take on the role of Takkar, the lone survivor of a hunting party, who stumbles into the mythical lands of Oros, and must reclaim the land from a cannibal cult to propagate your own Wenja tribe. The expectations for Far Cry Primal (FCP) are high. It is the second son of Far Cry 3, which was widely acclaimed for its innovative gameplay, polished mechanics, stunning graphics, and relatable writing. Unfortunately, even with it’s unique and untapped setting in 10,000 BC, FCP does not push the envelope or realize these expectations.

The hallmark of every Far Cry game since its inception, is graphical quality, and FCP does not falter. The team behind designing the terrain layout went through extraordinary efforts to create beautiful scenery, a lush atmosphere, and stunning vistas to view all they have created. Anyone who has played a Far Cry game has come to expect this. I mention this because three of FCP’s mechanics (one core, one secondary and one tertiary mechanic) actively disengage you from the world before you.

The core mechanic culprit of this disengagement is called “hunter’s vision.” If you’ve played any of the Arkham games, you will recognize this mechanic immediately, and unfortunately it is executed much better in the Arkham series. Hunter’s vision turns everything on your screen grey, except for animals, enemies, harvestable resources, and blood/scent trails. Seems useful, right? It is. So much so, that there is no need to run around using regular vision. The only incentive to not using hunter’s vision at every opportunity is to identify rare-spawn animals more easily. Hunter’s vision even identifies secrets within a certain radius for you, and places them on your minimap. Why is it even secret in the first place?

The secondary mechanic of disengagement is the minimap (and to a lesser extent, the map) itself. The sheer density of harvestable objects and secrets that populate your minimap is absurd. So much of my time is spent in hunter’s vision, sprinting around and watching my minimap for the nearest collectable. What I should be doing is learning the lay of the land, knowing where certain crops might grow, and learning from locals I save where secret stashes of loot are hidden, not from walking around with my X-ray specs equiped. The minimap and map system could be significantly improved by normalizing growth and harvest patterns of resources, revealing secrets and expanding your “known area” of the map each time you save a local. Players would become more invested in the story, their goals, and be more engaged with the world they’re playing in.

The tertiary mechanic mentioned above is using the environment to mask collectables. Collectables are arbitrary items to gather, with little to no relation to the story, and in this case, grant rewards after X number are collected and provide experience points. Myriad of these collectables are rendered invisible by the terrain and foliage itself. On many occasions I discovered these collectables, simply because my hunter’s vision sees through many objects, including foliage. While it may sound like a minor issue, in no way were some of these pickups visible without using the core mechanic that disengages players from the world.

The artificial intelligence (AI) in Far Cry Primal, like Far Cry’s of old, leaves much to be desired. Being a game focusing on primitive technology, much of FCP’s combat is melee, but a few ranged weapons are available, and your primary foes are wild animals, and cannibals. Against wild animals, the classic FPS tactic of “circle strafing” is king. Rarely will a wolf be able to bite you while you strafe around it, whacking him in the head with your club. Without circle strafing, you will exchange blows with the animal until one of you dies; no defending or strategy here, and it gets old extremely fast.

Pet AI isn’t any better, as when you are in stealth mode (a majority of the game) your animal companion tends to walk directly in front of you and your cursor, preventing you from scouting or sniping when you need to. Animal AI during the night phase is suspect as well. FCP night phase involves increasing the density of wild animals significantly, and creates some odd scenarios, including a boar that decided he really wanted to charge me while he was being chased down by a pack of wolves; maybe he thought he could “trip his friend” instead of outrunning the wolves, or maybe decided the spectator was the greater threat. Or the time I was watching two wolf packs attack a jaguar, and when I got into their “visual range,” the wolf pack and the jaguar interrupted their fight and joined forces to savage me. A screenshot is included showing (on the minimap) eight live wolves, two dead wolves, and a turncoat jaguar awaiting my exit of a lake. Unfortunately this lake did not have a climbable ledge. Why, you ask? Let me tell you...

My absolute favorite abuse of animal AI takes place at any body of water with a climbable ledge. I happened upon this while running for my life from a pack of wolves, and jumped into the water, where they seemingly wouldn’t follow. I swam to a climbable ridge, where the wolf pack awaited my inevitable climb eagerly. However, when I did climb up, the wolves leapt over me, assumedly in an attack animation, and flew into the water, drowning themselves immediately. After my bouts of laughter subsided, I decided to test this with another wolf pack, and lo and behold it worked just as before.

Versus cannibal NPC opponents, they can be easily exploited with stealth ranged attacks. Happen upon a camp? Use your bow to shoot an enemy in the head, and when his buddy walks up his corpse, and scratches his head for a strangely long period of time, shoot him in the head too. Rinse repeat until the whole camp lies before you in a conspicuous line of corpses. During a stand up fight, enemy NPCs will use simple tactics (run towards you, swing their club til one of you is dead,) or if they have a ranged weapon, snipe you with ungodly precision from extremely long range, if you happen to be their target.

Tangentially related to AI, the healing mechanic in game is lackluster. The concept is great; as you level and spend skill points, you can unlock new cooking recipes that heal you more and provide temporary buffs, like sprinting speed and fire resistance. The problem comes with damage output. Once you begin to battle sabretooth tigers and wooly rhinos, your survivability drops dramatically. Each attack from these creatures drops me to 10% of my health, and the second hit kills me outright. And the sabretooth tigers are too fast for the circle-strafe tactic. This leads to a seriously underdeveloped combat system in which I have to spam heal to survive; attack, get bit, heal, rinse and repeat. Not only is this not a fun way to engage a creature in combat, I also have no alternative. My pet bear might start tanking for me, but if he does, I usually need to spam heals on him. It effectively turns every higher level battle into a completely unfun and stressful resource drain. Not even stealth can defeat these creatures, because apex predators have the highest stealth detection ranges in the game. The only reason I know they’re coming to murder me yet again is a fast-moving red blip on my minimap. One of the few ways to fix this obtuse healing system would be to completely rework the combat system to allow defensive maneuvers to prevent massive amounts of damage, or buy time for your animal companion to deal with the threat itself.

In conclusion, Far Cry Primal had the potential to deliver a new and innovative gaming experience, but instead created a game that, for me, was a genuine chore to play through. A game should be a fun and enjoyable experience. It should hook the player with an immersive and engaging experience (the fluff,) and keep us coming back for more with strong game mechanics that synergize and reinforce each other to create an unforgettable experience (the crunch.) Yet I couldn’t wait for my time playing FCP to be over. Unfortunately, FCP’s myriad of mechanical flaws completely divorced me from the immersive gaming experience, and it’s core combat mechanics left me longing for something new, or at the very least on par with other AAA games and indie games currently being released. It feels rehashed, appealing to the lowest common denominator, like a reskinned version of an earlier game, with minor additions to solidify the illusion of innovation. And sadly, it’s a far cry from anything other than that illusion.

Far Cry Primal: Hales of bay rating

Jonathan - 4 out of 10

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