Hurk is an unusual tradition. The bearded, yelping Southern man pops up in both of the last two Far Cry games. In Primal we meet Hurki, his prehistoric forebear, an aspiring inventor and the game’s comic relief. His best joke? He speaks the same made-up caveman language as everyone else, but in a thick Texan accent. Never gets old.
Primal’s somewhat old-school setting leads to perhaps the game’s greatest change – its approach to weaponry. Rather than the arsenal of ordnance available to contemporary protagonists, Takkar’s got a club, a bow, and a spear, plus a prehistoric toolkit of traps and primitive bombs. This limited selection turns Primal into a far more aggressive game than its predecessors, forcing you out of stealth and into melee combat almost constantly. Come the endgame, this can be spectacular, as you smash enemies out of the way like straw dolls. Unfortunately, its approach to melee is incredibly basic – you can’t even block, never mind vary attacks – meaning you’ll likely have gotten inured to it all long before.
That’s supplemented somewhat by Takkar’s quasi-supernatural ability to tame the game’s menagerie of animals. Collecting the game’s carnivores, bringing them to your side by feeding them bait and shushing their growls/roars/squeaks, became its greatest pleasure for me. Pets act as a tactical advantage, occupying threats while you choose someone else to brain. Again, it’s a shallow mechanic – your control amounts to just pointing your chosen animal where you want to go – but gaining the ability to ride a rare breed of Sabertooth Tiger into an enemy camp and watching lesser enemies flee is a new kind of thrill.
But it’s not enough. Oros is a spectacular place – alternating from thick, light-dappled forests through wind-spiked mountains to fire-ravaged wasteland – but it feels terribly empty for a map covered in Ubisoft’s increasingly traditional quest marker pebbledash. The Udam and Izila questlines make up such a short part of the game’s runtime, and end in such rote boss battles, that they feel sidelined. The majority of your time is spent running fetch quests for members of your village – always violent, but never important. Worst of all, the game’s ‘drug trip’ sequences are consistently more interesting than the main game. One is so ludicrously spectacular that it begs the question – why isn’t this spin-off taking its cues from the similarly surreal Far Cry: Blood Dragon?
Ubisoft Montreal might counter that Primal is more about wearing the skin of a man who wears skins, and there are hints of that in the game’s more survival-based ideas (degrading weapons mean you need to keep a constant stock of crafting materials, and snowy regions introduce a cold gauge that needs to be topped up by resting at campfires) – but it’s a half-baked attempt at introducing caveman role-play when you can also control an owl that drops bombs full of bees, because magic.
The result is a game that feels lacking in most respects. It lacks a clear villain, it lacks a deep enough armory, it lacks direction. Far Cry’s set-up is such that you’ll always be able to make your own fun – and, in the moment, it can be a beautiful, violent thing – but for a game in which characters talk constantly about being remembered by history, it’s a sad irony that – unlike their series forebears – they most probably won’t be.
This game was reviewed on PS4.