When Ubisoft announced Farcry Primal I like many braced ourselves for some dinosaur themed fun: riding a T-Rex while lobbing spears at fleeing villagers sounds.. wait a second there are no dinosaurs?!...
Yes, initial anticipation was followed very rapidly by disappointment, not that the latest Farcry game would be set in 10,000 BC but would stay authentic - Dinosaurs were pretty much gone by this point in history . You have to give Ubisoft some credit here as they must have know they might get this reaction and yet as always like a stubborn four-year-old holding onto that last sweet: they had a plan and stuck to it.
The mammoth in the room
Ok so let's get the obvious out of the way shall we, this is a Farcry game in almost every conceivable way and if you have played the previous two games plenty will be instantly familiar. From the way you climb, jump, craft, swim and fight. All the guns, vehicles and gadgets have of course now gone which for some players will be a deal breaker right there. There is no point trying to dress it up, this is in so many ways a re-skin of Farcry 4: but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Many including myself judged Farcry Primal before even playing it which isn't fair, but in some ways understandable. Over the last decade, Ubisoft has developed their own distinct blueprint for open world games and these invariably involve lots of towers or something that acts as a tower such as the data hubs in Watchdogs. This trope does seem to get a lot of stick in the media but if I'm honest I don't have a problem with it: the game uses towers to almost compartmentalise the game space. There is also a vast map full of activities to get stuck into, these range from lighting symbolic bonfires, rescuing members of your tribe and hunting great beasts. The important question I guess: is it fun?
That question could be answered like this, if you enjoyed the previous two Farcry games you will surely get on very well with this game. Yes, guns and other modern toys are now absent but we do get a lovely selection of primitive gear to unleash on the enemies of the Weija tribe. Your bread and butter weapons are clubs, spears and a bow. As you progress these get improved by various crafting upgrades and, in addition, you get a selection of other tools such as a slingshot, bee bombs and traps.
Ok own up, does anyone here remember the 1982 film Beastmaster? Well if you have ever fancied yourself as a more hairy version of Mark Singer then you're in luck because the new stick for this game is that you have the ability to tame and command a collection of wild creatures.
Wolves, cave lions, leopards and even badgers can be bought off with food and put to work as your personal bodyguard. Of course, many of these creatures are probably totally untameable but for the sake of a cool game mechanic we forgive this and the fact we can do it in five seconds with a piece of meat. Try that with a council estate pit bull and see how far you get.
The creatures are actually one of the best parts of the game, they are very well animated and move naturally across the game world. Once you get the skill unlocked and manage to tame a sabre tooth tiger you can even mount up and ride them Zoro-style. You can also ride bears and young mammoths which as you may have guessed have been lifted right from Farcry 4 and given a new woolly skin. The other creature you get at the start of the game is the owl, which initially acts as a scout but can later drop bombs and even attack. The whole system works very well, you can tell your ground beast to attack while in owl view, then take out another with the owl itself and finally move in yourself for the remaining enemies.
As I have mentioned in the introduction, there are so many parts of Primal that are identical copies from Farcry 4 and this might bother some people. I even saw an article this morning showing that the basic geography of the map is an exact copy from Farcry 4. If I am honest I hadn't noticed this and I did spend a long time playing Farcry 4. However with that said I do think that given this has been sold as a full price game this reusing of assets will not sit well with some. It's almost like Primal is a hash up of all the bit and bobs left over from previous games but obviously, as the previous games are so good is works out very well.
While I'm being critical I'll say I do wish the developers had given melee combat more attention, the club never really feels like it's having much impact on your enemy and given the lacking firepower some more melee options would have been nice. The spear and bow make up for this and jousting an enemy to a tree with a flaming spear never gets old. We still have a range of 'takedowns' here from previous games with stone shards acting as throwing knives and even the same cover/stealth system has been used.
I have to say the environments in this game are stunning on almost every level. From deep moonlit forests of giant cedar trees, to the frozen misty mountains and many other more subtle micro-climates: Farcry Primal really nails the look and sound of this time period (like I would know). There is also a full day and night cycle to enjoy and if you thought the days in this game were gorgeous just wait until you are creeping through the shadows of nightfall. As you might expect hostile creatures get more so in the wee hours and this is when fire can be a good deterrent. If I'm honest while the fire does look good it doesn't seem to have the same polish as the rest of the game, in fact while in caves firelight makes the walls look washed out and ugly but this may just be my personal taste.
I would say that across the board sound has been well recorded and implemented with so many nice touches. Instead of going for indecipherable grunting the development team have instead given us an authentic sounding dialogue that is paired with subtitles. Given all the options I feel like this was a good choice and works well enough. I do find with games and films I always try to avoid subtitles but once I'm five minutes in I forget I'm reading the dialogue and it works a treat. I actually really liked the various characters you come across in this Farcry, let's be honest it could have been a total cringe-fest but each NPC tells you their story through various quests. As usual, the landscape is covered with primal men and woman fighting amongst themselves, some are of your tribe and most are hostile. I even came across a couple having sex by a campfire, after initially mistaking the situation for someone being attacked I decided to find another campfire to spend the night.
Is it PC?
Look I'll just come out and say it, the way big developers (and publishers) hold PC gaming back really pisses me off. I've just finished an article called 'who left the brakes on?' Looking at the relationship between PC and console so for my full opinion maybe check it out. Essentially PC games are always going to look and run better than on console (ok maybe not Batman), but why do publishers feel the need to hold the PC back? In this case, the PC version was held back for a week for 'polish and optimisation'. I'm sorry guys I'm calling bullshit, you hold it back because of a few reasons you'd never actually go on record with. The most obvious is that the console versions are a priority because they will generate the most income. Ubisoft is also getting pretty cosy with Microsoft this year and I wouldn't be surprised if there some monetary bonus for allowing their console a weeks head start. It's not such a stretch from yesterday's news that the Division will be getting DLC thirty days in advance on Xbox One, because that won't promote rivalry between gamers will it. Lastly, we all know developers are terrified of piracy and here I can have some sympathy for Ubisoft: because it a real problem on PC.
As for the game itself Farcry Primal runs great on PC and on maximum settings is beautiful: just be aware there have been plenty of isolated cases of crashing and game bugs. On release day, many were reporting frame rate drops and poor optimisation but a few patches later and now it seems to be running as intended. As per usual these days the biggest frame rate killers are the ultra texture settings, shadows and draw distance: so maybe tweak these first if you are struggling.
This is an excellent game that covers its theme well, adds some great new mechanics into the mix and offers a substantial map to conquer. Yes, much of what you are doing from hour to hour is repetition but there is no denying the fun you can have. I am really glad Ubisoft decided to mix up this IP with a trip to the origins of man. To spite initial impressions there is plenty here that makes this its own game and many nice little touches that shows the team did work hard to make this title stand on its own feet.
I expect the next game will be heading back to more recent settings, I just hope that they do try and refine the next game a little more. Farcry 4 did just feel like Farcry 3.5 if we are honest and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that we now need some innovation for the series, lest it suffers from sequel fatigue like the Assassins Creed games.
Thank you for reading my review of Farcry Primal on PC, if you like my site please come back soon. You can follow me @riggedforepic and also find me on YouTube under the same name.