Far Cry Primal releases on PC a week later than on its console siblings, and we don’t have access to it yet, so our proper review is still a short ways off. In the meantime, I’ve spent about 10 hours playing the PS4 version, and can offer up some brief impressions. Read or watch our last hands-on with the game to get up to speed.
Primal’s biggest selling point is its stripped down prehistoric setting. Early man didn’t have guns (wow) and so the player-protagonist doesn’t either. Instead, he uses clubs, bows, traps, and a close kinship with predatory beasts to fill out his arsenal. It sounds like a huge departure from the last two Far Cry games, which were packed with all sorts of boomsticks. And since you’re still exploring an open world, capturing outposts, and gutting wildlife to upgrade your tools, I expected the pace to slow and focus much more on stealth and survival. It’s an enticing fantasy, to live as action movie caveman, dancing around sabertooths, drinking the blood of your enemies, and riding bears into the sunset.
For a while, it felt that way. Armed with only a bow and a club, it was me against the world. Wild animals were a serious threat, especially at night. Staving off a pack of wolves with a torch is pretty thrilling the first few times. But after skinning countless animals in classic Far Cry fashion, I upgraded my health, my bow, got some spears, tamed a bear friend, and didn’t have to worry about the wildlife again. Unless I pissed off a mammoth. Mammoth beats bear every time.
Mammoths don’t deserve a gold star for it though. Animal AI feels the same as Far Cry 3 and 4, in which most harmless animals run on sight and the predatory animals attack on sight. Hunting them requires no careful preparation, no study of behaviors. My formula for success: go to the lion icon on the map. That’s where the lions live. Run around like a headless chicken until one inevitably pops out of the forest and gives chase. Bash it a few times, spear it if you’re feeling fancy, then follow its effervescent blood trail using your special make-the-important-things-glow hunter vision.
Taming animals isn’t given much weight either. It’s not very difficult, no matter how dangerous the beast. Throw bait at them, approach slowly, hold square, and they’re yours to the end. Felines are stealthier, bears are tanks, canines are good hunting companions, but they mostly serve best as enemy distractions. Point at a jerk caveman, whistle, and they’ll do that biting thing they're so good at. Crouch and go stealthy, and they do the same. But beware: my super stealthy rare leopard got spotted regularly. I lost plenty of stealthy XP bonuses at outposts just because my cat figured they’d do their own thing. They’ve been nice to have around when I’m wandering, but when I need to go to work, I won’t call on them until necessary. That said, it is never a mistake to ride a bear into an outpost while brandishing a fiery club. Sadly, as cool a riding a bear is, I never felt close to my animals. They died, often, and even though you can respawn them with red leaf, you can still gut their old corpse. I did. It’s hard to get attached.
The northern reaches of the map have been more fun than the sunny, greener portions so far. It’s mountainous, dark, windy, and cold—so cold that you can initially only survive for a short time before freezing to death. I crafted winter clothes to slow the process down, but the added urgency is a nice addition to the otherwise leisurely pace. Once I was spotted (which was often) the combat devolved into the clumsier cousin of run-and-gun: bash-and-crash. Armed with long distance weapons that made me miss mouse-aim, and a point blank club, I would often just charge in and smash whoever was in range, swinging wildly, awkwardly, until I died or won.
Still, the core stealth mechanics are great, especially in conjunction with the owl, aka your flying binoculars. Enemies are aggressive and curious, even if they’re easy to skirt around. Chaining together stealth kills remains satisfying: stab one guy, throw a bone shard at the next, head shot the one who heard me, call down an owl on the last—it’s still exciting. Just familiar.
Far Cry Primal doesn’t fully capitalize on its prehistoric premise so far, only dipping a toe in the water here and there. Instead, this is just another rags-to-riches open world map cleansing game in a prehistoric setting. So far, I’ve been doing the same things I have in the last two Far Cry games, just while wearing a loincloth and brandishing a club. Nothing has outright surprised me, but I feel like I’ve barely done any story missions and have yet to explore a huge portion of the world. Whether or not Primal layers on more systems that give it more depth remains to be seen, but I’ve been enjoying myself despite my criticisms. It still feels like the kind of game where I can turn my brain off and just run around being a violent, theatrical cave dude—exactly like the other Far Cry games. Reminder: You can ride a bear. You can ride a bear.
Far Cry Primal is out on PC on March 1st, and we'll have a full review of the PC version next week. Below, see what Tim had to say when he played a preview build last month.