This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Far Cry Primal.
This really is one of those occasions that highlights the gulf between video game critics and their audience, besides the fact that we’re immeasurably sexier. I could sit here on my sexy arse complaining that Ubisoft have hacked out another addition to one of their franchises that plays pretty much the same as the previous, only now it’s wearing a different hat, but most people seem to think, “Who cares? It’s not like we’re under obligation to play every game that comes out and disproportionately demand novelty for the sake of getting through another week without jamming a steel bracket through our eye sockets and turning ourselves into a human coatrack — that’s a small, admittedly sexy minority of weirdos!”
Maybe Ubisoft is just catering to normal, boring, unattractive people who like Far Cry just fine as it is but could go for seconds. The thing is, hypothetical speaker, that if it’s just Far Cry you want, then Far Cry 3 has yet to be topped and hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s even got quite a good plot and the occasional titty. So there’s got to be some shriveled part of you that expects novelty or they wouldn’t need to keep bringing out new ones in different settings. There, I win the argument, now piss off, you’re getting straw all over the place.
Far Cry Primal, a.k.a. “The Land Before Plots,” turns the Far Cry of “modern person in wilderness connects with violent primitive inner self” thing on its head somewhat by being about a violent primitive outer self in the wilderness connecting their big heavy club with the skulls of rival tribe members. Set in central Europe in a time when the world was a lot smaller, judging by the way it can be an entirely different fucking season if you walk north for half an hour, our hero is Takkar, a nondescript caveman who sounds a bit like Adam Jensen reading aloud from a Scandinavian phrasebook. His entire tribe is wiped out by a vicious sabertooth tiger and he finds himself in a lush new territory in which he must unite the scattered remnants of his tribe and genocide the fuck out of the other two tribes that are trying to claim it, who don’t deserve it as much as our tribe because of self-evident reasons.
I suppose I can’t hold out much hope for identifiable characters when we’re dealing with a cast of Neanderthals who will never know the pain of soft toilet paper tearing halfway through the wipe, but you’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for an engaging plot, or indeed any plot. You might think the shit I described so far constitutes a plot, but you’d be wrong. The killer sabertooth tiger that sparks off the adventure we kill later on as one of the big hunt missions without even much prominence. I ousted both the rival tribes, who I’ll just reiterate we aren’t given much reason to oppose except that they’d also quite like to survive the winter.
But the game still didn’t end. This is the game that Ubisoft’s sandboxes have been tacitly threatening to turn into for quite some time now: one where all sense of structural progress is kept as vague as possible for want of turning the game into a platform for a series of disconnected events and repetitive challenges, I suspect because it’s easier for the inevitable fucking DLC to slot into like a bloodstained erection.
But you know what, I’m with you, Ubisoft. Who needs some uppity creative trying to dictate to me how to experience their creation? I mean, where did the creators of Breaking Bad get off telling me I should watch season one before season two? Oh, because I quote “won’t understand what’s going on?” You don’t know me! And who does this Shakespeare motherfucker think he is, putting the pages in numbered order? I am the master of my domain, I choose to shuffle them all up and read the text from right to left!
Maybe I’m experiencing sandbox fatigue, but when upcoming characters and plot elements are given away on loading screens and by looking at the locked items on the upgrade menu, something has gotten fucked up!
Anyway, it’s Far Cry, so you know what that means: animal hunting and assaulting enemy camps! There’s a pretty big emphasis on crafting, the mechanic which is to modern games what influenza was to the early twentieth century, but perhaps it’s fitting since you’re a caveman and crafting is their whole thing, besides swinging clubs and putting their dicks in things. You pretty much have to pick up every resource you see if you want to stay on top of all the hut-building and weapon improving. Incidentally, I’d recommend turning off gathering animations, cause the first-person camera lurching down to pat dead cavemen on the botty starts to give me a headache, but maybe sometimes I don’t wanna run around botty-patting, maybe I just wanna ride my sabertooth tiger through a forest.
Oh yeah, you can tame animals, which is sort of the compensation for not having guns, cause rather than sniping all the guards from a nearby hill, you just deploy a giant bear and throw bees at the survivors. You don’t fuck around in my Hundred Acre Wood!
Hey, remember in Far Cry 4, they had those hallucinatory missions where you played a primitive warrior with animal friends? It’s the same thing they did when they threw the ship missions into Assassin’s Creed III, where it was totally vestigial and barely connected to the rest of it, but also a secret proof-of-concept for AssCreed IV. Ubisoft games all sprawl all over each other now like an incestuous farming cult.
Anyway, as tends to be the case with Far Cry, the variety of approaches means you’ll inevitably gravitate to one that totally breaks the game, and boredom swiftly follows. For me, it was throwing berserk bombs from my scouting owl. The enemy can’t do shit about your scouting owl because their huge Neolithic foreheads means they can’t look up. Once you unlock the ability to drop bombs from your owl, you just find a guy in the enemy stronghold with the shield icon that indicates he has boosted health to a frankly ridiculous degree, drop a berserk bomb on him, then find a nice bush to hide in while the enemy work things out among themselves. Get it right and you’ll only have to deal with one very tired elite enemy with four hundred spears stuck in his bum.
I stopped playing Far Cry Primal cause nearly all the missions were done except for three hunts against special super predators, and great big loincloth-displacing bollocks to those. I went into the first one and spent half an hour doing a giant-scale join-the-dots puzzle looking for the fucking thing. “Use your hunter senses to pick up the beast’s trail.” I’m trying, objective list, but it would help if you’d stop turning my hunter sense off every five fucking seconds! You’re like my dad with the fucking thermostat!
Anyway, I found the killer tiger, and the fight began. After several rounds of traps, spears, and throwing smaller tigers at it, it had lost an entire third of its health at which point it went, “BORED NOW,” took its ball, and went home. “Better wait till the following night to continue this,” advised the game. “Be fair, he needs some time to think about his choices in life.” Three times this happened before I finally wore him down, but it was worth it cause then I could tame him. Just wait till the enemy gets a load of this monster, I thought, before I unleashed him on one of the dudes with the shield icons, who killed him in three hits. You know, Mister Tiger, I took a risk hiring you, but you’re just not living up to the potential you showed in the interview. I only stabbed you ninety-seven times, for God’s sake, some companies don’t go below a hundred.
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