There was a moment in playing Far Cry Primal wherein everything came together.
After my unwaveringly obedient owl ripped a spear-throwing, tribal warrior from his ledge – and my newly-trained cave tiger went for the throat of a beehive-throwing grenadier – I scored a crucial headshot with a longbow I made after saving a wayward, one-armed member of my own tribe.
In the battle that ensued, I lit an entire village on fire with a torch I made from alderwood, animal skin and bone. (I also threw a flaming spear into the bare chest of one of my enemies.) As I watched the desolation below me, I heard the distant sounds of a sabertooth tiger fighting a cave bear – for no reason other than their proximity.
The setting has definitely changed, but this is still the Far Cry I remember.
Far Cry Primal trades the scenic vistas of the Himalayan Mountains (featured in Far Cry 4) and dusty roads and prairies of Central Africa for a truly strange setting: 10,000 BCE. It's here that you'll become Takkar, a heroic – if woefully generic – caveman from the Wenja tribe tasked with reuniting his people and preventing them from being forgotten in the soon-to-be-written history books.
Your time is what you make of it
About 25 hours stand between your first mission and the end of the main quest. That quest takes you from steamy rainforests to icy tundras to fight – and ultimately usurp – two rival tribe leaders.
Around a quarter of that time will be quite similar to the story you read above, engaged in Primal's erratic, frenetic combat that requires you to craft weapons in the middle of battle and use nature to its fullest destructive potential.
The other 75% of play time is spent doing less fun tasks: collecting the materials needed to craft said weapons, embarking on bland escort missions to rebuild your tribe and hearing the words "Takkar" and "Wenja" more times than you can count.
How much you enjoy Far Cry Primal – essentially last year's Far Cry 4 set in a different era and without a sociopathic antagonist to drive it forward – is what you put into it. If you're deeply into exploring open worlds, checking every nook for myriad collectibles and devising inventive new weapons, Far Cry Primal is as good as, if not better than, the four previous games in the series.
But, if you're more into seeing the core story unfold (in this case, through one monotonous mission to the next), Primal is one blast from the past that's best left where you found it.
The origin of man
If there's one takeaway for you here, it's that the game does an excellent job with the setting. For instance, there's not one, but three fictional languages that were created for the game alongside a world teeming with secrets and collectibles.
The world is exceptionally well-built, thematically speaking. Each area feels unique, full of different flora and fauna. Not to mention the random, unscripted events – plenty of fodder for explaining to friends why the game is worth playing.
I thought I'd miss the various modes of transportation I've come to love in open-world games set in the modern era. Grand Theft Auto V had muscle cars, blimps and fighter jets. Just Cause 3 had motorcycles and armored personnel transports. Even previous Far Cry games have given you something to get around in.
Naturally, the main means of transportation in Primal is your own two feet, which, as it turns out, aren't so bad afterall. (Well, you can learn how to ride a tiger and a wooly mammoth, too. But we'll get to that in a minute.)
The worst thing you can say about Far Cry Primal's setting is that it's gimmicky, a clever ruse to get extra mileage out of last year's product. But, if the worst criticism of a game's setting is that it's derivative, well, that's actually a compliment in and of itself.
Where I take up arms against Far Cry's Stone Age successor is that the plot is as crude as the game's characters. Admittedly, though, this might be limited by the game's design.
Whereas previous games in the series have strung you along on a pressing, time-sensitive quest, Primal's story objective is one that could be never be completed and will make little to no difference.
Your character's driving, ahem, primal emotion is revenge. Takkar's clan has been driven to the point of near-extinction by two stronger factions: the Neanderthal-like Udam and Mesoamerican-esque Izila. The two initially seem different enough in culture and appearance to vary the plot, but end up melding into a homogenous enemy that reacts similarly to threats and falls prey to similar tricks regardless of their ancestry.
Other characters that you meet – like the the pelt-wearing shaman who sends you on drug-induced trips to the spirit world – are quirky, sure. But, after a few missions, they ultimately become one-note and forgettable.
Kickin' it old school
When missions aren't whisking you away to brutally murder scores of unknowing, primitive lackies, there's a softer side to Primal that requires you to tend to your up-and-coming empire.
To that end, you'll venture off to collect resources from the environment, like bark, assorted plants and animal skins to upgrade your free-loading friends' huts. In return, they'll help upgrade your arsenal of spears, bows and clubs. Naturally, this will in turn will help you collect more resources and repeat the process ad nauseam.
The payoff for all this collecting and upgrading doesn't come until you get into combat. Here, you'll craft sharper spears and more deadly clubs that kill in fewer swings.
You'll never unlock anything too crazy. (Spoiler: the best weapons in the game are just stronger versions of the club, spear and bow you're given to begin your bloodstained quest). But, the rewards are appealing enough to get you to scour your surroundings between bouts.
When and where you'll enjoy Primal the most is hard to predict. It might be when you're locked in combat and something inexplicable happens, like when I was low on health and hiding beneath a ledge while my recently-tamed white wolf fought both a bear and an Izila warrior simultaneously. Or, it might be when you find the fifth and final rare material to craft the double bow that fires two arrows at once.
Like a flaming spear to the back, it's hard to say where in Primal's elegantly crafted world you'll be when "it just clicks." But, if you give it time, it will happen when you least expect it.
Verdict: Play it
Far Cry Primal satisfies the urge to explore a world before bullets, medicine and smartphones. I equally and genuinely enjoyed both the collection and crafting bits – as well as the blood-pumping combat later in the game. While I won't be able to recall a single character's name come this time next month, I thoroughly enjoyed what Primal offers – even if I only see myself stabbing, skinning and shooting through its world once.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
Techradar's review system scores games as 'Don't Play It', 'Play It' and 'Play It Now', the last of which is the highest score we can give. A 'Play It' score suggests a solid game with some flaws, but the written review will reveal the exact justifications.