Far Cry: Primal Review and the Dangers of Groupthink

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I’m a recovering addict. It’s been 1 month since I’ve played Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which has truly felt like an eternity, but the urge to click “Play” on the game’s steam page has slowly begun to diminish. It’s not that CS:GO is a bad game, quite the contrary; it’s so genuinely perfect that every other title in my collection feels as though it pales in comparison.

The general thought process has been, “Why would I play [insert any title from my 550+ game collection] when I could spend that time getting better at CS:GO?”

I would still purchase, play, and enjoy new releases during the peak of my adoration for the free-to-play shooter, but I had to force myself to do so. When I’m putting forty hours per week on CS, I can only fit in time to play the crème de la crème, maybe the top ten or so highest-reviewed (and not platform exclusive) titles in a specific year. Thus, dozens of titles eluded me over the last four years; not necessarily because they were bad games, but due to poor ratings or a general distaste for that title’s publisher or morals. Taking a break from Counter-Strike has given me the opportunity to revisit these lost gems, those which had accrued in my Steam Library but sat gathering dust as I played “just one more PUG” at four o’clock in the morning.

One of these titles is Far Cry: Primal, Ubisoft’s 2016 iteration of the infamous Far Cry series. I’ve had the chance to play through about thirty hours of the game, and although I’ve yet to complete it, this will function as more of a mini-review or work-in-progress review based on what I’ve experienced so far. The game takes place in 10,000 BCE deep in the jungles of central Europe (the land of Oros), a major departure from the modern settings of the previous (and forthcoming) entries to the series. While Primal mainly focuses on hunting and melee combat, it strikes a good balance between survival, stealth, and action sequences, and grants the player enough freedom to approach its missions in whichever way they desire.

The dense foliage and towering Redwood trees of Oros’ forests lend themselves well to stealth gameplay. Sneaking up on Udam camps often has a lot of variation, largely due to the Beasts mechanic. I had a blast scoping out an outpost with my owl to mark enemies on my map, then sending my sabretooth tiger in as a distraction whilst I used the map’s verticality to gain an edge in combat. Takkar is a hunter by trade, so the motivation to approach situations stealthily was very natural unlike the series’ previous entries such as Far Cry 3, where stealth felt like a last resort.

Using the Hunter’s Vision mechanic as I stayed low to the forest floor wasn’t just useful for combat, though. I often found myself in situations where it was necessary to gather supplies to upgrade different aspects of the Wenja village, many of which were byproducts of hunting. While it is possible for Takkar to sprint through the forest blindly hip-firing arrows at mammoths or wolves, it’s much more effective to approach the situation from the perspective of a predator, waiting until the weakest member of the pack begins to separate from the group, then striking with a well-timed arrow between the eyes.

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Unfortunately, some Udam bases are fairly expansive, and it would be unreasonable to expect the player to take out each enemy and dispose of his body stealthily. Cue the most effective and overtly fun portions of Primal – the action.

Come traveler, allow me to tell my tale of traveling the harsh climate of the northern tundra as Takkar. Sayla, my closest Wenja friend, warned me of the infamous Udam commander, Dah. Dah was one of the strongest warriors known to Oros, and his tribe has recently made a development that will only increase his threat – rot bane. I traveled the land to the deep northern Tundra to capture Dah and utilize his new weapon for my Wenja people. Dah called Big Darwa Fort his home, the gateway to the Udam homeland, the most expansive Udam base which I had ever seen. Along the West wall of the fort I found a caged Jaguar which I released onto the unsuspecting Udam warriors. As I inched my way through the wake of my recently freed feline companion, I recognized four separate alarms which could be used to alert nearby enemies of my presence - I would have to take these out if I was going to make any progress. After using an arrow to disarm the first alarm, I heard a growl from behind me. Hesitantly, I turned to see the jaguar which I had just released standing behind me. Before I could react, it pounced on me; revealing my location to the entire camp and thwarting any attempt I could’ve had at defeating Dah. This process repeated in a similar fashion for about a dozen attempts. I utilized sabretooth tigers, cave bears, flaming arrows, bee attacks, all to no avail; there had to be something fundamentally wrong with how I was approaching the situation, and then it dawned on me. I searched the land for the largest wooly mammoth I could find, and before I knew it, I was mounted on the giant beast’s back, running the Udam’s mightiest warriors over like it was GTA. I crushed everything in sight, not giving a care in the world about the alarms cutting through the cold northern air. From atop the prehistoric elephant I fired my flaming arrows at the outmatched enemies; and for the first time since I played CS:GO, I felt like I was genuinely having fun.

These are the strongest points of Far Cry: Primal; unscripted, flat-out fun scenes straight out of the campiest of action films. The game is chock-full with these moments but won’t force the player down a specific gameplay path; rather each mission is an opportunity to explore deep, interesting, and new mechanics. This overwhelming sense of agency isn’t necessarily a good thing on its own, but each aspect of Primal’s gameplay is so well-executed that it stays fresh. In this way, Far Cry: Primal can appeal to both casual players and gaming enthusiasts who are willing put in the time to discover and master the dozens of different skills, weapons, and mechanics which aren’t required to complete the story.

Speaking of the story, I was extremely skeptical from the moment I purchased Primal. Several reviews claimed that it wasn’t clear why they were completing certain missions, that there didn’t feel as though there was any driving force or motivation pushing the narrative forward. I'm in complete opposition to these reviewers. There is definitely substantial motivation here to keep me hunting and expanding my village, enough fun to keep me engaged with the gameplay, and enough environmental variation to keep me exploring the land of Oros. Each of the primary characters have zany personalities and well-developed motivations (not to mention that each character consists of a beautifully rendered model, excellent voice acting, and superb dialogue which differentiates them from one another). In fact, the narrative structure is one of the most attractive and well-developed parts of the entire game. I can imagine Primal’s nay-sayers scoffing at the prehistoric language exchanged between the characters, forcing players to actually READ the subtitles. Heaven forbid!

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I’m not a Far Cry apologist by any means, while I enjoyed Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon, I wouldn’t consider either of them anything to write home about. Primal, on the other hand, takes an extremely novel concept and expands upon it dramatically, and feels like it was created with so much passion from its developers.

This brings me to my main point: Groupthink is a nasty, harmful, and dangerous weapon which discourages against change. Far Cry: Primal was a vast undertaking, a major progressive step for both the franchise and the games industry. Nevertheless, the game was slammed by reviewers for a plethora of reasons, very few of which pertaining to the actual gameplay. “Performance issues” (of which I had none but will forever plague the games review), “more of the same” (a variety of new mechanics and completely new temporal and spacial zone means nothing, I guess), “it felt like it was made by a different team” (you’re reviewing the game, not the developers), along with an underlying distaste for Ubisoft are some of the most common complaints that I’ve seen for Primal. A Metacritic score of 74 is an all-time low for the franchise, and a generally “mixed” reception on the Steam store page for the title surely convinced hundreds of thousands of casual players that it wasn’t worth buying, therefore forcing Ubisoft to regress back to the series’ “roots” with Far Cry 5. In a culture of “review bombing”, cynical YouTube journalism, and a growing detest for major AAA publishers within the gaming space, it’s easy to develop ill-informed opinions or to jump on bandwagons fueled by ignorance and groupthink. Yes, Ubisoft has made mistakes in the past, but it’s unfair to assume every game they publish is inherently bad just “because”. This toxic form of fandom is the very reason why the Far Cry franchise is so repetitive; consumers repeatedly purchasing and rewarding Ubisoft for titles like Far Cry 4 (a direct copy-paste of Far Cry 3), yet refraining from purchasing - or review bombing - the series’ more progressive titles like Blood Dragon or Primal.

A certain level of skepticism is healthy, but reviews need to be grounded in a game’s objective qualities rather than its player’s emotion. Try going back and playing through a title you missed due to poor reviews and try to appreciate what they attempted to do; RAGE, No Man’s Sky, Black Ops 2, or the thousands of others whose lifetimes were shortened by the modern era’s single most entitled consumer group – gamers.

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