I’m sure we’ve all had the experience. You see the first footage from an upcoming game at E3 or some other convention and think, “Hey, this looks fun. I can’t wait to try it,” or “Oh, cool. The next installment in a series I enjoy.”
Then, after a few months of waiting, you get the game in hand, or download it onto your console or from Steam. You install it, maybe sit through a day-one patch download, then you boot it up and… It’s a bust. Boilerplate. Run-of-the-mill. Its only notable quality is its stunning mediocrity. I’ve had this experience over and over recently, and I’d like to tell you how I feel about one particular time.
I picked up Far Cry Primal. FPS games aren’t usually in my wheelhouse, but I’d previously enjoyed Far Cry 4, which I’d bought on Mike’s recommendation. I loved running around with my bow and arrow, or using a gyrocopter. I loved storming the outposts with an elephant and a grenade launcher, or the sheer joy I took in picking off a soldier on a four wheeler with a lucky shot. It’s so fun I reset the outposts and had a go again.
Far Cry Primal, on the other hand, isn’t even installed in my PS4 anymore. It languishes in my library along with a few other games I took a chance on and ultimately was let down by (e.g. Star Wars Battlefront, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China).
Now, I quit these games for very different reasons, but the net result is the same. I’ll never finish them. And this isn’t a position I’ve been in before, but over the last year it’s become more and more common.
So this leads me to a few questions. Am I outgrowing video games? Is the industry in trouble? Or is there are third option to explain this lack of completionism, and constant buyer’s remorse?
The answer is complicated.
First, the market is becoming oversaturated. Again. This happened in 1983, and it led to the industry-wide collapse we so love to reference as some sort of doomsday prophecy.
We’re seeing yearly releases on some franchises, reboots in others, and a whole host of indie games cropping up, many of which are unplayable. So it’s becoming harder and harder for the consumer to sift through the rubbish to find the game that truly catches them or draws them in.
Case in point, Far Cry Primal. This game had a massive ad campaign in the lead up to it. YouTube, PS4 sales, TV commercials, hell, I even saw it in the cinema. But once I’d made it through the huge introductory questline, I was left with nothing to do. No direction. No antagonist. No story.
What made Far Cry 4 great wasn’t its main character. Ajay is a wishy-washy, easily-bullied dork, caught up in events far beyond his ability to deal with. Or at least he would be if he didn’t somehow turn out to be Chuck Norris, Keanu Reeves and Jesus all rolled into one.
No, what made Far Cry 4 great was Pagan Min and, to a lesser extent, his three lieutenants.
Pagan has character. He’s funny. He’s sadistic. He’s witty. Some of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard spoken in a video game come from him. He could go from being a perfectly normal individual one moment, to putting electrified nipple clamps on a prisoner the next. He’s an overarching influence, and the driving force behind the war Ajay gets drawn into, and he ends the game in a rather anticlimactic fashion, which still fits in perfectly with his character.
Far Cry Primal on the other hand has none of this. I can’t tell you anyone’s name. None of them are humorous, unique or recognizable. They are archetypes at best: the crazy inventor, the love interest you save from her quest for vengeance, the overly tough woman who does a man’s job and is better at it than they are, etc.
And on top of this, the game is let down by any sort of possible character development by surrendering to a conceit people building a world always seem to throw in: they speak their own language, requiring subtitles. I don’t mind a little reading in my games, but it sort of defeats the purpose of having voice over actors at all when you do this.
This is compounded by clunky gameplay.
To wit, there are obviously no guns. Primal takes place at the dawn of man, and we hadn’t quite worked the gun out yet. Your weapons consist of a club, a bow and a spear. This harks back to the Shangri-La sections of Far Cry 4, or the hunting and sneaking Ajay could do to upgrade his equipment or stealthily take over an outpost.
However, in Far Cry 4 these sections were novel and fun, largely because they weren’t mandatory. If you chose to do these parts of the game, you got a bit of a break from the run-and-gun action present elsewhere. But Primal takes these snippets of gameplay and builds its entire world around them. This makes for a very dull and repetitive experience.
Ubisoft did at least try to add some new things to the mix in Primal, like the ability to tame and use certain carnivores as companion pets. Think of this as akin to the hunter pets in World of Warcraft. It seems good in theory, but in practice these pets are let down by shockingly shoddy AI. It’s next to impossible to control the beasts, and they wander off or hunt on their own when you’re trying to be sneaky.
To make matters worse, the only quick way across the ludicrously large map (peppered with the usual Ubisoft collect-a-thon rigamarole) is to tame a beast large enough for you to ride. These critters are a poor substitute for Far Cry 4’s plethora of cars and trucks.
And, of course, there is the usual Ubisoft crap of unlocking the various regions of the map via climbing something, in this case it’s usually small hills guarded by NPCs. At the end of combat, you light a bonfire, signalling the area is safe. At least in Far Cry 4 I had the option to wingsuit around for a while after jumping off of a radio tower.
The take-down system from previous Far Cry games makes a return, and it’s done marginally well. They are much more visceral, but the very limited number of animations compounds the feeling of repetition present in other aspects of the game.
Primal also borrows some of the city-building elements from Assassin’s Creed II and III in the form of the Wenja village. You’re responsible for upgrading and building everyone’s home and business because they are, by and large, too stupid to take care of the issue on their own. This gives you a reason for hunting and gathering, beyond the regular gear and weapon upgrades. But apart from a few side quests given to you by the aforementioned villagers, all of the building up is for its own sake. It doesn’t really add much to the experience.
And topping it all off is the sickening feeling I’m getting in the pit of my stomach as Ubisoft tries to merge every game they have into some sort of consistent universe and narrative. I say this because I’m watching Far Cry be merged into Assassin’s Creed. This is plainly evident in the use of your character’s “hunter vision.” This mode effectively accomplishes what eagle vision does in the AC series.
If you’re unfamiliar, the second sight highlights important objects, places, people and animals as you make your way through the underbrush. It’s almost essential to have on at all times. In this regard, it’s a bigger sin than detective mode from the Arkham series of games.
If we continue this trend, I’m certain we’ll see some mention of the Wenja and the player character in the next AC game, just as we saw Olivier Garneau from AC IV turn up as a target in Watch Dogs.
You’d think, being as big of a fan of AC as I am, I’d be thrilled by this development. But all I see is a company attempting to sew pieces of a story together from games which are not interdependent or interlinked. It’s a hodgepodge of broken ideas that will lead to a Frankenstein’s monster-type creation.
So to sum up, I disliked Far Cry Primal and I won’t be finishing it. Learn from my mistakes: don’t even pick it up. I usually give a breakdown and a score at the end of these things, but I won’t be this time. The game is awful. Avoid it.