I’m not sure what to expect as I approach the little settlement identified on my map as Swaras Outpost. I know that a rival tribe lives here, the Udam, a band of brutish cannibals who dress in uncured hides and routinely kidnap my people, the Wenja. I know that I need to capture their village to stamp out the threat and give my tribe room to grow. As I approach its outskirts, however, I see something I wasn’t expecting at all: an Udam woman, who regards me for a second before running and screaming in the direction of the huts. Two Udam warriors rush in as she leaves, yelling what I assume are threats. One raises his bow, too late to stop me from lifting my stone club and smashing him to the ground. His friend blows a horn, calling out other warriors, and the village around me erupts in screaming and chaos.
Screaming, in part, because my companion – a sabretooth tiger that I’d met and tamed in the wilds just minutes earlier – was now running on its own between huts, mauling the unsuspecting Udam even as they poured out into the open. A spearman had the presence of mind to hurl a sharpened stick at me from a distance, prompting a retaliatory attack by my tiger. Another ran headlong at me with a club, and I quickly threw my own at his midsection, making him stumble while I closed the distance with a fresh club. Spotting one last Udam spearman on top of a canopy, I pointed and whistled, and my tiger obediently climbed up after him, messily ending the brawl and capturing the village – and, more importantly, giving me a fast-travel point that would come in handy as I wandered through the forests, meadows and icy mountains of Far Cry Primal.
Set in the Stone Age, Far Cry Primal trades guns and vehicles for primitive weapons and (potentially) friendly animals. Hunter protagonist Takkar can deal out long-range damage with spears, a bow and arrow or distracting “sting bombs,” but the bulk of the combat is at close quarters, with stone clubs that rapidly smash enemies into submission with a meaty crunch.
It still feels unmistakably like Far Cry, though, whether I’m stealthily clearing out an enemy camp by night or being surprised by a crocodile while swimming across a stream, but there’s a bigger emphasis on survival, both in the face of predatory enemies and the harsh environment.
“At the beginning of the game, you’re naked, so you have to craft everything, you have to gather resources,” says Jean-Cristophe Guyot, Far Cry Primal’s creative director. “Night is super-dangerous, because that’s when the predators come out, so you have to have fire to protect yourself and repel the animals. If you go up in the north, it’s very cold, so you’ll also need the fire there to keep yourself warm. If you explore caves, fire is very useful.”
Hunting and gathering also play huge roles, as animals and the environment can yield vital crafting components that you’ll need to make healing items and replenish your tiny stock of semi-disposable weapons. Wounded animals will try to run and hide, however, but Takkar has a secret weapon: Hunter Vision, which highlights enemies, animals and useful objects, and which can show a blood trail as a billowing cloud of smoke leading you straight to your struggling prey.
The predators that come out at night (and, in smaller numbers, during the day) also take center stage as one of Far Cry Primal’s biggest gameplay features. Takkar is a Beast Master, able to rapidly turn a large assortment of vicious prehistoric animals into loyal, essential companions. When I started playing the demo, my first companion was a wolf, which quickly proved itself useful by attacking when I attacked, bringing down wounded prey and scaring off smaller predators.
“As we started to study the time period, we learned that in Siberia, in order to actually hunt giant mammoths, man formed an alliance with wolf,” says Guyot. “So this was an interesting starting point, and it made us realize that with all the animals we have, we had enough opportunities to pursue this idea. It started with the wolf, and then we just decided to go ahead and create a lot of diversity, because all the animals have really different approach.”
If I wasn’t a fan of the wolf, I could pull up a menu and instantly swap it out with a jaguar or a bear, or with any other animals I’d tamed. Each animal has different strengths, weaknesses and perks: wolves are capable hunters, for example, while cats are excellent stealth partners and bears are damage-soaking tanks. Best of all, new animals are easy to tame, at least in the Far Cry Primal demo; all I have to do is distract them with a piece of bait (which can be done even if I’m in the middle of fighting the beast), and then approach and hold a button to initiate a brief but dramatic taming sequence. After that, even the most fearsome predators follow me closely, vigilantly watching my back, obeying my commands and letting me pet them whenever I want (except for the badger, which is as likely to chew my arm as it is to be cuddly).
It isn’t long before the beasts become an indispensable part of exploring the prehistoric land of Oros. When they aren’t with me – usually because they’ve died saving me from angry, charging mammoths – I feel a lot more vulnerable, and combat and hunting become a lot tougher. Thankfully, even dead animals can be revived through the beast menu, and a brand new companion is usually only a piece of bait away.
When you find an ally in a place as hostile as Oros, says Guyot, “it gives you a lot of power, a lot of autonomy. And when you lose it, you go back one step.”
Takkar has another animal helper that never (visibly) follows him: a giant prehistoric owl, which stands in for the binoculars in previous Far Cry games. Tapping a button switches Takkar’s viewpoint to the owl’s, and it’ll tag enemies as it flies over them, which makes it essential for scouting out enemy camps. Better still, the owl can swoop down to kill enemies or destroy cages, giving you a chance to wreak a little havoc before forging ahead. You can even level it up to drop bombs and other goodies on your foes.
It’s a lot to take in, and I didn’t even get a chance to ride a mammoth – which, Guyot assures me, will be an unlockable perk in the full game. Far Cry Primal’s Stone Age exploration will come to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Feburary 23 and on PC on March 1, and we’ll have more on it as it’s available.
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