For about a decade, Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” series has been messing around with history, creating chaos as far back as the 12th century. But humanity’s capacity for mayhem goes back even further - and now it’s another Ubisoft franchise, “Far Cry,” that’s taking us for a ride in the time machine.
“Far Cry Primal” (for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, $59.95) bounces 12,000 years backward into the Stone Age. There are no machine guns or rocket launchers here - just clubs, arrows and a few animals who will fight by your side if you keep them fed. It’s a radical and refreshing departure that feels entirely new while retaining its identity as a “Far Cry” chapter.
The protagonist is a cave-dweller named Takkar. His clan, the Wenja, has been scattered across a mythical region called Oros in what looks to be a prehistoric version of Europe. His first goal is to not get eaten by the bears and tigers roaming the wilderness. His second goal is to track down his people.
Some of those Wenja teach Takkar useful skills like tracking and healing, while others show him how to make deadlier weapons. The most important new buddy, though, is a loopy old shaman who mixes hallucinogenic cocktails that let Takkar communicate with animals. Slaughtering enough boar and deer to keep the Wenja clothed and fed becomes a lot easier when you have a friendly wolf ready to pounce.
Before too long, Takkar stumbles across two other tribes, the cannibalistic Udam and the fire-happy Izila, that are also vying to control Oros. The drama shifts from man-vs.-nature to man-vs.-man, and before you know it you’re riding around on a mammoth, crushing your uncivilized foes.
As you’d expect from the “Far Cry” team, the landscape of Oros is breathtakingly rendered, from the steaming swamps of the south to the icy tundra of the north. Likewise, the beasts of Oros are so beautifully animated that you’ll find even the most vicious saber-toothed tiger somewhat endearing.
There’s a ton of stuff to do in “Primal.” If you’re in a laid-back mood, you can recruit stragglers to your village or simply explore the caves and mountains of Oros. If you’re feeling aggressive, you can raid the outposts of the Udam and Izila tribes. Eventually, you’ll need to take on their bloodthirsty leaders, but you might as well enjoy the scenery before tackling those apocalyptic battles.
Devotees of previous “Far Cry” installments may miss their more explosive firepower. Still, it’s somehow more satisfying to take down a rampaging mammoth with just a few well-placed traps and well-aimed spears. And while the hundreds of side missions get repetitious, the main story demands a versatile set of skills.
Fans of prehistoric epics like “Clan of the Cave Bear” and “Quest for Fire” will dig this trip. Even if your knowledge of the Stone Age stops with “The Flintstones,” you’ll have a yabba dabba doo time. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten.
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