Ever since Ubisoft released Far Cry 2 in 2008, I've been waiting patiently for the developer to create a sequel in a similar vein.
But, over the passing years, it's become increasingly clear part two exists as an anomaly--as does Far Cry's debut, which kinda went on to become Crysis. (It's complicated.) Far Cry 3, released in 2012, set a new course for the series by placing a focus on player empowerment above all else. True, this fish-out-of-water open-world FPS dabbles with the moral quandary of throwing an innocent into a murder-friendly situation, but no amount of hand-wringing can possibly overpower the joys of dispatching hordes of faceless enemies in a variety of creative ways. And, unsurprisingly, last year's Far Cry 4 didn't deviate much from this established formula: Like 3, it provides an enigmatic villain, tons of wild animals to kill, skin, and turn into Cool Things, and a massive environment absolutely overloaded with plenty of x-treme activities.
So it shouldn't come as a huge shock that the upcoming Far Cry Primal doesn't attempt to rock the series' boat too much. Though it dials back the clock to the Stone Age, all of your essential actions remain very Far Cry: You're still clearing enemy camps, tracking down wild game and other resources for the sake of crafting, and steering yourself towards dozens upon dozen of icons--which represent things to do and find--via the on-screen mini-map. Though Ubisoft makes a few changes to account for the new setting, nearly everything you've done in Far Cry 3 and 4 has a corollary here.
If you've been waiting for Far Cry to take a new direction, Primal may strike you as a little disappointing--the hour-or-so I played at a preview event felt very similar to my experience with the last two games. But if you don't mind a somewhat superficial overhaul of the Far Cry formula, this newest sequel provides all the things you've done before--via the means of the Stone Age, of course.
That's not to say Primal is just a reskinning of Far Cry 3 and 4, though. The protagonist's ability to tame and control animals factors into some of this sequel's biggest deviations. Seeing as binoculars didn't come about until the 17th century, a handy owl now spots and tags enemies in upcoming areas; just pressing up on the d-pad transports your POV to the skies for a behind-the-bird view, though its range is limited. And if you're willing to suffer a 40-second cooldown, you can also use your feathered friend to take out a single enemy with a divebomb attack. Essentially, your owl provides the same functionality as Far Cry 3 and 4's binoculars, but with a few unique features thrown in to account for its status as an airborne killing machine.
Other animals play a big role in Primal's companion system, which allows you to recruit any beast willing to eat your bait and withstand being petted into submission. And these animal pals act very much you'd expect: They follow close by, and although you can command them to attack specific enemies, I found they did a pretty good job when left to their own devices. Of course, these animals can die, and if you don't keep their health up with easily found meat, it takes a slightly more valuable resource to fully revive them. In my brief time with the game, though, I found the difference between the two beasts I tried to be mostly superficial. My brown bear, for instance, didn't seem much more powerful than my wolf, so it could just be a matter of rolling with the critter you like best.
I'll admit that Ubisoft is going for a very specific type of fun with Far Cry Primal, and, even with only an hour under my belt, I can confidently say they've succeeded in their goal. Still, Primal contains the same issues I've wanted to see removed from the series since part 3 essentially reinvented it. As with the past two games, there's not a whole lot of mystery to this world; your map populates with icons as you explore, and picking up a collectable always tell you how many still need to be found in the world.
And, after playing so much of Metal Gear Solid V, I was disappointed to see Primal rely on the same mini-map UI element from the past games. An element like this can come in handy, of course, but I find it also takes away some immersion from the experience--a few times during my session, I caught myself looking at this tiny chunk of the screen instead of the big picture. There's a smarter way to go about navigation, so I'm disappointed to see Ubisoft roll with the most standard one.
Keep in mind, though, that these impressions are based on just 60 minutes with the game. The experience has the capacity to change beyond this tiny slice, but the portion Ubisoft chose to show me only felt like a slight departure from the Far Cry formula--which can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. Having reviewed the last two games, I'm not sure I'm ready for a slightly different flavor of the same experience. But if you still can't get enough of Ubisoft's open-world safari thrill ride, here's another reason to do it all over again.