Playing Far Cry Primal Like A True Caveman

When Far Cry Primal [official site] was unveiled, I shrugged with semi-feigned disinterest, aware that the series has hit milking point, but unable to dismiss the inner teenager tugging at my inner sleeve saying “But it’s got cavemen and tribes and woolly mammoths and you can ride them, and throw spears and stuff!” Yes, the prehistoric era taps into a primal fantasy in me, but when that’s overlaid with an advanced radar, an owl endowed with the abilities of a military drone, and heat-vision that conveniently colour-codes every object, footprint and smell, the fantasy kind of tapers off.

By shutting off as many aids and HUD elements as possible, I intended to reclaim the fantasy.

Convenient though these appurtenances of Ubisoft are, they end up funnelling the stunning locations and great sense of time and place in franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry into a formula that can undermine the setting. Instead of engaging with their impressive worlds, we spend most of our game time looking at mini-maps, ‘detection indicators’, and pause-screen maps cluttered with enough arbitrary Things To Do to trigger an anxiety attack in closet completionists like myself.

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands, refusing to let my Far Cry Primal caveman experience be watered down and Ubi-softened up by the conveniences of modern games. I’ll be playing the game on Hard, with no Hunter Vision, and no mini-map, detection meter or health bar. Most importantly, under no conditions would I use an owl – a bloody owl – to supernaturally do my scouting for me, because this is the gritty mesolithic era, not Harry Potter.

The one liberty I took was with the pause-screen map, limiting the icons to only include Main and Secondary Missions, as unfortunately Morrowind-style spoken quest directions (‘head to the fork in the road, then take the rough trail along the coast’) don’t exist in Primal.

And so it is that I find myself creeping through the long grass in Far Cry Primal’s nocturnal tutorial mission, feeling hyper-aware, vulnerable and excited. I stumble upon signs of a struggle between man and beast, and the UI tells me to ‘Press ‘V’ to follow tracks using Hunter Vision’. Sucks to your bloody ‘V’, I think, lowering my torch to the ground to try and read the tracks with my naked eyes. The animal tracks are completely legible – perfect little paw prints you’d find in a cheap tattoo parlour catalogue. The human tracks, however, are almost nonexistent. In Oros, it seems, humans tread more lightly than wolves; maybe that’s just what happens when your position at the top of the food chain isn’t yet secure…

So barely 10 minutes into the game and one of my caveman fantasies – tracking – is already out, destined to be used as little more than a novelty to read maybe five or six footprints before I reluctantly strap on the hunter vision goggles for these segments. This doesn’t bode well. How long before I relapse completely into that comfort zone that I’m so desperate to avoid?

Once I get out into the open world of Oros, I’m hit by the sensory overload a cat feels when venturing outside for the first time. I freak out, as semi-visible creatures skitter through the swaying foliage, tribal shouts reverberate ominously off the encircling mountains, and an ambush by man or beast feels imminent. Without any aids to reassure me that I’m safe, I’m twitchily reacting to face every single movement and sound – SHIT! Oh, it’s only a goat. UNGH! Uh, a deer. FU– aww, it’s only a doggy. Hey there little fella– Argh, it’s got my arm. IT’S GOT MY ARM!

While playing without a UI certainly ups my receptiveness to the game world, Oros also happens to be a very loud and visually busy place, giving me plenty of environmental cues to respond to and to look out for.

For all my skittishness, I’m enjoying not being a master of my own surroundings from the get-go. I’m having to learn the ways of the wilderness rather than merely applying the things I’d already learned in previous Far Cry games to a new setting. Before long, I come to identify animal sounds so that I can distinguish between creatures and better understand when I’m actually in danger, and when those screaming goats are just playing tricks on me. Other skills I pick up include not getting stomped by a rhino when I nearly walk into the side of its paunch, and how to scout out enemy outposts without Hedwurg the mesolithic drone owl.

I seek out campfires and side-missions by following the sounds of violence. My first such intervention proved disastrous, as I tracked down a group of Wenja hunters (goodies) being assailed by a couple of Udam (baddies). It was one of those moments when I wish there was a button that let me scream ‘WENJAAAA!’, as I charged into the fray and helped club the assailants to death. My heroism was short-lived however, as a fusillade of arrows and spears flew out of the dense foliage into our stupid Wenja faces. See, without a mini-map or hunter vision, foliage is just as useful to the AI as it is to the player, particularly in a world as fecund as Oros. In fact, this is the first time in a AAA game that I can recall foliage actually being of any use to AI, making the enemy seem much smarter…and more menacing.

Chasing sounds is great for finding scuffles and animals, but to get a bigger picture of the world, I climb Oros’ clifftops and peaks, where I scan the formidable landscape for pillars of smoke rising from outposts and bonfire towers waiting to be lit. By night, I can see the glow of distant fires from my lofty perch, or if I’m creeping through the haunting night-time forests, I spy camp-light creeping among the trees. As with the foliage, the lack of superimposed visual aids has turned what would otherwise be little more than an aesthetic flourish into a whole new layer of gameplay. Each time I take out the final enemy at an outpost that I find and infiltrate without the aid of the UI, the carnal rush of bloody victory feels pure, raw, and undiluted.

And all the while I’m exploring the world, I feel an odd sense of contentment that I can’t quite place – strange, given how I’m definitely dying, and getting lost and confused a lot more than I would otherwise. It’s only when I compare my experience with another Ubisoft game that I’m currently playing, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (late to the party, I know), that it hits me: I’m not obsessing over arbitrary collectibles all the time!

With no mini-map harrying me about the fact that at any one time there are at least five objects or places in a 100ft perimeter of me that I can collect or explore, or a pause-screen map pointing me to all the bonfires and camps I should be liberating, I feel free of my completionist anxiety to sweep up every trivial little objective around me. Of course, like any vigilant caveman, I keep an eye out for caves and treasures, and if I spot an outpost along my travels then I’ll immediately attempt to capture it, but doing so without the constant nudges of a UI makes the process less gamey and more experiential.

As I wander Oros, whose sights and sounds are organically becoming more familiar to me by the day, I feel completely present in the moment-to-moment concerns of the caveman, rather than the synthetic concerns of the Ubisoft open-world game. This is the experience I was looking for…

A big part of gaming is to learn and experience growth; to go on a journey from rookie to pro, amateur to master, or, in this case, wandering nomad to tribal leader. The big problem with Far Cry Primal is that by default it offers no room to grow for people familiar with the series. Strip away just some of these comforts and UI privileges however, and you can engage with the wonderment of a fantastic setting and premise that’s been held back only by its tired series trappings.

Granted, plenty of gamers will want more immediacy and direction than my caveman experience offers, but you can find that in just about any AAA game today. Stomping around a beautifully-realised prehistoric land, on the other hand, is a rare luxury in the medium, and I refuse to have that tempered by mini-maps, heat detectors, or some bastard owl.

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  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Ok, you’ve sold me.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    Neat way to play the game. I think I’d at least want a health indicator, otherwise fight-or-flight decisions must be a bit tricky?

    I enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but I had a similar feeling about the UI getting in the way of enjoying the London environment. There’s are several UI elements with a very sci-fi feel that clashed with the setting. The way bad guys were identified by gang-colored clothing, it wasn’t like you needed it half the time anyway.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I think I’d add the health bar for the simple reason that as a person you’d know when you were being hurt. And hurt more and more. Playing without a health bar is like playing a character without pain receptors (or whatever they may be).

      • Krull says:

        Totally agree, turning off health bar does not make any sense..

        • AustinJVS says:

          The screen turns to shades of greyish-red, so its obvious enough most of the time.

    • RanDomino says:

      More games need to adopt a Dwarf Fortress-like combat system. How many hit points do you have? 1; either your arm’s been ripped off or it hasn’t. Why do we tolerate Critical Existence Failure instead of demanding that characters vomit and bleed to death while dragging themselves away?

      • Cinek says:

        Because being hit by stone hatched doesn’t mean a guaranteed loss of arm / vomiting / instant death.

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        keithzg says:

        I’m still waiting for a game to have even as good of a way of dealing with damage as Bushido Blade (even 1, but in particular 2, if I’m remembering right) had. Basically, your legs and arms could get crippled so that you couldn’t use them, but otherwise a solid blow was quite likely to just result in instant death, and it was based on where the sword was actually going, not arbitrary hitboxes. Swinging sword connects with someone’s head? Spurt of blood, round over, they’re dead.

        Why we haven’t, with modern technology, managed to even reach the same level as a goddamn PS1 game baffles me.

        • bakaohki says:

          I’m with you here, but I can understand if someone said “it’s just a game, man”. Maybe I get enough struggle and stress in the game called Life (not Conway’s, but mine). But again, I love Nethack and everything Dark Souls.

  3. Novotny says:

    Who’s this fucker with the big words? Appurtenance me, indeed.

    Nice article

  4. GameCat says:

    I really wish UBI had balls to ditch the minimap in their open-world games and just give us a map that you must navigate by landmarks (their maps are made of distinct places, so it wouldn’t be so hard), without any indicator of your current position and certainly without every fucking minor collectible item.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Far Cry 2 was a great open world game with only an in-game map, and no minimap. It made the already hostile world in which it was set feel even moreso. There were no red arrows in the corner of the screen to tell you where the enemy was, just angry South African accents and sudden gunfire. It seems like if any Ubisoft game warranted a return to that leaner and more unforgiving approach it was this game but it wasn’t to be.

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      Dukey says:

      To their credit though, at least they do always give you the option to turn of whichever HUD elements you choose, and generally their games are largely playable without HUD. They could just as easily force you to use it.

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        Marclev says:

        Well, sort of. In Far Cry 3 they tried to force you to have all HUD elements active before they finally relented and issued a patch that let you remove at least a few of them, but still not all.

        For some reason I can’t quite understand, Ubisoft hate the idea of letting you play without playing aids. it’s a “thing” with them.

  5. Davie says:

    Fantastic. This is definitely the feel I’d want from a game like this: little focus on the big picture, no contrived HUD assistance, just immediate dangers and a reliance on perception and wits.

    Reminds me of a Skyrim playthrough I did a while back: I was a tribal barbarian from the forest, and the main rule was that money was worthless to me. I didn’t loot the coins I found lying around and I purchased nothing. It’s amazing how much that changed the game: there was little reason to spend time in towns, and a lot more motivation to comb empty stretches of wilderness for herbs and ore. I was more or less limited to what I could carry, and resources in general were much more scarce. Finding ingredients for a health potion became just as important as killing a dragon. I’d recommend people try playing this way; coupled with some survival mods it’s a very different experience.

  6. Dunderbar says:

    Far Cry Primal had my curiosity – now it has my attention.

  7. Henke says:

    I just started playing this yesterday. I’ve been turning off the HUD elements bit by bit. Have more than half of them disabled by now, but I’m not sure I could give up the minimap, detection indicators and healthmeter.

  8. Shooty Deluxe says:

    Can I please get a TLDR? I feel kinda lazy right now.
    Is it playable without any aids or HUD elements?
    I’de be interested if it is.

    • Jimbo says:

      I’ve been playing this on Hard with virtually all HUD turned off and it’s been perfectly playable (bar a couple of occasions where I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was supposed to click on to progress a quest because I had the prompts turned off).

      I would say the exceptions are:

      Reticule – I tried playing without the aiming reticule and it’s just too much of a pain in the ass. Fortunately the club and spear don’t show a reticule while just travelling, so you can at least have a totally clean screen most of the time.

      The full map – probably goes without saying, but you aren’t getting anywhere without referring to this.

      Hunter vision – You could probably fight against the game and survive without using it but the game definitely expects you to be using it. It’s also partly supposed to represent your sense of smell and sharpened senses, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily that egregious. It highlights plants and animals you can interact with, but it doesn’t show you anything if it’s behind cover for instance.

      The main thing for me is that I can easily have a HUDless screen while just exploring, and the game absolutely lets you have that.

      • Henke says:

        I have been playing without the reticule and doing fine actually. Then again I’m on a gamepad so the aiming snaps to the enemy if you’re close enough.

        I turned off some more HUD elements last night, but I feel you do need either the Item Picked Up text or Interact Prompt. Sometimes when you loot a body your character doesn’t do the pick-stuff-up-animation, and without any sort of prompt or indicator you’re left scratching your head as to whether you just picked something up or if you’re standing in a bad spot.

        • Jimbo says:

          Hunter Vision will clarify one way or the other in this situation (body stops glowing after being looted). Matter of taste but personally I prefer this method as it allows me to keep a completely clean screen while out of hunter vision, which is the main thing for me.

          To be honest after a while I pretty much stopped bothering to loot at all unless I had a specific need for something.

      • canis39 says:

        Can I just say that it is AWESOME that you replied to a request for a “TL;DR” breakdown with like 500 words. Seriously. I love it.

  9. Jimbo says:

    “By shutting off as many aids and HUD elements as possible, I intended to reclaim the fantasy.”

    This is absolutely the way to play the game, but it’s odd that you’ve decided to leave so many unnecessary HUD elements switched on (judging by the screenshots). The crafting tooltip, pet tag and grappling indicator are purely luxury items and not necessary by any stretch of the imagination.

    There’s really no reason not to set it so you have a completely clean screen (at least while just travelling) once you’ve gone this far. The difference between no HUD on screen and even a minimal HUD on screen is all the difference in the world.

    My one slight annoyance is the Bow having a pointless aiming reticule on screen even while not aiming or pulled back, but you can avoid this for the most part by travelling with the club or spear equipped. You can turn the reticule off entirely but combat becomes irritating / impossible at that point (at least without auto aim etc).

    • Zenicetus says:

      How much does this approach affect crafting, and your progression through the game? Does it disable in-game map hints about crafting materials for weapon upgrades, so you can handle tougher enemies? Or do you find crafting materials anyway, with the UI turned off?

      The last Ubi game I played was AC Syndicate. I was thinking about how that game’s crafting side for weapon upgrades and other gear wouldn’t work, with the UI turned off. You’d spend hours just searching every room for loot chests, instead of having them magically marked on the map when you’re in range, and showing through walls.

      • Jimbo says:

        I had no issue with using Hunter Vision as a toggle -which highlights anything you can interact with- but once you know what you’re looking for you could manage without it easily enough as far as crafting goes.

        All crafting items are in plain sight in the world and easily identifiable – standing sticks, different looking rocks, bright plants and ofc animal skins. The upgrade screen tells you what you need and the inventory screen tells you broadly where each resource type can be found in the world (South Stone, North Clay etc etc.) You never need to run around aimlessly and just loot for the sake of it like you might feel compelled to in AC.

        There are occasional annoyances, but overall I’d say that for a game that’s clearly intended to be played with the HUD on, they’ve done a great job of making sure it can also be played with it turned off.

        • Zenicetus says:

          Thanks Jimbo, that sounds like fun. I’ll have to try this, after a bit of backlog-clearing.

  10. Boozebeard says:

    Turning off map icons was something I decided to do a few hours into the Witcher 3 and it HUGELY improved my overall experience. The level of control over the UI a lot of AAA games have been giving over the last few years really is a great trend.

  11. Parrilla says:

    Looks pretty decent but with a 1mb connection, it seems like one of those games that just isn’t worth the days downloading.

    • Jimbo says:

      I think the download was only about 15gb, if that helps.

      • Parrilla says:

        It does actually, might consider it since that’d only take me about 24hrs.

  12. robotslave says:

    Nice review, but what’s with the paper-thin pseudonym, Rob?

    • Robert Zak says:

      I read this comment, read my name, questioned whether all this time I’ve been going around with a name that doesn’t sound real, but I think I’ve finally decrypted what you’re saying!

      I take it you’re assuming I’m Rob Zacny? Probably best that I go on the record to confirm that I’m not him and that – as far as I’m aware – I’m not related to him, other than by our names, a shared passion for waxing lyrical about survival games, and probably a million other things…

      Now I mention it, the similarities really are quite alarming, but even so I’m still 80% convinced that we’re different people.

  13. Jimbo says:

    Also worth mentioning: FOV slider right there in the options :o

  14. racccoon says:

    This is a game I’ve wanted to get, reading your post it seems to be just that, a great adventure without being constantly shown what to do or where to go. This is the reality of what it should be. When your playing any game today even in the mmo’s that mini map is “THE” distraction! at all times in games with its a norm attached, & all end up & see yourself doing is looking and following it like a twisted adventurer. Having these things in place is a deterrent to adventure, a deterrent to do and seek and definitely not to remember. For me your adventure in this game has made me all the more influenced to go buy it. But alas, being tied up with so many games at the moment I really can not see me in it for a while, for now, I will just have to drool at your posts…great post. :)

    • racccoon says:

      comp keyboard has delays have no idea what it is, possibly maybe be a bug, so sorry for the works..

  15. floogles says:

    You’ve changed my mind on this game. It sounds vaguely similar to the feel of Miasmata, although that game was designed with this experience in mind. Getting around and being lost in Miasmata was fantastically exciting.

  16. Wowbagger says:

    I read a sentence as “Chasing sounds is great for finding soufflés and animals.” Must be my Doctor Who addled brain.

  17. iivo says:

    I started doing this when playing the Witcher3. Disabling the minimap. Totally changes the game.

    Same for Primal. I disabled everything from the UI the moment the game started. Alas, it’s impossible to play without Hunter vision, mostly because of the mandatory track missions. However, you get used not relying on it. After initially “visioning” everything, i learned now how most relevant items look, and i can find them without the vision.

    Also, disable the usable object glint, for realism.

  18. froz says:

    “Playing Far Cry Primal Like A True Caveman”

    So, multiplayer, hunting down a herd together with your family? Or maybe a forest fruit gathering simulator?

    Hope you also had a chance to participate in rituals after hard day working and trying to survive.

    I guess what I want to say – it’s not really “like true caveman” if you play solo, as true cavemen were never solo.

    • iivo says:

      This is one of the immersion breakers for me also. You end up being some sort of caveman superhero, constantly saving the other tribesmen and single-handedly conquering entire enemy villages. As far as i reached in the story (about half, i estimate), no other Wenja has ever helped me take over an enemy settlement. I understand hunting by myself (even if this is not realist, but.. whatever – it would have been possible for lone hunters to exist). But for a lone warrior, this is just ridiculous. I get it, i’m the protagonist, i’m the Wenja salvation, etc, but an option to stage an assault would have been a nice touch. I mean, AIvsAI combat exists, it would just be a matter of being able to lead a (let’s say fixed) number of tribesmen/women to help me.

  19. Unsheep says:

    ‘Similarity’ comes naturally with being part of a franchise, so I don’t understand media’s reprimand of this particular one. Especially when they simultaneously praise or ignore sequel similarities in other franchises such as Dark Souls, Elder Scrolls, StarCraft, Pokémon, Mario, Zelda and so on.

    Every gamer needs to ask themselves whether they:
    a) wish for each game in a franchise to be radically different from the others, or
    b) accept that there will always be similarities between each franchised game

    You need to pick a side, otherwise you end up looking hypocritical. Sticking to principles is what gives you credibility.

    Speaking as someone who had no interest in Far Cry 3 and 4, the game design in Primal is still very new and unique.

    Also, if you enjoyed the game design in the previous games, why would you not enjoy them in a new game ? This seems irrational to me.

    I accept criticizing Primal if you did not enjoy the game design in the previous games, or thought they were OK at best, but if you liked them what’s the problem ? It looks like complaining for the sake of complaining.