Saturday, 28 May 2016

Totem Inscriptions from Oros


My name here is Takkar. The snow is falling and I'm gradually getting colder. From the bottom of the cliff-face I've surveyed already the Udam cannibal camp thanks to my eyes in the sky; using beastmaster power my owl companion has scouted the layout and tagged the different types of foe. Thanks to my grappling hook I'm now hauling myself upwards, the sound of the rope creaking in the freezing wind. I've been sent packing a number of times already; my tiger slain, my arrows and spears depleted and my body clubbed by too-powerful commanders. Sure I took a few of them with me. But what's going to be my plan this time? It's getting colder again so getting to fire at the top will be the priority. Then... do I have enough patience to reach and destroy the alarm horns my owl has also located? I don't need any extra company. Whatever happens, I will need to get back to my village soon to replenish supplies, catch up with my Wenga buddies and spend more time increasing much-needed skills and abilities. Welcome a situation you'll face in Far Cry Primal. It wasn't always this way. Once, I was a member of a small group of hunters in another land, far away, until we were brutally savaged by a sabretooth tiger. I barely survived. Let me think back... 

waterfalls near your village retreat

EARLY PRIMAL DAYS...

Researching super worlds where you’re going to invest time and money before getting lost in them is important these days. I’ve just reached a land called Oros, and so far it’s paying off in terms of sheer involvement and setting. It must be a Far Cry game. I had to read the sturdy reviews it’s received across the board just to check it wasn’t similar to numbers 2, 3 or 4. I know these games were involving, wide in scope and cinematically great fun but memories of their worlds seem somehow a little pastiche. I remember getting - finally - bored by the enemy AI and even, handgliding. However, they’ve always been trying for greater realism at the same time as being top-notch first-person shooters inspired by Alex Garland's The Beach. They just seem to have been waiting for a big upgrade in technological realism, just as there have always been tribal or primeval elements in the games. With this title, here on the PS4, this marriage is getting really interesting.

And I’ve learned quickly that Oros is not just a different, prehistoric time setting (the intro presents a simple device to illustrate this: the year of 2016 appears and counts backwards with changing sounds that mark the rewinding process – really effective.) No, it really does feel like a more dangerous place than ever more; always the attraction of fun, virtual worlds. Players need to feel involved, seeing powerful things; surviving dangerous experience. And there is wildness here. And because it’s Far Cry, I’m guessing there’s going to be drug-induced trances and ‘emergent’ gameplay too (more of this later). Although this time, there won’t be any multiplayer.

So where was I? The beginning. I’d reached Oros. Up until this (sweet, pivotal) moment – looking out at a view from the ledge of my first cave and the landscape now open and beckoning - the game has delivered. It’s been a dense, first-person acclimatisation with the controls and rudimentary weapons; I’ve already felt vulnerable in the dark; exposed in the vicinity of fierce feline predators and seen fellow tribesman gored by mammoths. Cut-scenes have opened up and then closed tightly around me (abandoning me to the wild), crafting items have been breathlessly gathered and I have only just begun to feel like I’m ready to make it out there… in the non-linear(-ish) map waypoints of Oros. But now with good gameplay and narrative timing - I’ve got my own cave. Bring it on.


All the Far Cry elements are there so far: immediacy of controls, reliance on tools and environment, narrative cut-scenes blending quickly and seamlessly into the game. The difference is the scenario has changed: we’ve gone prehistoric. We’ve left behind guns and thugs, cheesy characters and dialogue (although not the advantage of a good map) and now there’s something much more intense and real about… everything. Now the cut-scenes have more vitality; we need to follow them and we need to focus on our equipment, tools and skills. The environment and its wildlife are now the big bad-ass character, although on top of this, there will be rival tribes, like the Udam out there who’ll want to eat us. The Far Cry series has gone back in time and really grown-up.

The unfolding map of Oros

So yes… involvement with a world. Primitive connections. Mastery and control. I know it’s going to be a painful process but I trust Ubisoft will keep things moving, surprise me as much as guide my way. Flashbacks from previous games come back to me (although there won’t be any hand gliding from cliff-tops in Oros). There was such a big focus was on shooting and although ‘nature’ on those islands was important, yes – it was also rather in the way. Right now I do want to make my way through the landscape rather than just keep to the roads. There is the desire to have more control over the environment; more choices with which to tame it.

Another central element in my wanting to return to this game with strong coffee is to round up my fellow tribesman. They were down on their luck from the beginning and now, it seems, my team have got to work hard in the not-so-paradise land of Oros. And I’ve got to find them.


UPDATE FROM... A BEASTMASTER: 

The world is a noisy place now. You don’t have to walk far into a terrain to find dangerous animals or people. In fact, there’s a lot of people out there; a lot of shouting even at night. Even my Wenga fellows who, thanks to my heroic antics, are more numerous and are getting up to all kinds of trouble. It’s a good thing I’ve got my beasts with me – a dynamic owl and a ground-based cave lion – or else I’d be in a lot of trouble. In fact, if anything, things are a little easy now thanks to my beast skills. But the world has kept my interest level high and there’s a lot of it on the map to keep me planning my next move: I’ve defended my village from attacks, tracked a cave bear, rescued hostages, gone underground in deep caves, taken over camps, offered totems to spirits and found some cool stone formations … and now there’s a new tribe on the scene roaming around. In general, the sheer beauty of the graphics and world keep me coming back too. Anyone remember a dated 80’s fantasy movie called The Beastmaster? The barbarian hero too had a hawk and a big cat at his side. Actually, it wasn’t a completely bad film and it’s nice to get to play as that character after all these years.

I’m wondering if there’s multiplayer to share some of these amazing setups for attacks and hideouts [no, not at this time]. It’s a stunning land but the elements can become familiar over time, especially as familiar Far Cry mechanics are beginning to emerge again, such as tagging enemies.

Just as I was fumbling around trying to master control over my wolf companion (who allows for greater awareness of surroundings), my village came under attack by the Udam cannibal tribe. What you'll see in this video below is my contribution to its defence, albeit slowed down by my fumbling in the 'weapon wheel'. Also, there's nothing like running out of arrows and any other weapon to make you scramble about like an idiot... Still, I didn't die during the battle, which is always a time-saver inside such big games.



'EMERGENT GAMEPLAY'

I like watching the emergent gameplay (unpredictable game events) too, where everything is attacking each other out there, adding a level of surprise. For now, I’ll stick safely close to my campfire and rest until dawn. See the below video of the local deer reacting to the presence of two brown bears... who soon cross paths... 



I’ve not yet explored the top realism or difficulty settings where, I’m sure, the degree of fun would be reduced and instead it would all be just too intense. But one does feel like the whole thing could have been more intense, like Alien Isolation, with no fast travel, no maps etc. presenting a really dark experience. [Update: Yes, there is a Survivor mode]. Will anyone be crazy enough or have enough time to select it as an option though??


UPDATE FROM… THE BEASTMASTER:

Playing with the different weapons and strategic choices of approach and attack are really what Far Cry games are all about, and in this perhaps it’s the most familiar. Finding the right balance of difficulty (in this large type of playground) that we – the single players - stumble into must be a very tricky thing for Ubisoft to get right in setting up the main paths through the game progress.  So far... so pretty good. Other than a monstrously difficult Udam fort that has left me limping away into other corners of the game map, things are pretty easy with a Bloodfang Sabretooth at one’s side.


THE AGE OF GAMEPLAY 'SHARING'...

It’s interesting how the availability of ‘sharing’ videos and live broadcasts/streaming  on the PS4 makes me feel like I’m already in a multiplayer game. I am not totally alone. I can record and share an experience quickly and easily, provided it’s at all worth watching. [There's even a Primal rap video out there on Youtube]. And I’m still enjoying the game itself: the little upgrades to equipment and village, the successful attacks on outposts and the few central quests that push me onwards through the sheer, visual delight of mastery over a world only I can slowly reveal – and survive - through my own effort. Upgrading weapons and equipment is occasionally a bit tiring but it's important for the much-desired increase in power for executing clean, satisfying attacks.

Is there anything to do besides hunting and shooting? Well, a little. Most memorably, I’ve had to find and gather things (such as rhino dung and eagle feathers from high peaks), talk to strange characters, rescue tribesman (in one of the many side quests) and utilise tamed animals to their most relevant attributes. The game does its best to make you reach the scenic areas and make a bit of use of them.


Don’t forget though: the patient effort of setting up and executing stealthy attacks on large encampments - using your resources to the full - is really what Far Cry is all about. Behind the dark, bewitching stare of its prehistoric gaze, it’s just an action game, after all. The bad guys do get harder as you work towards facing the leaders of the rival tribes but I guess I was hoping to see a little more change in the AI programming when compared to previous games. Having said that, I wouldn’t want it to turn into Hitman as there are still a lot of possibilities limited but more accessible quiver of fun.




FINAL NOTE:

I’ve now finished the main storyline, so here are some final thoughts. For now, I can report that the teeming world of Oros comes – thankfully - with a carefully staged and thrilling single-player ‘journey’ that must be even more special for newcomers to Far Cry. For old veterans of Ubisoft’s classic series however, one gets the sense (as with Assassin’s Creed) that it’s time to do something different soon. Changing the scenario here has allowed them to get away with it in (very savage) style because the context and scenario are such big players in open world games. However, signature Far Cry elements such as the range of enemy types, alarm horn positions etc. that must be overcome feel a bit tired now. What we need next, in my opinion, beyond the virtual versions they may try to make in the future, is something unexpected with the world itself. That might be a multiplayer project like Destiny, or just something that uses the glorious landscape in continually exciting ways, rather than one well-disguised but very potent - prepared - experience. Perhaps they could’ve included a lot of co-operative play options too. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t finished with what Oros can deliver yet. Will I go back to there post-story completion? The designers managed to keep the game length about right. Yes, I can see myself executing sweeter, more relaxing attacks with my full array of upgrades and expanding my village population. I can also see myself sporadically splashing out on some extra content, including the Legend of the Mammoth mission.  However, it’s interesting how dry the map now feels once it’s been conquered.  It’s the lack of surprise in the enemy camps now the big bosses have all gone. The game length was certainly long enough to be able to dust it down one day and enjoy a bit of a re-play however and starting up a brand new game on ‘Survivor’ mode now feels like an interesting option.

Some veterans might be looking for something deeper from open world games beyond fumbling panic-ridden attacks and shooting carnage so we find ourselves reaching for the more indie, space-based or marginal titles. But that’s only for days beyond the dark might of Oros, which will surely resonate. We are here thanks only to the legacy of so many similar games before it. It’s a thrilling hit from one of Tensay - the tribal seer’s - heady, cryptic concoctions. You’ve got to be truly resourceful and effective and, as ever, your own impatience is your biggest enemy.


I'm still quite proud of this particular 'death by mammoth':



FAR CRY PRIMAL (wikipedia)


Saturday, 14 May 2016

An Acid Blood-written Note from...

...the worlds of table pinball, in this case: Aliens Pinball Table from Zen Studios (Alien Isolation also available). This is available on most platforms and is quite simply a must-have distraction to make you reach for the boxsets. In fact, the best thing about the Zen Pinball app on a smartphone, is the power of the tables to capture the spirit and atmosphere of classic movie (and game) titles (and of course Star Wars), and be good, light-weight, challenging fun. It's all in the flippers...


Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Days Before 'No Man's Sky'

I'm enjoying a bit of time before the release of this cunningly large 'Adventure Survival' space sim to think for a moment about what I really want from such a beast... (especially as I'm doing ok for survival in the real world). The answers are the usual: freedom, yes, but also a decent balance between gameplay possibility and sustained interest. You can read more in my article for Dark Zero. I'll also do an initial review hopefully in the last days of June. Stand by!

No Man's Sky from Hello Games main image