Announced yesterday, Far Cry Primal seems, on the face of it, something of a dare. It’s a Far Cry without the characterizing guns or all-terrain vehicles, or their jocular collaboration; a first-person shooter where one’s bullet is a spear, and one’s gun is…well, oneself. Its Mesolithic backdrop—in which, for humans, marrow was as elemental as water and fire—is one seldom seen in the medium, and it may be estranging enough that the question becomes why this is a Far Cry game at all.
Oh, that’s right. Still, no matter how ossified a franchise becomes, there’s an unspoken but no-less-plain limit to how much of a departure one can get away with while waving the same banner. (Not to say Ubisoft doesn’t do it anyway.) I understand it, of course: the “risky” new idea endorsed for players by the established, popular one; the established, popular one saved from stagnation, or its impression, which to a publisher is sadly the more dangerous outcome. But this strikes me a particularly narrow strategy at best, and a confused mousiness otherwise. Really, unless Primal is “Far Cry” in every manner but mechanism—in which case the change of setting is a flagrant red herring—the name will only serve to subdue daringness, ultimately.
I won’t say there aren’t some pieces already in place for this change. Hunting, for instance, is ingrained in the series’ DNA, and the shift away from gunplay in human-to-human clashes isn’t the obstacle it initially appears, either: shootouts are the ‘combat slice’ of the Far Cry/Ubisoft open-world gameplay loop, and a change of mechanics therein amounts to a substitution rather than a subtraction; however, while the publisher has emphasized hunting, crafting and “survival” generally, there is still talk of “stalking enemy outposts” and its ilk, which to me suggests that the all-too-familiar tower ‘clearing’, objective markers, and other extraneous time-wasting logically follows. I’m genuinely interested in Primal despite zero interest in its predecessors, so I hope I’m wrong here.
This practice of hitching what would or should otherwise be a new IP to an accustomed brand is nothing new, admittedly, but neither is it especially common. To travel through its history is to stumble across surprisingly few examples, whether because history has swallowed them whole, because some of these departures have become just as canonized as their origins, and we are therefore less likely to associate them with the practice, or because many publishers prefer to indulge expectations rather than play with them, and for good reason. (I never said there was no risk in these in-between’s.)
If Far Cry were in financial straits, rather than a franchise of twenty-million units sold, the reason for experimenting with the brand would be obvious, and it is no less obvious given the reality: Far Cry is à la mode, a hot topic in league with Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy’s so-and-so. If you’re Ubisoft, why bother with the sleepless nights? Why go for broke with a new IP?
Because new IPs always potentially mean new franchises, and every franchise is new before it is a giant of industry. Of course, the importance lies, as always, in the games themselves, the idea what should be ‘lived up to’ before the namesake. Far Cry Primal is an idea which deserves a standout game; unfortunately, it might be difficult for a game to stand out when so much of its published kin share the same dimensions. However differently they dress.
Whether it’s a Far Cry or not, an idea should never be killed for its ivory, so to speak; and neither, for the same reason, should its life be unnaturally prolonged. But because it is a Far Cry, and it’s Ubisoft, and it’s Ubisoft, I’m preternaturally concerned about both.
Wait, whatever happened to WiLD?…