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?…
Maybe Ubisoft simply don’t want to entertain risk for risks sake. I remember reading that The Crew had some similar elements to Assassin’s Creed (notably, the radio towers/viewpoints), and now you write of Far Cry Primal masking its well-worn blueprint underneath a unique premise. It’s a shame because, like you said, it’s almost as if the very concept of Far Cry Primal is being hindered before it has even had a chance to blossom.
I’m somewhat used to it though, I guess. I used to be a big Call of Duty fan, and when Call of Duty 4 brought with it the perk system, it ushered in something of a new era of multiplayer FPS. We’re not too far away from a decade now since that system has been in place. Every new idea or addition since then has had to conform to the same shape. It seems like sales may be governing creativity here, too.
Terrific post, and disappointingly, all too true.
As I said in the post, I’m interested in Primal despite my concerns. But still, being beholden to the FC name (unless the developer simply forsakes all notions of responsibility toward it) is an unfortunate strain on what I think is an otherwise great idea. The game could prove me wrong and fulfill the conditions for a FC title while also offering something truly unique which can stand alone, but even then I’d almost certainly STILL wonder if it could have benefited for not having the name. Maybe I’m just impossibly difficult on these matters, but if so, I’d like to think it’s more productive than the alternatives.
On the topic of Call of Duty, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Innovations, if influential enough, can drive decade long stagnation/homogenization. Halo 4, as well as several other shooters I can name, were made weaker (to varying degrees) by their bending to its influence: the perks, the ‘arcadification’ via points/stats in the game world itself, and during the matches, rather than in the background, so to speak, or tallied at the conclusion of matches. These elements are interesting and engaging, but not when they’re inescapably everywhere, all the time. The only conclusion we can draw is that innovation is a process, above all, and most individual innovations are more transient than the manner in which they’re used (and abused) would suggest.
Thanks for stopping by again Ash. 🙂
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