Familiarity is on the verge of breeding contempt for Ubisoft's premier first-person shooter series. While there's been a shift in Far Cry Primal − taking players from the modern day back to 10,000BCE − what you actually get up to is very similar to what has come before.
Instead of making a wallet out of shark skin, it's a gut pouch from Woolly Rhino fur; you don't have grenades and a gun, but bee bombs and an upgradeable bow; and you don't make your way around the open world liberating outposts, you... Actually, no, that's exactly what you do.
You play as Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe, as he attempts to reunite his people and build them a settlement. This involves running around taking on quests, crafting items, hunting animals, riding mammoths and violently attacking rival tribes. Despite the new (old) setting and an insistence that everything you're doing and seeing is fresh, there's a feeling that Ubisoft has settled into a rhythm. Far Cry 3 worked, as did Blood Dragon and Far Cry 4. Why mix things up so much?
It's an understandable approach and, honestly, works well sometimes. There's a comfort that comes with exploring the large map, a rhythmic embrace of stumbling on enemy tribes and figuring out how exactly to approach them (or ignore them). Throw some bait to attract predators, maybe? Stealthily eliminate them all? Run straight at them, club a-swinging?
As has been the case for some time in this series, the highlights come when liberating outposts. Eliminate every enemy in an area and it's claimed as yours: simple, but something that still provides some of the most engaging, organic set pieces seen in gaming. When a flaming sabre-toothed tiger runs screaming through the middle of a pitched battle, you know you're having fun.
And yet, it is so damn familiar.
Far Cry Primal's weapon selection is the part of the game where it does separate itself from the series herd. It's 10,000BCE, so you don't have a grenade launcher here − instead you're equipped with clubs and spears, a bow and bone shards (aka throwing knives).
While a nice sidestep from the world of mile-away sniping, Primal's emphasis on melee combat is a bit of a hit and miss experience. There's a huge amount of fierce, kinetic feedback with each connecting blow of your club, and combat is often as mindless as it is brutal.
Take things to the mid and long range, however, and we're met with a more pleasing experience. Your trusty bow can be upgraded to be a Stone Age sniper rifle of sorts, bee bombs do exactly what you'd expect and sending a group of enemies berserk using poison is endlessly hilarious. Elsewhere there are a few gadgets, traps and bait for example, as well as... well, a grappling hook. Mesolithic man had the same brain as we do today, and their grasp of tool-making and general technology was a strong one. But a grappling hook? That functions perfectly but, just as the grappling hook in Far Cry 4 did, it removes you out of the experience, and feels like something that should have been taken out.
Most items are upgradeable, as is your clothing, carrying capacity and even home village. It's another feature we've seen before in Far Cry, but it does work well − offering a constant sense of progression; something to aim for when you're otherwise aimless in the world.
Animals play a big part in Far Cry Primal, and not just because of their size. You hunt them for pelts, meat and fat, but Primal introduces new features in the form of taming and riding. OK, so the latter is actually old, but this time around you can ride more than just mammoths (elephants in Far Cry 4). Unlocking the ability to ride a cave lion into battle deserves praise simply for being so damn funny. Mammoths, though, like elephants before them, are essentially a cheat mode to waltz through most encounters.
Taming wild animals is disappointingly simple, requiring players only to hold down a button, but once done, you can roam the pre-historic world with a huge wolf at your side, able to attack enemies on your behalf and...give away your position when you're trying to be stealthy. Repeatedly. Hmm.
The plotting of Far Cry Primal is easily its weakest aspect: its storyline is so boring and thin it will lose the interest of most people long before it finishes. Previous games in the series have prided themselves on a captivating arch nemesis. Primal does not have this, nor does it come close. It feels disjointed, with banal, easily-ignored cut-scenes interrupting the fun far too frequently.
It would be difficult to call Far Cry Primal a bad game, but it would be just as hard to recommend it with anything other than a thousand and one caveats attached. While it presents itself as something new, different and vital, the truth behind this absurdly shallow veneer is that you've played this game before − at least if you've touched a Far Cry game since its third instalment.
The amount of traction you get from that fact will vary, just as the enjoyment of Ubisoft's other big series, Assassin's Creed, wavers from person to person. A victim of Ubisoft's mass homogenisation techniques it might be, but Far Cry Primal is still fun, solid and the kind of thing you can lose hours to, given half a chance. Problem is, that half-chance is getting harder to come by. Why give it that amount of the day when you've already given nearly exactly the same thing your time before?