Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “April, 2016”

Far Cry Primal for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve always preferred to play the Far Cry series as low tech as possible, favouring bows and knives over AK-47s and missile launchers. So, the announcement of Far Cry Primal was pretty exciting, with the series shifting to a prehistoric setting and a focus on primitive tools. In the end I found myself missing the modern elements, as spears and rocks begin to lack to the variety seen in previous games as well as an entire lacklustre story, but the stunning world and unique setting ultimately made up for it.

In Far Cry Primal you play as Takkar, a huntsman from the Wenja tribe. During a mammoth hunt gone wrong Takkar is separated from his group and stumbles into the hidden valley land of Oros. Here we sets out to build up the Wenja, in the face of violence from rival tribes as well as the hostile wildlife. These tribes are the cannibalistic Udam and the fire worshiping Izila and Takkar must learn to harness the powers of the beasts to defeat them and establish the Wenja as the leading tribe of Oros.

Put simply, the storyline of Far Cry Primal is a massive disappointment. Far Cry 3 and 4 both marketed themselves based on their flamboyant and distinctive villains. It may be becoming a formula, but by and large it works. Far Cry 3 and 4 really didn’t have great stories, but the roles of Vaas and Pagan Min elevated them to something memorable. Primal lacks that, with bland villains and a stereotypical supporting cast. The only potentially interesting character is the traumatised Wenja Sayla, who wears a necklace made of Udam ears, but she is absent for most of the story and given no space to develop. The less said about Takkar the better; he’s so bland and joyless he makes Ajay Ghale (Far Cry 4) look like Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island).

The core mechanics of the Far Cry series are incredibly strong and it can’t be overstated just how good Primal feels to play. Running around, throwing spears and massacring left right and centre never failed to feel good, but it did begin to feel a bit repetitive. There are very limited tools at your disposal; the idea of ditching the modern weapons sounded interesting on paper but in practice you’re left with little in the way of strategy and variety. Don’t get me wrong; nailing an oncoming maniac charging at you with a spear is intensely satisfying, but I found myself yearning for more by the end. The most interesting new mechanic is the beast taming, where Takkar can bring different creatures into battle with him. In practice, there is little here that we didn’t already see in Far Cry 4’s weird tiger dream sequences. I did find myself quite attached to my battle scarred sabre-tooth tiger and he’s pretty good for drawing aggro, but a lot of the more interesting sounding mechanics (like riding him into battle) don’t really work in practice.

The upgrading and levelling as an intensive as ever, but still very satisfying, with almost all new abilities making you feel genuinely more powerful. There has been some praise for the foraging system, but I’m not so sure. To craft new spears or arrows (which you will need to do a lot) you have to get bits of wood, flint and animal hide. I guess this is meant to make us feel like a primitive badass living off the land, but in practice I generally just felt like it was slowing me down from getting to the fun stuff. Sure, you’ll get to launch an attack on that outpost soon, but first you need to gather 20 Hardwood. It got old very quickly.

The mission variety isn’t the best, but as I said before the core combat is strong enough that it didn’t feel like a huge issue. This is an Ubisoft game so you must claim territory to unlock more of the map and side quests. People knock the Ubisoft structure but the reason they keep using it is because it works. The side quests are, generally, less interesting than in previous games. Where Far Cry 3 and 4 offered vehicle challenges to break up the monotony, these obviously cannot be present in Primal. Almost all side quests involved killing a bunch of animals/people, rescuing some hostage Wenja, escorting a load of Wenja to a safe place or tracking footprints. Slightly more interesting are the side quests provided by your village as you build up its population, but only because they provide a bit more context. Easily the best missions are hunts for legendary and powerful creatures. There are four total; a wolf, a sabre-tooth tiger, a mammoth and a bear. They involved tracking the creature and taking it down before it can be tamed. They feel genuinely intense and a bit different to everything else. Overall though, Far Cry Primal is significantly lacking in the mission variety department.

The one area where Far Cry Primal is most certainly not lacking is the visuals. Oros is a genuinely stunning setting. Primal may be one of the prettiest open worlds I’ve ever explored, if maybe not the most interesting. There is some nice variety though, with a snowy North, a lush middle and a swampy South. Far Cry 3 and 4’s settings were great, but the lack of variety was an issue. This is not so in Primal. Style can take you a long way and the simple pleasure of exploring such a beautiful world gives this game legs that it perhaps hadn’t earned elsewhere. The music is forgettable and the voice acting bland, but the visuals wind up being Primal’s biggest strength.

Far Cry Primal is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. If you’re feeling burnt out on the Far Cry/Ubisoft formula, give it a miss, but if you have it in you for another one you could do a lot worse. Give it a couple of months until it goes down further in price and enjoy. I hope Ubisoft shake things up a lot for the proper (inevitable) Far Cry 5. I’m not convinced they will though.

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Caliban’s War by James S A Corey

I really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes and was happy to get back into The Expanse with Caliban’s War. It isn’t quite as good as the previous book, but where it lacks the same impact and breathless pace it makes up for in excellent characterisation.

Caliban’s War ups the protagonist count from two to four. On the Jovian moon Ganymede, a terrifying creature decimates a squad of soldiers, triggering violence between the Martian and Earth forces stationed there which brings the station to the brink of destruction. Bobbie is a Martian and the sole survivor of her squad; she is brought to Earth to testify over what happened and try to stop all-out war between the main military powers of the solar system. There she meets our second protagonist, Chrisjen Avasrahla, a high ranking politician who, despite her brash and aggressive attitude, genuinely works towards peace in the face of military hawks. On Ganymede is Prax, a botanist whose daughter was kidnapped in the chaos following the attack. It isn’t long before he enlists the help of our returning protagonist from Leviathan Wakes, Jim Holden, captain of the Rocinante, working for the OPA. In the background of it all, the protomolecule is adjusting to its new home on Venus, with the whole system watching in fear.

When the previous book ended with a massive asteroid filled with zombies carrying an alien virus crashing into Venus, it would be difficult to top this in the sequel. The stakes never feel quite as high in Caliban’s War, although more successful are the personal stakes for Prax in finding his daughter. The tying in of Earth politics isn’t hugely successful; the manipulations and games lack the intrigue and larger than life characters (Avasrahla excepted) that these storylines need to be interesting. This is why George R. R. Martin does it so well; over the top characters like Littlefinger and Varys give these scenes the hook they need to compete with the action and Caliban’s War doesn’t quite pull this off. That said, the action scenes are very good. The dialogue is a strength, particularly the easy and relaxed bond between the crew of the Rocinante. The banter between them never feels forced and they come across as people who genuinely love each other without grand emotional statements.

The characters are definitely the best part, with Avasrahla being my clear favourite. I loved the image of an elderly Indian woman stalking around the UN hurling abuse at underlings. In fact, the authors show a remarkable ability to avoid stereotypes. As ugly as the world of The Expanse is, the people there genuinely don’t care about skin colour or religion. They only care if you’re a Belter or not. Bobbie is a great character, a bit like Brienne of Tarth but without the shame and insecurity. Prax is a very different character to the hardened and competent figures we see, but his desperate search for his daughter is really quite moving. Leviathan Wakes had an issue where it’s two protagonists, Holden and Miller, were a bit too similar. That is not an issue with Caliban’s War and this forms the novel’s greatest strength.

Caliban’s War is a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to continuing with the series. It may not quite be as good as Leviathan Wakes, but that’s a high bar to hit. It ends in a fascinating place, with The Expanse becoming a stranger and more interesting setting.

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