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‘Far Cry Primal’ Uses Cavemen to Tell a Modern Message: 'People Suck’

‘Far Cry Primal’ Uses Cavemen to Tell a Modern Message: 'People Suck’:

The opening scene of Ubisoft Montréal’s Far Cry Primal shows a group of prehistoric hunters attempting to kill a mammoth. Dressed in ragged furs and armed only with crude wooden spears, they stalk through a herd of the giant beasts, looking to pick off the smallest one.

As Takkar, the player lands one of the first blows and the mammoth bellows in distress. Its eventual death seems cruel. But, as another character mentions to Takkar, his tribe is landless and starving. If they don’t take the mammoth, something else will. To reinforce this, a saber-toothed tiger pounces into view, stealing the tribe’s kill and forcing them to continue their hungry, desperate flight.

The bulk of the Far Cry series—spanning five main games and a handful of expansions and spin-offs—is concerned with the violence of colonial warfare. 2008’s Far Cry 2 casts the player as a mercenary tasked with assassinating an arms dealer fuelling a fictionalized Central African civil war. Far Cry 3 follows a rich American tourist’s descent into bloodthirsty revenge as he attempts to save his friends from the pirate warlord controlling a Southeast Asian island. Far Cry 4 takes inspiration from the Nepalese Civil War, placing its protagonist in the middle of a vicious insurgency against the totalitarian Himalayan monarchy his parents had saved him from by fleeing the country decades earlier.

Each of these games is about a foreigner entering into situations they can’t hope to fully understand, attempting to exert control over the chaos of war by adding further violence. Though none of them cite specific nations or political parties, the series constantly suggests real 20th century history—a time when the breakdown of direct imperialist rule sent countless regions of the world into post-colonial upheaval.

At first glance Primal seems like a departure from the series’ thematic focus—but first glances can be deceiving.

PREHISTORIC POLITICS

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Set in 10,000 BCE in Central Europe before anything like nations existed, the game’s depiction of tribal warfare is only superficially divorced from the modern politics of other Far Cry titles. A game about cave people hunting extinct animals and warring over swathes of unidentified wilderness looks pretty apolitical. But as Primal’s story unfolds, the game reveals itself to have plenty in common with its predecessors.

The Wenja tribe that protagonist Takkar belongs to has come to Oros—the sprawling mountains and forests that serve as Primal’s setting—in the hopes of finding a new home for his people. After the disastrous mammoth hunt that opens the game, Takkar begins to rally the few remaining Wenja scattered across Oros. The tribe begins building huts around the shelter of a large cave, starting their community again with the help of the supplies Takkar collects while hunting and gathering through his surroundings.

Soon enough the player encounters enemy groups and the tribe finds itself in a fight for survival. The sun-worshiping Izila tribe burn Takkar’s people alive. The Neanderthal-browed Udam lead sorties into Wenja camps, slaughtering and abducting members of the tribe. To fight back, Takkar ventures further into Oros. As in past Far Cry games, he creeps through enemy camps, killing his enemies in order to take control of their homes and add this territory to his own.

Takkar’s violence throughout the game is, well, primal. He kills and conquers in order to help his tribe succeed in the basic, evolutionary sense. And his connection to the game’s assortment of tamable wild animals is telling. With the help of a Wenja shaman, Takkar becomes what his community calls a “beast master.” He adopts the wolves, bears, and saber-tooth tigers that usually attack him, learning how to call the animals into battle alongside him.

As Takkar surveys an enemy outpost, crouching through the primordial gloom alongside a snarling wolf, the game makes it clear that the early human isn’t so different from any other predator. What’s the difference between the wooly rhino trampling its prey and the player? Is there anything that separates the violence of the Wenja tribe from a leopard’s ambush? Every animal, Takkar included, is only trying to succeed in a vicious, highly competitive ecosystem.

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In past Far Cry games, the act of taking over enemy outposts—claiming parts of the game world to increase the player’s access to weapons and combat equipment—was a mechanical expression of stories about imperialist violence. In helping to reduce the power of an opposing force, the player expanded their own. Primal functions the same way, only as a more direct commentary than anything the series has attempted before.

The Wenja, Izila, and Udam people are fictional, and Oros is only real inasmuch as it’s a hypothetical depiction of an actual prehistoric Central Europe. But Primal’s use of the ancient world draws heavily on our own history as a species. The way its plot follows the development of a tribe—from a handful of hungry nomads to the conquerors of an entire geographic region—mirrors the aggressive past of our own nations.

After all, our modern political systems are civilized outcroppings forged from centuries of tribal strife. Civilization is a process of adding sophistication to our natural impulses. Government and law are systems constructed and refined over our species’ lifetime in an effort to order and regulate our animal, survival-based tendencies.

When Far Cry 2 showed the violent chaos of a fictional Central Africa it evoked the very real horror that has visited the region as a direct result of centuries of imperialist rule. Far Cry Primal may not conjure associations with recent wars, but it’s meant to show the background of our human desire to conquer as a means of survival. Takkar’s struggle to protect his tribe is a precursor to the empire-building and subsequent colonization of others that shadows all human history.

The Wenja’s domination of Oros may seem like a take on a world so far in the past that it hardly relates to our own, but this story is a distillation of the worst tendencies of our species. Rather than do away with the Far Cry series’ focus on the brutality of colonization, Primal presents it in an honest, unvarnished light. It suggests that all our sophistication—all our civilization—is built atop a nasty, animalistic foundation. For a game about cave people, the implications couldn’t be more modern.


Reid McCarter is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His work has appeared in Kill Screen, Pixels or Death, Paste, VICE, and The Escapist. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER, runs Digital Love Child, and tweets @reidmccarter.


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