So Far Cry Primal isn’t an accurate depiction of life at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic c.q. the beginning of the Mesolithic era. But there’s more to an experience than mere accuracy. Another question we can ask, is whether or not the experience that Far Cry Primal offers is authentic. It’s perfectly possible for something – a book, a movie, a game – to be rife with errors of different kinds, but still be authentic insofar as overall tone, themes, and the broad strokes of the setting are concerned.
For example, the classic movie Spartacus (1960) or the HBO show Rome certainly contain a lot of mistakes (neither are documentaries, for sure!), yet the overall flavour of both the film and the TV-show seems authentic. By contrast, Wrath of the Titans (2012), which I reviewed briefly, not only has many errors, but is also not authentic when it comes to ancient Greek religion and mythology. Most glaring is the notion that Greek gods could die, which would have been a wholly foreign concept to ancient Greeks and was obviously borrowed by the movie’s creators from Teutonic myth.
As regards Far Cry Primal, I would affirm that it succeeds in being authentic, even if the glaring errors with regards to fauna, material culture, and so forth, make it inaccurate. Playing the game gives a good sense, I think, of what life may have been like for our ancestors, thousands and even tens of thousands of years ago, when life tended to be more mobile, more egalitarian, and more fragile. (See also the comments made during the VALUE meeting about the game last week.)
There are lots of neat little touches in the game that I haven’t even really mentioned before. I like that Tensay the shaman has a cataract in his left eye; it’s an interesting detail, which subtly reminds us of disorders that would be easy to treat now, but would have probably been left untreated back in the Stone Age. I like how the game introduces ‘skull burn’ (kuru) as a disease, and leaves the player to draw logical conclusions as regards to how the Udam were inflicted by this in the first place. I like the way that the landscape is built up, and how rich – probably too rich – the environment is with animal life.
Over the course of this series, I mentioned some books and an article that you might want to check out if you want to learn more about life in the Stone Age. One of them was Richard Rudgley’s Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age (1998), which while a little sensationalist at times, still offers lots of interesting nuggets about life in the Stone Age, written in a pleasant and accessible style.
More scholarly is Clive Gamble’s classic treatise The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe (1999), in which he tries to show that archaeology is able to explore the social life of prehistoric peoples and not just their technology and economic bases. Another useful if general, and now slightly outdated, introduction to European prehistory is a book that I had to read back when I was at university: Prehistoric Europe: An Illustrated History (1994), edited by Barry Cunliffe. It deals not just with the Stone Age, but also with the Bronze and Iron Ages. It’s good if you want to quickly lay a base on which to expand further.
There are also some other books that I think are useful for general readers. Regarding human evolution, Spencer Wells’s The Journey of Man: A Genetic Oddyssey (2002) is imminently readable. More limited in scope, but no less interesting is Brian Fagan’s Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans (2010). Exhaustively detailed yet still accessible is Steven Mithen’s After the Ice Age: A Global Human History, 20,000–5000 BC (2003), which looks at all of the world and not just Europe.
Another book I haven’t mentioned earlier is Marshall Sahlins’s classic Stone Age Economics (1972). This is a collection of essays, the most important of which is perhaps his “The original affluent society”. It’s a reaction to the idea that hunter-gatherers were less well off than early farmers. Quite the contrary: hunter-gatherers are generally healthier and need to work less than early farmers. And because hunter-gatherers need little, they are generally happier, making them, in Sahlins’s words, the ‘original affluent society’. It’s required reading if you want a deeper understanding of hunting-and-gathering societies, especially since we humans have lived as hunter-gatherers for most of our time on Earth, after all.
Finally, I mentioned a few books earlier regarding warfare in the Stone Age. Arther Ferrill’s The Origins of War: From the Stone Age to Alexander the Great (1997) is a general survey that does well as a starting point for further research. For a more up-to-date survey on warfare in prehistory, check out The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory (2005), an English translation of a French book by Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit. Essays on archaeological aspects of warfare can be found in the collected volume Ancient Warfare: Archaeological Perspectives (1999) edited by John Carman and Anthony Harding. I also found useful the collected volume Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives (2006), edited by Ton Otto, Henrik Thrane, and Helle Vandkilde.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Far Cry Primal. I think it can be a useful tool for giving people an idea of what life was like during the end of the last Ice Age. If I were to use it in class, I’d ask students to play the game and compare it with what we think life was like back then based on secondary literature that I’d assign them. Figuring out what the game does right and wrong can open new avenues of thought, and can be an effective way of learning more about a particular subject.
Far Cry Primal is available, among other places, on Steam.
This article is part of the series, Let's play Far Cry Primal.