Ubisoft recently released Far Cry Primal, a game set in Central Europe ca. 10,000 BC. As the player, I assume the role of Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe. Last time, I started up the game and found myself in Tutorial Land. Having eaten and rested, I made a club, set fire to it, and then burnt my way through some thicket that was blocking my path.
Now, I’m following tracks left by some members of the Wenja tribe. There’s rocks on either side, so there’s no way to deviate from the path here. The only way to go is forward. I hear the sound of wolves and, sure enough, there is a pack a little further down that seems like they would all like to take a bite out of me. The game helpfully explains that waving a torch around will chase most animals away. However, I have a better idea. Holding the right trigger on the controller allows me to set fire to the grass. I do so, clamber onto some rocks, and then let the wind do the rest. Soon enough, the grass is completely ablaze and the wolves burn to the crisp. I feel bad about this, but figured that since I wasn’t exactly at full strength, the digital gods would understand my actions.
I continue onward and soon find myself inside a cave system. There are signs that the Wenja passed through here. Eventually, I come to a little underground stream that I swim across. I see a sabre-toothed tiger skulk about, but it doesn’t seem to have spotted me. I climb unto some rocks and see a human figure lying flat on his face. My amazing skills of deduction suggest to me that he’s dead. Here, let me show you a picture of the unfortunate fellow:
A young woman is nearby, who sees me and gets agitated. She holds out a flint dagger and threatens me with it. In the distance, however, I see that the sabre-toothed cat has spotted us and is lazily walking in our direction. I try to tell the girl that there’s a massive angry feline coming our way, but she doesn’t listen. The cat attacks, and I do my best to scare the animal away with my burning club.
This gives the young woman time to recover herself. I tell her to run, and she moves towards a crack in the rock face and pushes through. I wave my burning club at the angry cat and make my way over towards the crack as well. Pushing through, the cat suddenly lunges forward and strikes out at me.
Sabre-toothed cats did indeed exist during the last Ice Age. Different families of felines evolved long canines, which were used to kill prey, in different parts of the world. True sabre-toothed cats belong to the family of the Felidae (including Panthera leo, for example, the modern lion). The animal in the game seems to be modelled after Smilodon, a genus of sabre-toothed cat that went extinct about 10,000 years ago.
The problem, however, is that Smilodon remains have only been found in the Americas, and not Europe, where the game is supposed to take place. It could possibly represent another species of sabre-toothed cat that did exist in Europe during the Late Pleistocene, such as Homotherium, even though its teeth would have been slightly different and it was more the size and shape of a hyena. An added wrinkle is that Homotherium had gone extinct by about 28,000 years ago, well before the time period that the game is set in. So this is a case in which the game deviates from established history, probably because sabre-toothed cats are cool (and perhaps because Roland Emmerich’s movie 10,000 BC, referred to in an earlier post, had one, too).
Which is not to say that large cats didn’t exist at all during the Ice Age in Europe. In fact, the cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea) was common throughout Europe. It was bigger than a modern lion and probably one of the largest felines ever to have graced the surface of this planet. The developers could have easily picked this animal, since it would have looked quite impressive, even without the elongated canine teeth. Behaviourally, it would have been similar to a sabre-toothed cat, too. Furthermore, it may have survived in the Balkans until about two thousand years ago. (And in very recent news: scientists now want to clone a cave lion.)
In any event, I follow the young woman through the passage and we soon find ourselves outside, overlooking a beautiful valley of some sort. The game tells me that I have managed to reach the fabled land of Oros. The young woman spends a moment to sort out her collection of ears. She cut them from the dead people in the ‘tiger cave’ and explains that they belonged to the Udam, a savage tribe of cannibals that are hostile towards the Wenja. The woman then tells me her name, Sayla, and invites me to go to her home, where it’s safe.
She’s made her home against the rocks, in a raised area close to a stream and waterfall that provide a valuable source of fresh water. It seems to make sense that one would live here. In the game, this place serves as a base, and one of my tasks is to find materials to construct a proper village with huts, as well as retrieve people – lost members of the Wenja tribe that are scattered throughout Oros – to populate it with.
But first things first. Sayla has been wounded by the ‘tiger’ and needs plants to heal. I’m sent out toward where the river broadens further down the valley. I run across a small camp along the way, where stones have also been stacked up to construct what looks like a small altar of sorts (I’ll write more about that in a future entry in this series). Soon, I spot the plants that I’m looking for, but I also hear what sounds like human voices.
Udam! I see three of them on the opposite side of the river and another two or so to my left. I crouch to avoid being detected. If possible, I’d prefer to just collect the plants and avoid a confrontation. I swim across and sneak close to the three Udam there to grab the leaves I’m after when I notice that they’re eating. I knew they were cannibals, but it’s still quite a sight to see humans squatting down and tugging into the flesh of fellow humans (Wenja, I assume). I decide to make matters simple: I light my club and then proceed to set fire to the grass around the camp. Soon enough, the Udam perish in the flames.
However, the Udam on the other side of the river won’t make it so easy for me to dispatch them. They spot me as I swim back. A fight cannot be avoided. One of them charges me while the other hangs back and shoots arrows at me. The end of the Late Palaeolithic is around the time that microliths (small, flaked flint tools, especially fine blades and arrowheads) make their first appearance. The bow was probably invented around the same time; the earliest extant examples, from Denmark, have been dated to around 9,000 BC (Mesolithic). So the inclusion of bows and arrows in the game seems acceptable to me. In any case, I easily dispatch the first of my attackers with my club, then run towards the archer and finish him off in the same way.
The Udam are interesting. They tend to have coarse facial features. Some reviewers of the game claim that they are modelled after Neanderthals, but this seems unlikely, and I would hope that the developers didn’t take Neanderthals as their inspiration for the Udam. The image of the Neanderthal as a brutish form of human being has been shown to be largely undeserved, and their portrayal in, for example, Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) is more sympathetic, even though we now know that Neanderthals were capable of speech. Indeed, there is even evidence of Neanderthals and early modern humans interbreeding, so they couldn’t have been that different from each other. As a final point, it should also be noted that Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago, so it would be very odd to include them in the game.
In any event, I collect all of the leaves necessary and return to Sayla. She chews on the leaves for a while, then spits them out into my hand and tells me to push the paste deep into the wound to help it heal. The game takes over control of Takkar and watch as his fingers insert the stuff into Sayla’s gaping wound. It’s a slightly cliched healing scene, but I can live with it. Certainly, our ancestors would have used plants for medicinal purposes, so it’s perfectly fine. With Sayla somewhat recovered, she tells me it’s time to start finding more people with which to populate the village.