Set 12,000 years ago, Far Cry Primal puts gamers in a world of hunter-gatherers, warring tribes and natural enemies that love to take a bite out of you.
For many, the best part of the latest instalment of Ubisoft's Far Cry series is that it lets the player tame those beasts, having them fight alongside you. Though Far Cry Primal was helmed by Ubisoft Montreal, and parts of it were worked on in the company's studios around the world, the best part was made in Toronto.
In Primal, you play as Takkar, who begins by looking for fellow members of his Wenja tribe in a land called Oros (a.k.a. ancient Central Europe). The lush world features and all kinds of wild life, including wolves, Sabretoothed tigers, mammoths and birds that often will attack you out of the blue.
You have to hunt animals, craft together tools and find your fellow tribesman, and thanks to the addition of Beast Master abilities, you don't have to do it alone.
"The Montreal team . . . gave us a lot of stuff that was related to the Beast Master powers, so the taming, giving (your animal) orders and creating the many great beast quests later on in the game were led by the team here," said Maxime Beland, creative director, Ubisoft Toronto.
The Toronto team also worked on your pet owl, another new feature that almost operates as a prehistoric drone. You can call your owl and see from its perspective, which lets you survey the surrounding area, mark targets and eventually, with upgrades, attack enemies for you.
Despite appearing to be sequels, the Far Cry series all feature characters in new settings, but with a similar theme.
"Far Cry really takes you to the edge of the world, in to a lawless frontier, (where) our values and laws of today are not functioning,” said Jean-Sebastian Decant, narrative director, Far Cry Primal. “Of course there will be people there, but also a wilderness that you have to survive."
Particularly since Far Cry 3, the animals in the game have played a larger role, and many players often deploy them strategically, like shooting the door off a cage to free jungle cats that can help destroy enemies in a compound you’re trying to claim.
But Far Cry Primal takes the animal magnetism a step further, with a whole series of beasts that you can unlock and have by your side. It’s proven to be the hit feature in reviews of the game, and it’s likely the activity that many players will obsess over, building up to a point where they can ride tigers or mammoths.
Ubisoft Toronto recently passed its fifth anniversary, and the studio has a stated goal to get to 800 employees by 2020. It currently has 375 employees, and in that time has released one big budget game — Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Since then, the studio has worked on portions of Assassin's Creed Unity, Far Cry 4 and Primal.
All of the game's cinematic scenes were filmed in Ubisoft Toronto's motion capture studio, and the team gained valuable experience.
"It was interesting for us because it was the first time that Ubi Toronto was working on a pure ‘open world’ aspect of a game. So we were inputting the activities, incorporating the encounters and all that," said Beland. "We also did a lot of work on the game's end game."
Open world is the type of game that Ubisoft has become known for, though Beland can't say what that experience might spell for the Toronto team. "It means a lot more than I can share today," he said.