Developer: Panache Digital Games Publisher: Private Division Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, and PC Price: $39.99 Release Date: December 6, 2019 Date reviewed: December 14, 2019 Reviewed on: PS4 Review Code […]
- Developer: Panache Digital Games
- Publisher: Private Division
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, and PC
- Price: $39.99
- Release Date: December 6, 2019
- Date reviewed: December 14, 2019
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Review Code Provided: Yes
Imagine being able to experience the dawn of humankind, with all of its dangers, and moments of discovery. Taking the life of a young primate into your hands and building a clan, a family, a history from those small beginnings. What would it be like to journey through the vast jungle into new regions, facing your fears about the unknown, investigating flora and fauna to see what is safe to eat, and battling off hidden dangers ever lurking? This is what Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey aims to accomplish. An experiment in the gaming space from the new studio formed by the visionary Creative Director behind Assassin’s Creed, Patrice Désilets, Ancestors wants to be the game that allows you to forge your own evolutionary path and give people a chance to experience what it would have been like to walk in the footsteps of our evolutionary precursors. It’s a brilliant idea, and a game filled with an absolute metric ton of potential, but in practice it could be more divisive than whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
This is a review that I have been putting off. I have had what I wanted to express in my head for a bit now, but have struggled with how to appropriately put it into words. The problem is basically what I touched on in my opening statement. Ancestors is a fantastic game, but one that struggles with its own aspirations. It is at once gorgeous in its presentation, but at random turns can come off ugly and dated. It can provide pure joy and elation as you evolve your clan, and tear that away with the frustration of being eaten by multiple snakes, and jungle cats or eviscerated by warthogs until your entire clan is mangled, digested and bled out.
It is wide open, not holding the player back and barely giving any direction, granting the player the opportunity to create their own narrative, make their own decisions, and not be boxed in on a railed path. This is something many gamers have clambered for in their games, fed up with hand holding and how modern gaming comes off to them as significantly easier than the days of yore. Ancestors may be an example of one extreme end of a spectrum, where removing those tunnel walls, so to speak, creates brand new barriers instead. In being so wide open in its structure, with only basic objectives that come up as brief guidance, and leaving the player to discover the tools and ways to use them, you’re left with the daunting task of learning how to use the world around you to survive. In order to do so, the primate you are using needs to remain alive, discover enough in the world to warrant moving ahead a generation for your clan, and have enough members or children in your clan to evolve. This is where things fell apart for me.
I had so many amazing experiences in the game, but almost all of them were overshadowed by the constant struggle to remain alive long enough to carry what was learned forward. Almost every time I ventured out my journey was cut down by a snake hiding in the grass who would swallow me whole, stalking jungle cats that I could not escape, or bleeding to death after being surprised by a warthog. The three times I was devoured whole by a snake happened with the same animal (bare with me) which popped out of nowhere while trying to approach the fallen meteorite that was the next objective after creating a spot to sleep. I felt great about figuring out how to create a rudimentary bed of leaves, finding food to eat that didn’t poison me, figuring out the odd controls and seeing the multiple pop ups identifying progress in motricity, senses and other neural activity progressions that would help my clan evolve if I could continue on and remain alive. As I approached the smoking hole created by the meteorite, there was a sudden hissing. No trees were around me to escape, and it was the first time the dodge mechanics had arrived for me. Seconds later, I was being swallowed whole by the giant snake.
It was at this point, my consciousness was transferred to my child, as I was carrying them on my back hoping to gain more experience and help them learn themselves in order to help carry the information to the group. The child was terrified, the screen black with the promise of danger, and one objective. Get to a hiding spot. Once I did, I could breathe a sigh of relief that I would not lose another one, let alone a child, and now took out the next adult of the clan in a search for the little one lost. I came across the scant remains of my predecessor, gaining knowledge doing so, and desperately followed the screams of terror coming from the small primate shrieking for its life. I found the hiding spot and started the button presses necessary to calm the child and take them home to safety. In all the noise and panic I could not hear or see the approaching danger. Snake 2, clan 0. My third primate managed to calm the child and escape with them just in time, bleeding profusely and at the verge of hysteria and death. When I returned it was late and I thought perhaps a rest would help. When I lay down I was prompted to potentially evolve the clan. There were two children, and enough knowledge to bring the clan forward. Neurons fired and I was treated to a wonderful spectacle and a recap of what the clan accomplished. I was elated, even though my evolution was behind the curve of science according to the game. My next few runs were filled with death due to poisoning, the birth of two progeny, being mauled by jungle cats, moving my clan forward 15 years to take on the lives of the next generation, being eaten by new jungle cats trying to bring new members to the clan, failing to bring forth a new generation, and ultimately the end of the Ninjahinous clan (don’t question the nomenclature) and also my interest in the game.
You see, for all of the amazing experiences that are all through this game, it is also an unrelenting representation of the difficulty in staying alive as a primate in the jungles at the dawn of mankind. Every action is new, and needs to be discovered, not only in the world but also to move the game forward, and the player needs to have serious patience. All actions are mapped to a few buttons, sensitive to the situation. There is a help menu, but it in itself it can be daunting. The game is an experience through and through, and in its nature will be enjoyed by some and potentially disliked by others. It should be mentioned that the developer seems to be aware of this, and has even patched in the few objectives that pop up, some help menu explanations and other additions to help new console players acclimate after feedback from the already existing PC players. At the start of the game a message appears explaining what you are getting into, with a warning that the game will not provide you with assistance and you are on your own.
I briefly felt prepared to give a bad rating to the game after experiencing so much frustration, but that would not be fair to this game in the least. It would be ignoring the joy and discovery inherent to many actions in the game. It also would not recognize the accomplishment of creating a survival game that is truly unique and interesting enough that I could not stop thinking about it when I wasn’t playing. Other players that are able to discover weapons and keep their primates alive longer than me with my feeble monkey brain will likely get far more enjoyment, and a more rewarding experience out of Ancestors. They will experience the same game bugs (I fell through the world once, and fell asleep seemingly in the air a few times), frustration, and boredom with some of the menial tasks that can be very repetitive, but will get far more reward from their actions and have a more viable clan. There is a ton going for the game, especially in the sound design and the crafting of the world, and I want to encourage people to try it out knowing what they are potentially getting into. It will not be for everyone, but is a hell of an experience and a great accomplishment. I look forward to what comes next from this group.