It’s time to get primal. Unleash your inner Hominoidea and become one with your senses. In Minecraft, you begin by punching trees. In DayZ, if you make it off the beach, you start rummaging for weapons. In Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey you begin as a scared, lonely ape in a dense forest with nothing but your senses to help you. No guides. No objectives. No hints. Find shelter, food and water or die. It’s that brutal.
This game is practically begging you to dive in with as little help as possible. Even the full tutorial mode offers little when it comes to controls, giving clear objectives or explaining the game’s basic mechanics. I accepted this challenge with a grunt as I jumped into my first lineage. Ancestors is about three things, surviving, learning, and continuing your bloodline. And after running around as a tiny ape, scared and alone in a dense forest, failing to find any form of shelter, I realised that I was barely able to do the first. This is a survival game in the purest sense, but I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing.
The first game from Assassin’s Creed designer Patrice Désilets since AC Brotherhood, many fans were hoping for all the fun of AC’s parkour and combat, mixed with the difficulty of survival and the intrigue of apes. While this is not what has been created, Ancestors stands up on its own as a unique game with a few drawbacks.
To get the most out of Ancestors, you truly have to be ready to become one with the ape. The more you immerse yourself in the world the more you will enjoy diving back into the early ages. The best thing about this game is its purity — without objectives and missions and, well, a tutorial, you’re left to decide just what you should do. Stay at the den grooming potential mates all day? Become nocturnal and sleep your days away? Head out to hunt and gather food? Explore the world and discover new things? The jungle is your oyster and the only thing standing in the way is you. In the beginning, this is really fun and once you get past the kick out of the cradle, you start to really enjoy what you’re doing. Figuring out whether you’re hungry, thirsty, tired. Finding places to eat, drink and sleep. Eating the wrong berries too many times and then trying to find a way to cure the poison you’ve ingested. Killing your first hog, and running away from every black mamba you see (so much nope). Even grooming your fellow apes is fun, the first few times.
When you start your lineage you can select whether you want some help, no help at all, or a few variations in between. However, even the highest level of help the game offers is next to nothing compared to typical tutorials in most other games. You truly are thrown in the deep end, and developer Panache want you to embrace it. I found what tutorialisation there is helps in some ways but can often involve a poorly placed information box that refuses to go away when all you want to do is try to kill or run away from whatever is chasing you.
There is one objective — evolve your species. Start simple, learn where you can drink, what you can eat, and enjoy time with your colony. Slowly start developing your apes nervous system and the world begins to open up a little more. This gives you access to a skill tree of sorts which essentially shows you evolving. Learn to stand up, use two hands, and pass these skills onto future generations.
Regardless of how interesting this seems at first, after a while every action does seem to get repetitive. Explore, hunt, eat, drink, groom, mate. The same unskippable cutscenes over and over again when you know exactly what you’re heading towards. Simply put, the game is a grind. And, if you kill off your lineage, you have to start that grind all over again. No breaks.
For the die-hard survival game fan or players who love to skip all the tutorials and dive right in, this game is for you. Enjoy the art, music, and growth as you try to beat the timing of evolution itself. However, if you like clear objectives, missions and maybe a little hint of what to do when your ape breaks his leg and starts getting hunted by some type of large cat, I’d steer clear of this one.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Control an army of monkeys – planet of the apes come at me; Grooming for days; Survival at its most primal
Lowlights: Objectives are unclear; controls are not intuitive; Gameplay is repetitive
Developer: Panache Digital Games
Publisher: Private Division
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Available: Now (on Windows PC), November 2019 (PS4, Xbox One)
Review conducted on Windows PC with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.