(Best read as David Attenborough) Here we get to experience the ancient Hominid in its natural environment, the heart of prehistoric Africa. They have many natural predators from snakes to wild boars. Every plant surrounding them could be their end. Whether they survive or not depends on you.
Survival of the Fittest
Have you ever wondered what life was like 10 million years ago? How we, as a species, evolved? This game takes on the task of answering this question. The idea behind Ancestors is ingenious, and I hope to see more like it. It is classified as a “Survival” game, however, I would rather like to see it as a “Survival of the fittest” game. Essentially that is what this game is. You are in control of our ancient ancestors, doing your best to overcome all the obstacles laid out before you. There are no “quests”, the only objective is survival. This game does not hold your hand at all, save brief tutorials on mechanics. It encourages discovery and adaptation. From increasing your ability to eat different kinds of foods to make tools to help you in this untamed world. There is so much to discover and learn to help your clan along the way. There are also many things that can wipe out your entire clan in one fell swoop. Ancestors looks pretty good, the graphics are decent, however, the Hominids can look a little “off”. The environment is beautiful, looking out over the trees during sunrise is breathtaking.
A Fierce Learning Curve
Let me tell you a tale of the clan Callunas. After the first evolution, we migrated to a more open space by a beautiful waterfall. Our home was on the top of a ridge and there was plenty of food and natural resources for crafting. It was ideal. Until we were set upon by a Golden Machairodus (a saber-tooth cat). I spent the next 20 minutes in tears watching as this vicious beast ravaged my camp and killed every last of my precious ancestors. It was heartbreaking trying to escape as a baby only to be grabbed and mauled. At this point, I realized the game had not auto-saved and I was able to reload and move to a more secure location. This was my first lesson in Dodging and exactly how important survival and smarts are in Ancestors. Arming all of the adults in the clan is incredibly important, especially when you spend your “points” upgrading your nervous system to allow any armed adult to act in defense of itself. Dodging can be a tad wonky at first, but once you learn how it becomes easier. When a predator is lunging a button prompt shows on the screen, hit the left stick to either the left or right and hold A until you hear a sound, then let go and you will roll out of the way easily. Hold B to intimidate and if you have enough of your brethren around you will scare the beast away. You can also panic when confronted by a beast. There is a Dopamine meter at the bottom, when it is empty you lose control of your Hominid and they scamper away as far as they can, find some fruit to replenish. Fear is also a thing in this game, and it is really well done. The screen starts to go dark, you hear strange noises and see things that aren’t really there. You can conquer your fear by using intelligence or your senses to discover things around you, then following the wind, finding the white light and holding B. This increases your home area.
One of the first things I did as my first Hominid was to pick up a rock and throw it to see what it would do. I put my little digital hands on everything I could. Soon I learned to switch hands and manipulate items into something better. This was a long process, it can be hard to gauge when the sound would happen and sometimes I overshot, breaking the item. I then had to find another to craft in its place. Once I got the timing down I was banging rocks together to find a grindstone or a sharp edge I could use to shear down sticks to pointy weapons.
Counterattacking is the same idea as dodging, however you push your left stick toward the enemy while holding A to fight back. Some creatures only need one stick through the face to end them, the tougher ones, like said Golden Machairodus, need two jabs. Needless to say, as soon as I had a nice little hoard of pointy sticks it was time to take revenge on my child-killing nemesis. The drama had drawn my family around me and they watched eagerly as I trash-talked this digital cat while I stabbed it repeatedly. There were thunderous applause and cheering. Revenge felt good. I love the sound prompts, learning the muscle memory of reacting and getting the timing down. It gives the game a need for the skill, walking around and jumping from tree to tree is pretty easy, but crafting, something that would require skill in real life is reflected by the need for quick reflexes.
Children are Our Future
Babies are cute, right? With their big eyes and adorable little faces. In Ancestors, they are the key to learning new abilities and unlocking mutations to help your clan get a few more generations. The key is giving the little tykes piggyback rides. Seriously. Grab one (or two) and head out on your daily tasks, whether that’s crafting, foraging for food or literally just standing up and soon you will have enough neural energy to spend learning new things. Mating fertile Hominids is essential in carrying on the line, it is as easy as holding B down, don’t worry, you don’t have to watch. So far it looks like each Hominid can only have 2 babies, so it takes a little bit of thought and planning. The game will not allow family-related Hominids to procreate (Yay genetic diversity). So grab a kid and head out on an adventure to discover new areas, or destroy enemies. There are tons of things to learn and do in this game, I’ve put in about 15-20 hours so far and I know there is plenty I am missing. Once you have learned what you want with the adults it is time to change generations, you can lock in the most important skills to pass on to the babies before you do. Same goes for evolving. Accomplishing feats adds years on to your evolution, and doing something before our Ancestors did gives a little bonus. I like the idea of being measured against nature, so far I’m only 10,000 years behind Mother Nature.
Does Evolution Make for Modern Fun?
“So, Ldycalluna, is it good?” I hear you ask. Short answer, yes. I have thoroughly enjoyed this game to the point of addiction. I am emotionally invested in my clan and I really want to see the end game. There are some things, like all games, that can be adjusted to help of course. There are some camera issues when climbing, but nothing too disconcerting. I’d like the sound prompt to be a little louder than the rest of the ambient noise, but to be honest, that could be a setting I haven’t discovered yet.
I have really had a blast with this game and I am so honored I got the chance to share my thoughts. If you have read around the reviews are kind of all over the place, so I wanted to take a moment to address this. This game is not a traditional survival game. You will not be a bad-ass out of the gate. You will have to spend time learning and teaching your Hominids before you can make your way up the food chain. There are no guns, no stealth, and no aerial attacks. It is a game that is beautiful in its brutality. The odds are stacked against your clan from the get-go and it is up to you to tip the scales in your favor. You will die and have to restart the game, but you will carry what you’ve already learned to make that second play-through easier. This game is definitely worth spending some time and money on. I will be getting it for Xbox one when it releases. Hey, Private Division & Panache, are you taking pre-orders??