Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is developed by Panache Digital Games and published by Private Division. You control the fate of a small clan of Hominids, that’s apes for those not in the know. The game begins 10 million years ago in the brutal setting of the African plain, where it is very much eat or be eaten. Life is challenging for an ape, especially when you have barely evolved the basic skills to survive.
This open world survival game opens with the statement “Good luck we won’t help you much”; wow, they were not lying. I’m sure ape hands aren’t the cleanest of things to hold, but some hand holding would have been pleasant when trying to navigate your way through this brutal and unforgiving learning curve. Challenged with managing hunger, thirst and sleep you must expand your clan and your territory, whilst learning the vital skills required to evolve to the next stage of life. Every task completed helps your species become; smarter, stronger, faster and more alert. Use your natural instincts; sense and hearing to be aware of your surroundings, and master your ever increasing intelligence to identify resources that you will need to create basic structures and tools. Utilise these to re-home yourselves and fight off the ever present predators that you will encounter on your journey.
Once I started the game, I was hit with an almost Atari-esque loading time. Now, this can be explained by the massive open world map and number of contrasting environments which includes jungles, woodlands, oceans, swamps and an expansive Savannah. I would suggest when you start the game just put the kettle on, or do some housework as it really does take a while. Anyway back to the discussion of the environments, I genuinely enjoyed the beautiful backdrops that you travel across during your time exploring Africa. Swinging from tree to tree as predators try to make you their next meal was great fun. I will never tire of finding the largest tree and climbing to its peak; I would just sit and take in the view, absorbing the authentic ambient sounds. Every zone has its own challenges and predators for you to overcome. Climb a mountain, swim across a hippo and crocodile infested swamp lake, relax by the ocean and swing through the trees of the jungle and woodlands. For me, the tasks were repetitive but I never got bored of them.
As you travel further away from your settlement to find new lands, your ape will become anxious and unsure of its environment, this will evoke a fear cycle. I both loved and hated this element, and I’ll explain why. I loved the audio and setting used. The shrieks of predatory beasts and the darkening fog made me feel anxious and I strongly empathised with my character. I wanted to overcome the fear as much as my Hominid wanted too. What I hated was the numerous predators that would suddenly appear out of the darkness making the task exceptionally challenging, it almost felt totally unbalanced towards the NPC and was particularly tough when it repeatedly thwarted the game’s progress.
The gameplay and progress has been slowed down considerably due to the necessity to be stood still when scanning any resources, smelling or hearing. This will frustrate players especially when a limited window of view will require you to shuffle around to complete a full scan. This is compounded further when you place your character too close to any usable item, it will automatically select that opposed to completing the required scan, so more shuffling around is required to get a better view. Unfortunately this isn’t the only downside for the control system. Further issues are shown when climbing trees. Careful positioning and lining up is required when you move from trunk to small branch, leaping from one tree to another is exhilarating, but it is also a bit of a leap of faith. If you misjudge your attempt you are going to fall and be guaranteed a broken limb. This being said, it would be unfair to say the controls are terrible, they are not. All elements of Ancestors takes time and effort to understand, so plenty of practice is required to master them, now I’m not saying I’m a master, not by any stretch, as I fall out of the trees at least once an hour.
Ancestors really excels in the audio department, every element of it works. The music transports you to the African plains, whilst the ambient sound fills you with intrigue and terror all in equal measures. The delightful sounds of the apes communicating is an absolute joy. Concern and worry build when a member of the clan is injured, tired or ill. Their heavy breathing and whimpering moans can be heard clearly. You feel engrossed in your adventure as the tempo of the music either lays a sombre tune for those sad and still moments, or increases the beat when danger is close by. The audio is instantly recognisable and makes the game a pleasure to play.
Nearly all of the actions in the game require you to listen out for an almost inaudible chime. This denotes the correct timing for your action. Failure to get this correct will result in loss of resources, or loss of your life if it happens to be a crocodile that you are facing. With the audio chime being so key, I’d strongly recommend headphones unless you love your soundbar blasting out jungle sounds from 10 million years ago.
Disappointingly I cannot place equal praise onto the graphics, this isn’t to say that parts aren’t great, unfortunately there are just a few issues. I’m going to break this down to game graphics and cinematic. The game graphics for the environment are beautiful, the weather conditions are realistic, and the use of the day night cycle is very well executed. However I couldn’t get past how poor the ape fur was, it just looked blocky and rough, a real throw back to the late Xbox 360 games where the developers tried desperately to make the hair look real and lifelike, but every time failed. The fur somehow got worse when wet, a shiny mess that neither represented fur or hair, but a badly executed and outdated mess. The cinematic (believe me you will be seeing a lot) is absolutely brutal. If you did not believe it’s a dog eat dog world then the cut scenes will have you converted. As a whole the quality is very good, and the majority of them give you a nice overview of what has just occurred. The issue I had though minor was a number of visual glitches. Bodies would be clipping or morphing into one another, this didn’t ruin the game it just made it feel a little rough around the edges.
There is nothing in the way of ape visual customisation. This was disappointing as I wanted to go all Cesar from The Planet of The Apes. The game however does have character development in the way of a Neuron image. As you explore and complete any task you gather something called Neuron energy. You then must practice a task enough to unlock the skill associated and then use your Neuron energy to activate it. Clear as mud? Well that is standard for Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, once you understand each element its as easy as walk in the park, or a jungle if you happen to be an ape. The progress tree really does have a number of complex areas, but I’ll allow you to discover them as I don’t want to spoil all of the secrets for you.
Finally I want to touch on what I believe is missing that made the game unnecessarily challenging, and then what I would like to see added.
As an Open World Adventure Survival game you must explore the land and push the boundaries of your territory. I certainly did that for hours straight, I loved every ape tree swinging minute of it. That was until I wanted to return to my settlement and my ape family. I was too far away to see the marker for my home, no compass to guide me, and more importantly no map. How on earth can you explore when the game provides you with no map for guidance.
I touched upon the three survival elements; hunger, thirst and sleep. These are rolled into one vitality orb that is ever present at the bottom of the screen. The issue I found was I could not identify with ease what was causing vitality loss. It would have been much easier if it was separated, even if it was located in a sub menu.
What I believe Panache Digital Games is missing at the moment are some key survival elements which make players want to come back for more, and give you a sense of belonging. You can find and establish a settlement and complete simple structures to increase defensive capabilities, but that is it. I would have loved to see the apes increased intelligence and dexterity increase the options available in the building category. The classic vision of prehistoric man finding fire is also missing. You do not get to experience primates screaming with terror and wonderment as mans red flame lights up the night sky. The game absolutely has plenty to draw you back into playing, I just feel this small tweak would have given a much deeper feel to the settlements, and that ever important sense of belonging.
How to sum up a game like Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey? A game that grew on me after 4 or 5 hours of sheer hell. The lack of guidance had me restarting numerous times, and still I failed miserably. I am glad I persisted though, once you break through the almost unbearable learning curve you discover a game of beauty and detail that leaves other survival games in the dirt. If the survival game genre is your thing I think you will not go wrong with adding this title to your library. Can you evolve your apes and find the missing link, you have plenty of time and lots of the African plains to find the answer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Ancestors: Humankind Odyssey Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 6/10
User Review( votes)
Survive the harsh environment of the African plains 10 million years in the past. Take your clan of apes on an expedition, overcome your fears, learn and expand your territory. Become stronger, faster and more intelligent. Do you have what it takes to survive and evolve?
Vast and varied environment,
A sense of empathy towards your clan,
Fun and relaxing once you overcome the learning curve.
Brutal learning curve,
Controls can be fiddly,
No in depth building mechanic,