There are times when you get told about distant relatives; usually as families come together whilst at weddings or funerals with things going just a few generations back, normally involving some incident that the family is a bit embarrassed by. But what about the other ancestors? The ones that go way back… about a million years or so. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey takes us on a journey to deal with how mankind came about, and how we came to be who we are today. It’s a game that thrives on ambition, scope, and excitement. But does it pay off?
Ancestors has a good lineage in its DNA, and that is because the writer and developer, Patrice Desilets, was behind the first game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise – and that alone is enough to ensure that this is an intriguing prospect. The Humankind Odyssey however puts you into the role of our earliest relatives, a sort of ape/human being at the start of their journey, traipsing through the jungles of Africa. The game is played in the third person and works as a survival experience that is completely original to any game I’ve played in recent times.
You start things off as the mother ape, with an infant strapped to your back. Something terrible happens, and you find yourself playing as the infant lost in a scary world. You find a hiding place and then you cry out to your clan for help. And it is here where you fast discover yourself switching to one of the clan members, going out in search of the missing infant.
The Humankind Odyssey kicks things off by delivering you a bit of a tutorial, but it doesn’t hold your hand or give you mission markers; it’s all up to you to survive, evolve and build your ancestry. This occurs by actioning specific things, progressing through the environments, running, jumping and climbing across terrains, all the while utilising your great ability. You’ll need to be careful though, as should you fall too far you will run the risk of breaking bones.
Initially there is the addition of a great gameplay element to help you along, that of intelligence. With the touch of the Y button, it is this which shows you where things are around you, allowing the chance to explore or use hearing and smell. This could mean you may stumble upon food or new tools which you’ll need to work out how to use. It is the former which is most important though as, alongside keeping wood and being watered, food is a priority. This comes about via the discovery, examination, then eating of plants. You will have to be aware as to what you find though, as you might get poisoned and disaster could strike. Thankfully, drinking loads of water always seems to do the trick. There are some nice little touches to this whole system too, like when you are found eating meat for the first time and your stomach can’t handle the change until evolution kicks in.
The jungles of Africa aren’t a particularly nice place to be though, especially if you just want to hang out as a pre-human; it’s full of horrors with giant snakes and saber-toothed tigers all wanting to kill you. And the more predators out hunting you, the more your fear level starts to rise. When that happens you have to get to a safe place – like the clan’s home – or you will get hysterical, finding yourself in a whole heap of trouble. If you get killed or die then you automatically get transferred to another clan member to take over from where you left off, but should the whole clan die then the game is over and you have to start again.
Back at the clan home and your main job is to survive, build the clan and then rediscover and claim new areas for your home. There is grooming to be done too, and it is this which might lead to mating and in turn the arrival of newborns. Further to that, sleeping will see you gaining access to a skill-based tree, where you might gain knowledge of what you’ve learned from your experiences in the day. For example, you may have developed your motor skill ability or used some tools, letting you open a neuron-level that develops the species as a whole. The more knowledge you gain then the faster you then move your species on to the next generation. It’s all very clever as a game mechanic, and extremely deep.
These gameplay elements work well with the visuals too; of which some are pretty frightening. The jungles of Africa are certainly a scary place to be – especially from a primate’s point of view – and there feels like there is danger lurking around every corner in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. When you get scared and near hysteria, the game does a clever thing where it shows shadowy dangerous figures lurking everywhere, building up the tension even more. There are unfortunately a few camera angle issues that crop up at certain times, especially when you are left to try and dodge your way out of attacks, but for the most part things look and feel good. It sounds decent too, with effects and jungle noise immersing you into the environment.
All things considered and Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey on Xbox One is a game that I really admire; in fact it’s got me hooked. The gameplay itself doesn’t hold your hand and is for the gamer who likes a challenge. Whilst that does at times mean things feel like a grind, leaving you to repeat the same thing quite a few times, in reality life is hard and the game reflects the brutal nature of this. It is extremely deep and highly original too, and you’ll certainly be rewarded for patience and perseverance. Because of this, if you are after something challenging, original and complete with loads of gameplay hours then Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey could well be the game for you.