Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey (2019) is a survival adventure. But rather than controlling a specific character, you guide an entire lineage of primates trying to survive in prehistoric Africa and facilitate its evolution. It's unusual not only for this scenario, but how committed it is to recreating the futility and frustration of this slow progress alongside the joy and exhilaration of developing civilisation.
Play is intentionally open ended and not prescriptive. Information about systems are intentionally withheld to give the feeling of stumbling your way into the evolutionary future. You are left to discover how to progress and develop your community of primates. You guide a primate from a third-person perspective while you manage health, drinking, and sleeping. As you navigate the African jungle you need to think tangentially about how to cross rivers, ravines and other obstacles. As you do, you also need to be aware of threats, food and other items that may be useful to interact with. Picking up rocks to open coconuts for instant, or to use as a weapon.
These interactions and exploration isn't directed. You can climb trees to aid traversal. You can fight other animals but will suffer injuries if not careful. You also have to manage your mental state. Being hunted by predators will put you in a fear state. But you can calm and overcome this by finding glowing orbs of light.
It's a dangerous world, but one full of opportunities as well. You can use your heightened senses to listen out for predators, a lost clan members, or to hear outsiders who may be recruited. You can also use your primate intelligence to pinpoint items in the world and locate new food or tools.
This progress opens up more areas to explore. It's a little like Assassin's Creed in this way. As you make discoveries you become more intelligent and capable and get new skills (make bedding or medicinal plants). If you die, you are simply shifted to another clan member and can continue. However, if all clan members die, the lineage becomes extinct and you must restart.
Each time you birth a new child to your clan, the benefits you have learned so far are locked into your lineage. As this happens you also get random mutations that take your skills and traits in unexpected directions. This slowly edges you forward in evolution and (interestingly) compares your progress to what we know about the real history of this period.
The result is an unusual game because of its focus on discovery. For some this may make it too slow or not exciting enough. But those who can embrace this nonlinear experience will find a game that encourages experimentation.
Our examiner, Andy Robertson
, first checked Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey 23 months ago. It was re-examined by Jo Robertson
and updated 16 months ago.