December 18, 2019
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a journey of discovery, a journey into the unknown and a window into our past and our evolution. But not just our evolution, the evolution of man. And by that, I don’t mean the process of evolution from apes to the soulless husks with our heads buried in our smartphones all day that we've become – I’m including myself in this, before you get offended – we’re talking about the beginning of our heritage here, learning to use two hands with opposable thumbs, learning to communicate with the rest of our race, passing traits onto our young and so on.
In Ancestors you take control of your own lineage of apes with the aim of evolving and creating a dynasty that will get passed on through your genes. What the ultimate goal is, however, is part of the problem with Ancestors: there doesn’t appear to be an actual end-goal in sight. The game even calls it a “never-ending odyssey” before you’ve even set foot in the jungle.
Ancestors, even before it starts, tries to drive home the message that this is an indie game, a game made by around 30 people. This isn’t a new Assassin’s Creed game from the father of the Assassin’s Creed series, Patrice Désilets, this is very much its own thing, with an infinitely smaller budget. It’s worth remembering that.
In essence, Ancestors is a survival game, so you could argue that the goal is to survive, but where Ancestors differs from other survival games is that it – on purpose, mind – gives you very little direction. In fact, the game pretty much begins by stating “good luck, we won’t help you much”, and indeed the game doesn’t help you much. At all.
Everything is a little bit vague, but that’s kind of developer Panache Digital’s point. Whether that translates this being a good experience or not comes down to the player and their patience, in truth. The worse thing for this game is Google (other search engines are available), in truth, as it takes away the mystery, the discovery and ultimately the satisfaction of the simple things in the game, which is one of the major reasons to play Ancestors.
Ancestors is a game of trial and error, but the problem with its trial and error is that sometimes the solutions don’t just seem all that logical. When you do discover something by yourself, the satisfaction that washes over you is one of the game’s biggest lures. I will say that Ancestors as it is now, compared to the Ancestors we played – and that was released on PC – a few months back, offers a hell of a lot more guidance, based on player feedback, but you could still argue that it’s not really enough.
Discovery is part and parcel of Ancestors' core gameplay, learning how to make a fence or healing a wound for the first time is what makes Ancestors a true joy at times, but sometimes that aspect can be frustrating. Sometimes the game has real issues explaining the basic mechanics, like how to heal a cut when you’ve taken a bit of a kicking. It's easy when you know how, but finally grasping how it works can be, as I said previously, a bit illogical.
The game tends to fall into a rhythm after a while and your memories of the opening hours, where everything was a challenge, start to slip away and you understand what Panache is trying to achieve. The biggest issue is that when the game does resonate with you, the gameplay has long grown repetitive: explore, conquer Fear, move camp, get attacked, search for poultice to heal wound, rinse and repeat. That's basically the majority of Ancestors, which is the game's biggest roadblock, in that once you've conquered the discovery element and fully grasp the world and the mechanics, the open-world just seems so empty, meaningless and more importantly, very predictable.
Controls-wise, Ancestors isn't that bad. In no time whatsoever you'll be swinging from branch to branch, all in an attempt to stay away from the dangers beneath you, almost as if the floor is lava. Roaming on the ground opens you up to the jungle's many predators, which is fair enough and all, but when you get out into the other biomes, the trees seem to be few and far between, leaving you susceptible to predators and numerous other dangers. There’s nothing more devastating than seeing your entire tribe get decimated by a pack of hyenas. Unless everyone is armed with a sharpened stick or the like in these situations, chances are you’re pretty much screwed.
Ultimately your enjoyment Ancestors will depend entirely upon how you approach it. If you're expecting Assassin's Creed with monkeys due to Patrice Désilets’ involvement, you're going to be seething. Alternatively, if you're looking for an experimental survival game created by a small studio, Ancestors might just surprise you. Like all experiments, though, some things work and a lot of things don't, but for anyone with a sense of discovery, anyone willing to look past the game's numerous foibles, you may find some enjoyment in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. I know I did.
There's not a lot to Ancestors from an audio perspective, although the audio clues can be a life saver at times. The music is solid, though rather sporadic.
Ancestors isn't going to wow you by any stretch of the imagination, and the game's other predators don't look all that impressive. That said, overall, it's not a bad looking game at all.
Getting used to the traversal mechanics and its nuances is a chore, but when you do, you'll be the embodiment of Tarzan in no time... You know, but an actual ape, rather than a fella in a loincloth.
We know the point of the game is about discovery, but a little extra guidance at times would have been appreciated. Ancestors gets repetitive quite quickly too.
For a game with little to no direction, Panache could have used the achievements for a little guidance… Regrettably, they did not. With only 13 trophies that require a lot of grind, it’s not the greatest of lists.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an experimental indie game that through all its issues and idiosyncrasies, can be fun for anyone seeking a survival game with a difference.