Why are cavemen so 'in season' for gaming? (Cavemen... So hot right now)

It's going to be a big year for Neanderthals, with several games on the horizon that aim to get gamers looking at humanity's roots.

If you’re the kind of gamer who pays attention to industry trends, you may have noticed a strange phenomenon. Over the course of the next year or two, developers will be releasing several games that focus on humanity’s distant past. 2016 and 2017 are going to provide gamer’s with ample opportunities to cling to only their most basic instincts as they plan for hardship and survival as a caveman (or cavewoman, or caveman-like person).

We’re not the first person to notice this trend (stupid Game Informer beat us to the punch). Remember when storming the beaches of Normandy was fresh and exciting? Or when wading through a horde of undead was spine-tingling? And now they’re just boring. That’ll probably be cavepeople in five years, but right now our troglodytic cousins are set to take the stage in a big way.

Just check out what developers have in store:

ARK: Survival Evolved

ARK Survival Evolved screen shot

Already released to great acclaim as an open beta, you can currently get your prehistoric groove on through either Steam or Microsoft’s Xbox One Preview Program. The full game will be released later this July; at the moment, though, it’s basically just a sped-up simulation of the evolution of technology. And that all begins by waking up naked on a beach, fashioning crude instruments of survival, and overcoming the elements. (If you want a leg-up, check out some of our Ark guides.)

Sure, you eventually graduate to metal buildings and automatic rifles, but you begin your game as man once did, afraid and alone in a hostile wilderness. Then, of course, you get to ride a Bronto.


WiLD screen cap

The creator of platformer Rayman has something new in mind with his latest, the PS4 exclusive WiLD. French designer Michel Ancel is set to blend the fantastic with humanity’s real history. Set in the Neolithic period between 6,000 and 5,000 B.C.E., WiLD follows a shaman who’s able to commune with nature in some pretty cool ways. Summon gods, build colonies, and commune with animals to help tame the vast procedurally generated open world of ancient Europe.

As Ancel explains, “In this period ... the spirits are a mix of animals and humans, because nature was the most powerful thing on earth.” Also, there’s animal taming.

Far Cry Primal

Far Cry Primal

The folks at Ubisoft are set to take the Far Cry experience to a place its never been before. After exploring Africa as a mercenary, bro-ing your way through a dangerous tropical paradise, and freeing an oppressed people (only to get them re-oppressed almost immediately), Ubisoft Montreal is expanding on the caveman-esque dream sequences of Far Cry 4 with Far Cry Primal

Set for release on February 23, Primal throws players into the central Europe of 10,000 B.C.E. Expect a heavy reliance on the game’s patented melee combat and sneaking mechanics (which have developed into the best part of the series, anyway), as you lead your player character, Takkar, to his destiny as a tribal leader. Here's the first 50 minutes of gameplay for your consideration.

P.S. More animal taming.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

horizon zero dawn still pic

Another PS4 exclusive, Horizon Zero Dawn sets itself apart from the crowd because it actually features a woman for once, and there is no animal taming (that we know of). Also, while it incorporates caveman-like fighting tactics (a la the bow and arrow), it’s technically set 1,000 years in the future and the primary enemies are robotic dinosaurs for some reason. Honestly, do you really need a bunch of context to get excited about a game starring evil robo-dinos?

A huge, post-apocalyptic journey awaits the game’s star, a hunter named Aloy, as she embarks on an epic journey … yada yada yada … big secret … blah blah blah … forgotten civilization, etc. We're just happy the premise is actually unique within this new cliche. Anyway, the gameplay looks killer.

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey

Ancestors the humankind odyssey still

The guy who re-worked Prince of Persia and invented Assassin’s Creed, Patrice Desilets, is now working on a game that hopes to explore humanity’s history in its entirety as a third-person action survival game. Players can expect only the first episode or two to focus on our Stone Age origins. What’s more, Desilets seems to be going for something of a more peaceful vibe with this open world outing.

For example, according to the developer

“Our ancestors back then weren’t that violent. They weren't fighting each other. Cooperation and compassion are really part of the reason why we survived...There's no evidence of war before the invention of agriculture on this planet. That doesn't mean they didn't exist, but we've never found any evidence of it. There's not a lot of human beings on the planet, and once you first come across one, your first thought is not of killing them. It's like, 'Holy s*** there's somebody else! Let's try to help each other to survive because there's not a lot of food and there's a lot of beasts out there.’”


Before screenshot

Facepunch Studios (the guys behind Rust) unveiled Before in late 2014. The highly stylized RTS(?) stars a bunch of cavemen trying to establish themselves in a hostile world.

Not a whole lot is known about this one, but you can check out the ongoing (and painstakingly slow) development of the game right here.

But, dear god, why all the cavepeople?

Old School Game Caveman Ninja

Game Informer — who, as we mentioned, jerkishly noticed this trend like six months ago — attributes the popularity of these mechanics to the popularity of Minecraft, saying, “many of these games center around the hunting/gathering mechanics popularized in games like DayZ, Rust, and ARK: Survival Evolved, which in turn were all born out of a genre pioneered by Minecraft. So, it's entirely possible that this current rush of primal titles is thanks, in large part, to Mojang's uber-popular sandbox.”

And that may very well be the case; Minecraft is crazy popular and the gameplay itself is incredibly fun. Yes, building and taming play a part in several of these games, but that isn’t their unifying trait. These games seem to share a desire to examine humanity’s path across history, on the course we have charted since we first crawled down from the trees. 

Some theorize that when our world itself seems on the brink of drastic, potentially cataclysmic change, artists cushion the blow by imagining a world more hospitable than we fear (see: The Flintstones). 

With looming threats of global warming, nuclear armament, and Electronic Arts, it’s only natural to assume that the end is near and developers are projecting their imagination into that possible future.

Honestly, though, it’s probably just because the whole hunter-gatherer thing hasn’t been done a lot lately. There’s a currently under-utilized glee in stalking prey across an open world, having only your wits and the most basic of instruments, knowing that your victory in battle means the difference between life and death. Add to that the ability of the ‘roided up current-gen graphics engines to depict an immersive natural world teeming with life sounds like tons of fun. They aren’t wrong, after all.

Published Feb. 1st 2016
View Comments
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Thanks for the introduction to Before. Had not heard of it yet, but it is definitely on my wishlist now.

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