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Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey Review - Some evolution required

Published: 15:46, 06 January 2020
Panache Digital Games
Key art for Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.
I am not cool with red toothed snakes. Not cool at all.

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is unquestionably original, and makes use of interesting mechanics as a major point of differentiation. However, technical shortcomings and a few odd choices hold it back from achieving its full potential.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the premise, as you develop a simian clan and navigate your way through an ever hostile world. One can't help but be impressed by the genuine effort made to lend a cinematic touch to proceedings, with excellent, context sensitive character animation and cutscenes that are well directed. 

Facial animation is also well defined, and you feel the stakes of each situation, with brutal, uncompromising wildlife lurking at every turn. In that respect, Ancestors absolutely delivers the goods. Where things start to fall apart is the cluttered UI and disjointed nature of each scenario. 

There's a sense that too much fat has been trimmed, with sequences jumping from one location to the next with no clear connective tissue. When you then factor in a mess of visual cues, designed to represent various senses, you're left with a graphical hodgepodge that never quite comes together to form a cohesive whole. 

The listening effect is the worst offender; overlapping elements make it almost impossible to distinguish between useful points of interest and the environment itself. This isn't helped by UI messaging and pop ups that seem determined to be obtrusive. Relevant tutorial information and button prompt reminders are one thing, but placement is all over the place and can be extremely distracting. 

For a game that is so determined to let you explore at your own pace and smell the roses, there's an awful lot of information and terminology being thrown on screen, with little opportunity to dig in and get used to each feature. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey too often gets in its own way. 

Panache Digital Games A monkey squares off against a predator in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. This guy brought a stick to a Sabertooth fight.

Traversal and persistent injury are two aspects that developer Panache Digital Games definitely got right. You can scramble up and vault over almost any surface, with a [more generous] Breath of the Wild style stamina meter that dictates the amount of action you can perform without resting. 

Scaling the side of a cliff, or escaping an unwinnable scrap, feel great, with a lovely sense of momentum. Exploring the world itself is certainly enjoyable. Suffer a nasty fall, or get caught unprepared, and you could end up rocking some serious injuries. A broken leg isn't instantly fatal, but it can massively affect your priorities as you seek out sustenance to aid in healing. 

It's an effective system that strikes a neat balance between realism and fun. Once again, it raises the stakes in a meaningful way, without unintentionally transforming the entire game into a slog. 

There are huge slices of ingenuity sprinkled throughout Ancestor's: The Humankind Odyssey, but it's a flawed experience that, while it should be applauded for taking risks and trying something new, fails to nail the basics. 

Panache Digital Games Four monkeys observing winged creatures in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. Those monkeys WISH they had wings.

5/10

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is available now, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

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