Gut Check – Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey

There are games that nail various aspects of their design, from story to gameplay and so on, but rarely do I find a game that is so fascinating that I’m willing to overlook its various shortcomings.  That’s the way i feel about Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey and its bizarre offerings.

I guess you could call Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey an action-RPG with survival mechanics if you really wanted to put it in a box, but it’s so much more than a genre descriptor could ever truly describe.

You play as an early hominid about ten million years ago, trying not only to survive, but to learn and pass on as much knowledge as you can to future generations.  The pitch is incredibly interesting, but the execution is questionable at best.

The idea is that you’re learning along with the player character, not necessarily in what skills and concepts you pick up, but in how to do literally anything in the game.  It kind of feels like you’re learning two games at once.

I wouldn’t normally explain control schemes, but I feel like it’s necessary in this case.  You’ve got standard movement and camera controls, but to run or jump you have to hold down the A button to run, and release that hold to jump.  It reminds me a lot of how Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater controlled oddly enough.  You also have different sense mapped to different face buttons.  One activates your smell, your hearing and your intelligence I think?  But rarely have any of these senses been useful because everything is so obtuse in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.

For instance, there are essentially mini-games that you need to succeed at to do everything.  Want to sharpen a stick with a rock?  Well you need to not only have a rock in one hand and a stick in the other, but then you need to play this timing based game where you repeatedly smash the rock into the stick until it’s sharp.  Want to stab a wild boar?  Well you can’t unless you have the sharp stick in hand and dodge into the attacking boar at the right time.  Weird, right?

It gets even more confusing when you are unlocking new abilities.  You have a skill tree for your current character, and you unlock abilities by doing or encountering things.  For example, I ate a mushroom that poisoned me, but not because it was poisonous, but because I was a carnivore and my metabolism wasn’t prepared for an omnivorous diet.  Eating more of these would increase my tolerance, (I think?) and allow me to unlock a better metabolism in the skill tree.

But that skill only applies to this current character.  To lock these in, you need to take a kid along with you on your adventures so they learn it.  Doing that allows you to “reinforce” a skill, making it something that is inherently known for future generations.  But if you die with a baby on your back, you suddenly play as the baby who has to find a hiding spot.  Once you do that, you transport into another living adult, and have to recover the child by finding them, and playing the worst mini-game I’ve ever seen.  You have to essentially calm the kid by howling at it at the right time, but it feels completely arbitrary as to when that timing window is, and doesn’t give you any feedback at all.

And that’s all I came back with in the first hour or so!  Who knows what other craziness is thrown at me later in the game.

Ultimately we have a game that controls oddly, doesn’t give you any real direction, and has obtuse and obfuscated mechanics.  All of that said, I can’t stop thinking about this stupid game.  It’s so weird that despite all of the fundamental issues I have with it as a game, I need to know what happens next.  Is there a point where I eventually become a human?  Do I learn how to make fire?  Can I make weapons and hunt stuff instead of being terrified of literally anything that crosses my path?  Who can say?  All I know is that despite its flaws, I want to see what else is going on in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.

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