Published on September 27th, 2019 | by Chris O'Connor
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey PC Review
Summary: Help your early ancestors tame a savage landscape and evolve towards modern humans.
I’ve been very slow getting this review up… but there’s a reason for that and the reason I’m putting it up now is a bookend for my experience with Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. My initial impression was severely soured by the words popping up on the screen “this game is best experienced with a controller”… followed by control prompts sometimes giving me the correct PC keyboard reference and other times still showing their controller “lineage”. Now I don’t mind people using controllers… I think it’s great that the option is there for those who want it, but to shoe horn players into using them ticks me off and even more so when the game makers can’t be bothered to make sure their control prompts change appropriately for the control type the player is using.
But then I got my head around the controls and started to get into the game… and it is quite compelling! As someone who studied paleo-anthropology I was always a key target for this game… having some experience with what our early ancestors went through, I had a bit of an idea as to how to proceed to get my clan started. I can say from first hand experience that stone tool making is definitely not easy… so all credit to our hominid forebares. There are certainly key moments in your development that ring true as milestones and are very satisfying to achieve.
The gameplay is an interesting choice… in that the developers essentially tell you “we aren’t going to tell you what to do”… there are some very gentle prompts… but they are quite right in that the majority of the learning is up to you. So while you are trying to get your hominids to learn how to evolve… you yourself are trying to learn what you need to do to advance to the next stage of evolution. This has pros and cons. On the negative side, it can be quite frustrating trying to figure out how to do certain tasks (this is not helped by the sometimes clumsy move/selection mechanic). On the positive side… it can help it feel even more like you are indeed trying to help your early ancestor learn how to master the world around them.
But I should talk a little more about that movement/selection mechanic as it’s the main thing that hangs over the game as a frustration (albeit you learn to deal with it pretty well after a while). I can only assume in part due to the apparent console focus of this game that the notion of precision selection is just not an option… I know some people are quite deft at a controller and can achieve high accuracy in selection with it… but certainly with a mouse it should be easy enough to select between numerous options… in Ancestors… not so. At times it could be somewhat forgiven, for example when you have been living in your clan’s settlement for so long that you have almost a screen worth of things your hominid can focus on… that can get a bit cluttered and understandable. But from time to time you may find yourself having trouble selecting something like a plant that just happens to be growing near where you made a bed/nest and for the life of you, you won’t be able to select it. It can be massively frustrating.
But the bookend to my experience came tonight, around 800 or 900 years into my evolutionary experience my computer turned itself off… then on again. When I went back to the game to continue my clan’s evolution… it didn’t have the continue option highlighted. “Ok”, I thought “perhaps the power cycle confused it”. I checked the save game slot and it wasn’t there… I had lost about 300 years of evolution. Oh yeah… I didn’t mention, the game doesn’t let you save your game. It has automatic saves… but only one per game… so no backups if anything goes wrong. As someone who grew up playing things like Sierra Adventure game where saving was second nature… the notion of not only not being able to choose when to save but also to having no “backup” save is pretty frustrating… especially when you just lost 300 years of evolutionary advancements.
Overall, I would still really recommend the game… for anyone interested in a rough idea of what our early ancestors went through as they slowly evolved over time… this game does offer an effective look and feel for that. It has some pretty irritating issues… but for the most part it is likely to draw you in and see you exploring your environment trying to unlock that next ability that will unlock the next branch on the family tree. Evolutionary denialists… well I assume they are not even considering this title anyway, for everyone else… if you can get past the hangups… Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey actually manages to mix a bit of education with an interesting game that may well find you absorbed for hours on end.