Perhaps the one moment in Sony’s Paris Games Week press conference which will have sold people on Wild, the latest creation of Michel Ancel, was being able to climb on and ride the back of a bear around the world, sliding down hills on its bum in the process. Getting to that point, however, will be a long and arduous journey of discovery and learning through the wide open world that the game puts before you.
In fact, for much of the game you might consider the bears to be your enemies, as dangerous predators who will not look kindly upon your presence within their territory. This is set at a time when humans are far from being the dominant force within this world, instead forced to learn how to live in harmony with their surroundings.
As a shaman, you’re the link between your tribe and the nature that surrounds you, but you still have much to learn before you can master them. The demo shown at PGW and also live behind closed doors tasked the shaman with bringing a snake to one of the major landmark alters, in order to start the journey to being able to possess and play as them, or have them accompany you on your quests.
With a bear to ride through the darkening world, there’s little to fear from what you might encounter, but the world will change as the sun dips below the horizon. Different animals will come to the fore, wolves will roam more freely, you could expect owls to keep watch from the trees, keeping a look out for the smaller nighttime creatures on which they prey.
As night falls, the world is consumed by impenetrable, inky blackness that makes it almost impossible to see, but a pull of the camera easily sets up some sublime shots of the shaman riding the bear, silhouetted against the fading light of the sky. With so many unknowns in the darkness, it will almost certainly be better to return to your camp for the night or, if that’s not possible, at least take shelter in one of the larger trees. Yet there might also be animals that you can possess to lend you vision through the night.
Those animals can be both big and small, and approaching the landmark the next day reveals it to be inhabited by a tribe of cannibals. The perfect opportunity to take control of a rabbit and use its diminutive size to your advantage and scope out the area. The stage demo might have shown the ability to hop to and harness a murder of crows to distract the tribesmen, but in truth, charging in with the bear, swiping at and hurling a few of the cannibals to the ground before unleashing an almighty roar can intimidate them and send them running, even if they had the numerical advantage.
As that roar echoes off into the distance, though, it could have other consequences, and draw prospective predators toward you. Maybe you want that to happen, and a rabbit or other small animal can also be used as bait to bring an animal you wish to encounter out into the open. This is a powerful interplay, as bringing an animal to a landmark lets you summon their respective gods and form a divinity, granting you the eventual ability to command and play as those animals. That’s easier said than done when it comes to the larger and more powerful beasts – such as the bear – but there could be opportunities to nurse a wounded cub back to health and form a bond over time as they grow older.
However, it’s not as simple as just getting to the altar and presenting a creature. You will have to earn the right to that species’ divinity, and the gods may ask you to perform various tasks or make cruel sacrifices, such as that of an animal in your cohort or a member of your tribe. Even then, you’ll have to spend several days as that animal, a snake in the demo, learning about how they behave and what they eat.
That knowledge might come in handy as you find other players in the world, with as open and freeform a multiplayer experience as the world itself. A good comparison would be to the Dark Souls or Bloodborne games, where allies can join you, allowing you to run with a pack of wolves led by your buddy, but where foes can also strike when you least expect it. When possessing an animal, your shaman is left in a weakened state, oblivious to their surroundings as they fully inhabit that animal, and perfect prey for someone invading your world with murderous intent.
As Michel Ancel stretches his wings beyond Ubisoft – don’t worry, he’s still spending half his time working on secret projects there which may or may not include Beyond Good & Evil 2 – what has come from the team at Wild Sheep is a truly enthralling concept. It’s might not be a particularly focussed game with clearly defined objectives and goals, but the potential to grow and explore in a world that will initially start off so hostile to you is quite fascinating. And then there’s the simple fact that you will be able to ride a bear.