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Primal Carnage Review

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From Lukewarm Media, Primal Carnage is a death-match style multiplayer game that pits dinosaurs against humans in an unnamed exotic locale (that we may or may not have first seen in 1993). When I first heard of this game, it was hard not to picture a group of humans quickly being eviscerated by their larger, pointier-toothed enemies. It was even harder not to picture everyone immediately jumping onto Team Dinosaur, because let’s be honest, who hasn’t dreamed of one day becoming a raptor?

Check out our full Primal Carnage review after the break.

primal-carnage-raptor

Rawr.

Fortunately both sides have a lot to offer thanks to a diverse class system giving players five different character-types to choose from on each team. With characters classes ranging armed to the teeth, (like the T-Rex – har har –  and the human Commando), to strategically outfitted (the blinding venom of the Dilophosaurus or the tranquilizer darts of the Scientist) to outlandishly unexpected (a flamethrower-chainsaw wielding Pyromaniac, and a flying Pteranodon that can pick up and drop unsuspecting humans), there are a lot options.

It’s a lot of fun to experiment with the different classes to find your own play style as a dinosaur or a human. Although I did enjoy taking on the role of a pouncing Novaraptor, I found myself gravitating towards the human Pathfinder, where I could temporarily blind dinosaurs with flares before getting up close and personal with my shotgun.

primal-carnage-pterodactyl

This probably won’t end well.

Fun classes aside though, what really makes this game work is how well balanced it is. On a macro level, the fast movement speed and wide surroundings offered as a dinosaur in third-person are countered by the more precise first person mode and long range of weapons for humans. Where dinosaurs can rely on more offensive, drive-by attacks, humans are built defensively, able to control how enemies come to them with flares and fire, as well as employing nets and tranquilizers to slow down larger enemies.

The highlight of the game, though, is how well classes on each team work together. With each character having its own strengths and weaknesses, no single player is a powerhouse on the battlefield – not even the mighty T-rex, who, while unquestionably terrifying with its giant jaws and teeth, takes time to move up from a vulnerable, lumbering pace to full-speed. The results of teamwork are effective – as simple as a Pyromaniac using flames to keep enemies off the back of a sniping Scientist, or as hilarious as the ragdoll effect that accompanies your human after she’s been blinded by Dilophosaurus and wanders unwittingly into the path of a Carnotaurus freight-train.

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Dinosaurs get the importance of teamwork.

Unfortunately for  Primal Carnage, there are times when it’s hard not get the impression that you’re playing a beta version instead of the full game. Bugs (which the support team seems to crack down on fairly quickly) are numerous, and there’s a lot of clipping in levels. The game also suffers from a small user-base. Outside of a server dedicated to playing The Docks map 24/7, it’s difficult to find a game with more than one or two players in it, or to try out new levels.  There’s also a lack of polish in menu designs.  UI feels plain – in a placeholder rather than an intentionally minimalist kind of way. Text is clickable in menus, but it’s often buried in with non-intractable text, and there is no obvious distinction between the two.  The HUD also runs into problems as it’s just not noticeable enough.  It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the heat of  battle to check a tiny stamina bar and the game could benefit a lot from increased  visual indicators of low health or stamina on screen.

Levels also have room for further development. At the time of review, the game only had five maps (all death match). Consisting primarily of flat jungle terrain surrounding a military base, levels tend to feel a lot alike – both visually and in terms of game play. The Docks map, taking place in a shipyard on the ocean,  was the most memorable.   With the possibility of accidentally falling or getting pushed into the ocean always looming, players have to keep a careful eye on their surroundings to make sure they have an escape route.

primal-carnage-trex

Tiny arms and bottom heavy – the sure sign of a bad swimmer.

While the Waterfall map offers some great views inside of a gigantic-broken bio-dome, there’s not a lot of enticement to go exploring in levels.  I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, it feels like a clever move by the developers. Humans are extremely vulnerable in the forest (where dinosaurs easily blend in with the surroundings), and quickly need to get to the safety of a man made area or higher ground after spawning. This means that levels are guaranteed to have points of high action as humans always want higher/more open ground, and dinosaurs will know where to find them.  On the other hand, the matches I played felt repetitive over time as battles had a tendency to stay confined to the same areas. With no points of interest, and resources (such as health and ammo) readily available, there is nothing to draw humans and dinosaurs away from usual areas of combat,  making the large level set up feel wasted.

(Side note: As of January 22, it the developers have added  a sixth map with the intriguingly nostalgic  title, Get to the Chopper. As the name insinuates, the humans must try to get to a helicopter, while dinosaurs try to stop them. Although I haven’t played it yet, objective-based levels would be an exciting addition to the game, and a great chance to increase exploration and experimentation in matches.)

TECHNICAL PRESENTATION

AUDIO – As far as sound goes, this game would only feel half complete without the iconic THUMP THUMP THUMP of an approaching  T-Rex we have all come to expect. Fortunately, the game did not overlook this important detail. Sound is well-used to the advantage of the player, with small rustles often being the only thing to announce the presence of a next-to-invisible enemy in the bushes. Adding to the fun, each type of dinosaur has been granted its own unique set of sounds, and players are free to make them roar at will. Humans aren’t quite so interesting – employing standard one-liners that tend to repeat a lot.

GRAPHICS – Visually, the game looks great. Levels have an appropriately exotic-adventure feel to them with forest environments feeling lush and alive, thanks to subtle touches, such as leaves swaying in the breeze. Dinosaurs, available in a variety of skins, are appropriately awesome. Their animations look and feel convincing, detailed enough to create noticeably distinguishable movements between the much heavier, larger dinosaurs and the smaller ones. Humans in first person mode don’t quite get the same treatment, taking the unnatural shooter-on-rails approach.

PROS:

+ You get to be a dinosaur/You get to fight dinosaurs
+ Well balanced with a great variety of character classes for both humans and dinosaurs
+ Great team-based mechanics that allow classes many options for working together as a comprehensive unit
+ Visuals and sound show attention to detail, giving each dinosaur its own unique look and feel to create a more realistic (and awesome) experience

CONS:

– Lack of a strong online user base – larger games are more fun, but it’s difficult to find a game with enough participants
– Beta-feel with unpolished UI and a lack of maps and play-mode varieties
– Matches can feel repetitive over time as combat always seems to take place in the same area of a map, and exploration is not encouraged

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, Primal Carnage is a well-balanced game with a lot of diversity and fun to offer players, be they human or dinosaur. A bit rough around the edges, and lacking in map variety, the developers of the game appear to be hard at work adding new content. With additional environments and play modes in the works to  hopefully build on its all ready solid foundation, Primal Carnage is a game to keep an eye on.

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About Brooke Fargo

Brooke is a game designer and writer based out of Victoria, BC. She talks entirely too much about her dog.

Posted on January 23, 2013, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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