When we were kids, we all heard the story of the ugly duckling. How this out of place bird was mocked horribly for its looks and shunned by the duck community. Eventually, the duck grew up to be a beautiful swan, filled with massive swan swag, and was able to dominate over all of his duckling friends in body building contests, or something like that. I really wasn’t paying attention. It’s a touching story to be sure, but it does gloss over the key point: that was still an ugly ass duckling. Primal Carnage has all of the pieces in place to eventually be one of my favorite games if it lives up to what the developers are promising, but for the here and now it’s an ugly duckling. The good news is that it’s starting to molt.
The premise of Primal Carnage is fairly simple. Some dinosaurs have gotten loose on an old military controlled island after a series of experiments went awry. A team of mercenaries has been dispatched to the island to contain the beasts. Players are split into two teams in the asymmetrical shooter, and are thrown into five environments as they battle it out for supremacy of the island.
Both teams have five different classes available to choose from, each with a distinct set of abilities. While playing as the humans, you’ll have access to the Commando, Scientist, Pathfinder, Trapper and Pyromaniac. The Trapper has been my go-to class, with his netgun that can immobilize the smaller dinosaurs and can severely damage or trap larger ones. The Commando, on the other hand, is armed with a massive assault rifle with an under slung grenade launcher, which happens to allow for a more direct approach. The Pathfinder can drop flares to blind the dinosaurs, the Scientist can use her trusty sniper rifle, and the Pyromaniac, well, he sets things on fire. The bottom line is that no matter what your preferred play style is there is something here to cater to you.
On the dinosaur side of the coin, you’ll be able to choose from a Tyrannosaurus, Novaraptor, Dilophosaurus, Pteranodon, or Carnotaurus. Each species plays precisely how you think it would. The Dilophosaurus spits venom into the eyes of humans, blinding them temporarily, while the Pteranodon flies over the map pointing out humans while swooping in and lifting them high into the sky before dropping them to their certain death. On top of the base skills for each dinosaur, they all have a unique roar that will unlock a temporary bonus. Pteranodons will highlight humans on the map for everyone else on your team, while the roar of a Tyrannosaurus will allow any dinosaurs in your vicinity to regain a bit of health. It’s a really interesting mechanic that can be a game changer when used correctly.
Now, all of you paleontologists who frequent We Got This Covered will be quick to point out that the Novaraptor isn’t a real thing. While this isn’t explicitly stated, I have to assume that this is a result of the military experiments that took place on the island. Really, this is just a cover to maintain some degree of realism with a raptor class, since the species we know of wouldn’t really have been able to reach that size.
The audio in the game is simple but effective. There’s just enough background noise to draw you into the scenery, and the dinosaurs fill the air with mighty bellows. My only complaint here is that I wish the dinosaurs would make more noise when they’re moving around, specifically the larger species. While there are few things in gaming that have shocked me, one is definitely having a Tyrannosaurus sneak up on me. I have to imagine I would have heard them coming in the wild.
The game itself looks fantastic, although it’s not quite optimized. The textures on the dinosaurs look amazing, and the foliage is dense enough to hide in without appearing tacked on. The flowing rivers and detailed trees really leave this game looking great. I ran into some frame rate issues here and there, which really caused a bit of concern since I have a fairly beefy system. There are also a few issues with collision detection, specifically when eating the dinosaur corpses to regain health. If I tried to feed at an angle, the screen would bounce violently up and down, but the actual action wasn’t affected. I’ve run into a few other instances of this and, although it’s not game breaking, it is an annoyance.
Matches are extremely fast-paced with teams alternating between humans and dinosaurs in-between rounds during team deathmatch. On servers with a low population, it’s an extremely tense game of cat and mouse, and the dinosaurs plot their movements carefully to catch the humans off guard while the humans try to stay together in order to fend off the beasts. On servers with a larger population, it’s all out chaos as humans are forced into clumps while the dinos pepper them from all sides. It’s really an incredible amount of fun, and something that could easily be one of my go-to games.
Now, if it’s as much as fun as I say it is, why did my review start off negatively? Well, as much fun as the game is in its current state, there are some crippling shortcomings. It can be extremely hard to be effective as a dinosaur against massive clumps of humans, and with the way health and ammo boxes are laid out there’s no incentive for humans to break away once they’ve found a defensible position. If you get on a large enough server, it is all but guaranteed that the humans will have bunkered down around a health pack. With no incentive to leave the area, they’ll probably be there for the entire game. Now, this doesn’t guarantee success or failure, but it does remove a lot of the tactical part of the gameplay for a “run in and try to bite something” style of play.
Primal Carnage would be well served studying games like Left 4 Dead 2, where asymmetrical gameplay really works. As it stands right now, the only two ways to flush out humans effectively are with the spit of a Dilophosaurus or charging in with a Carnotaurus. The issue is that the Dilophosaurus’ spit doesn’t cover nearly enough ground, and you’ll often be shot to death before making any real progress charging in as a Carnotaurus.
The developers at Lukewarm Media promise to flesh out the game with more modes and features in the future, including free DLC and some objective based game types. However, I unfortunately have to review the game I have now as opposed to what could potentially be coming down the road.
Primal Carnage is an absolute delight to play, but in its current state it’s hard to fully recommend. It’s really not advisable to buy a product on the basis of promises for the future, and what’s available now is a bit on the small end. However, this is the first man versus dinosaur game that has really delivered on the premise, and I’d have to say it’s the best dinosaur-based game I’ve played in recent memory. I sincerely hope that everything comes to fruition over the next few months. If what I’ve been playing so far is any indication, there is potential for this to be a “must play” game down the road. However, at this point in time, this game will have to settle for “good” instead of living up to its full potential.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game given to us for review purposes.