Having the foresight to predict what should be the "next big thing," developer Lukewarm Media has delivered its first game, Primal Carnage, under Reverb Publishing. Though there are a few meteor-sized holes in the game's feature list and polished sheen, Primal Carnage makes a good first impression, with some deep thought put into its strange (and awesome) gimmick. Unlike that other multiplayer dinosaur game, dinos in Primal Carnage have no weapons strapped to them to balance the human's powerful arsenal. Instead, all dinosaurs – which play in the third-person perspective – stick to melee combat. Both factions feature five classes of dinos or humans, each with their own style of play and special abilities.
On the human side – played from first-person – classes are broken into weapon-types and either a secondary weapon, item, or alternate fire. These secondary human "abilities" are based on offensive and defensive items used in the world.
Working as a team and combining all of these secondary functions and abilities is the best way to survive encounters with dinosaurs. For the most part, human classes feel built to combat specific dinos, making teamwork essential. When you get other humans to stick with you, the pieces fit perfectly. The Pathfinder throws flares to blind dinosaurs in the area, the Trapper nets smaller creatures, the Pyro wards off aggressors, the Scientist tranquilizes larger animals, depleting their stamina, while the Commando sprays and prays for the group to live through it all.
But when players go out on their own, they are easy fodder for their ancient predators. Using all of the team'ss pieces in tandem can help humans survive just a little longer, but in one-on-one situations it's mostly a countdown to being eaten. There are some subtle HUD elements that emphasize the importance of teamwork – like seeing other humans highlighted in the world at all times – but Primal Carnage doesn't do enough to convey that message. Despite that, squaring off against a speedy raptor or trying to outmaneuver a giant Tyrannosaurus and somehow making it out alive is thrilling.
Dinosaurs, on the other hand, are easier to handle on their own (and have better situational awareness in third-person). They are more powerful and cover more ground in shorter time. They also have a commanding presence, which works as an advantage and helps when on a solo hunt. Playing as a Tyrannosaurus, I never turned the corner and became concerned by the sight of a few humans ... I was delighted. I rushed right at them in an attempt to scoop them into the great beast's jaws for a one-hit, single-serving kill. As a human, turning a corner and spotting a Tyrannosaurus translates roughly to an, "oh, shit" moment where you ask yourself a handful of questions in a few split seconds: "Did it see me? Where can I go? Do I have enough firepower to kill it? Where is everyone else? Do I have enough stamina and room to get the hell out of here?" Moments like these really stand out.
The dinos have their own unique set of abilities – appropriately activated by roaring – some in aid of the team and others to benefit themselves. The flying Pteranodon, for example, makes things easy by spotting enemy locations for the entire dino-team. The Tyrannosaurus' mighty roar offers a health buff to any dinosaurs in the area when it is unleashed. Some abilities trade off strengths, like the raptor that can forgo stamina and mobility in favor of increasing melee speed.
There is no narrative either, save for the self-explanatory "Holy hell, that's a dinosaur, let's shoot it back into extinction!" Of course, a narrative thread isn't exactly necessary in an action-heavy, multiplayer-only experience (see: Counter-Strike). Primal Carnage's lack of a progression system, on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb. There is no progression system at all, no stat tracking or leaderboards. At the end of every match you're given information (kills, deaths, score), but these things don't do anything other than inflate your sense of accomplishment after a victory or reiterate your internal turmoil after a loss. On top of that, there's only one way to play the game: team deathmatch. Nothing else.
Primal Carnage could become a better beast with updates, but at launch it's missing some key elements and polish. Despite those issues, Primal Carnage is still an entertaining experience. The man v. dino gimmick has yet to lose its luster for me, but Lukewarm would do Primal Carnage a favor by adding content soon; otherwise, it may see its player base vanish, much like the game's prehistoric stars.
This review is based on the final PC version of Primal Carnage, provided by Reverb Publishing. The game is available on Steam for $14.99.
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