Dinosaurs waging war with humans is the stuff of childhood dreams, but just how much of the magic makes it into Lukewarm Media’s Primal Carnage? We wade out into prehistoric fields to find out.
There’s something distinctly brilliant about being eaten alive. Not in real life – I imagine that’s distinctly unbrilliant – but in Primal Carnage, a multiplayer game about dinosaurs and men with guns. In the case of Carnage that’s probably for the best (being scooped into the kisser of a Tyrannosaurus Rex is a sight you’ll grow accustomed to), but it’s a strange sensation to feel playing a competitive multiplayer game where failure is more often met with naughty words. But then, Primal Carnage is a strange old game.
The set up is simple: dinosaurs battle humans across five sprawling maps in a ceaseless war of attrition. The dinos, with their chomping jaws and knack for leaping great distances, make for accomplished hunters, while the humans, bite-sized and clasping firearms, work better in tight-knit packs. The goal for each team is to kill and then kill some more until a score is reached at which point the rigmarole begins again. That’s about it on a macro level.
T-Rex leads the dinos into battle, but all five classes dance to a similar rhythm (left click for basic attack, right for special). They also come bearing shades of Left 4 Dead’s iconic undead chaps, although here they’re controlled in third-person. Raptors skulk and lunge from afar, chargers plow like drunken fools, spitters spit and soaring dinos glide, snatch and discard humans down conveniently placed abysses. The T-rex is probably the best of the lot – if only for its hallmark roar and the hilarious animation that comes from swallowing a human whole – but there’s something great about roaming the jungles of Utility Base as part of a gang of rampaging raptors, too.
The human characters, played in first-person, are serviceable but you’ve met them all before: the sniper, the pyro, the soldier with a grenade launcher strapped to the belly of a mighty machine gun and the one with the shotgun. The only maverick among this troop of peculiar caricatures is the Trapper, who’s able to imprison smaller dinosaurs and muzzle the larger ones with his net gun. In the throes of the larger skirmishes the Trapper’s net-gun is about as useful as a blow up hammer would have been to the soldiers in Aliens, and it’s the pyro, sniper and machine gunner that are favoured by Carnage’s dwindling player base.
The systems are rudimentary but compliment each other surprisingly well. The T-rex is perhaps a touch too powerful owing to its forcefield of doom (vaguely mirroring its thunderous gait), but that aside the balance is sweet. The dinosaurs are naturally speedy, and in many cases instantly deadly, so a stamina bar limits their ability to sprint and leap. The humans, while markedly weaker, wield guns that offer decent if inexact punch from modest range. A squad of raptors bolstered by a charger will make short work of a handful of humans, but the Commando’s grenade launcher and the Pathfinder’s shotgun offer a decent response to snapping jaws.
Maps follow suit, neither yielding to a single class nor feeling empty. The Utility Base marries thick forests that lend themselves to the raptor’s stealthy hijinks with stark industrial buildings better suited to the humans who rely more on line of sight. Elsewhere the inspirationally dubbed Docks map – probably the best of the five – is a mess of jungle exploding out from between containers and large ships dotted about its fringe. The maps share a common theme of openness, but there’s always one or two sites that lend themselves a little too well to the humans and it’s screaming out for an objective based mode to ease the repetitiveness that breeds.
Still, for the first five or so hours, where the novelty of re-enacting Jurassic Park by dint of Bad Boys masks the remarkable lack of content on offer, it’s all good fun. But with team deathmatch the sole game type, matches inevitably submit to a formula that rarely throws up any surprises.
A team made up of vaguely pragmatic humans will always cluster together or make for high ground, where the T-Rex’ evolutionary path sees it trumped by something like a ladder. Perched high, or at least together in an open space, the humans wait for the dinosaurs to cannonball out of the periphery at which point chaos comes to swallow everybody up for the next fifteen minutes or so. There’s no ebb or flow to the matches; no obvious indicator as to who’s winning (a tiny score is tucked away in a pop-up menu and that’s that), and no real objective or personal goals bar shoot the bad guys. Without any of this, Primal Carnage pulls you in with its artless dinos versus guns setup but can’t hope to keep you hanging around for long.
A kinder man might brand it pure; a simple throwback to the days before XP, K/D, customisable classes and all the other micro stuff held such sway. But the truth is it just doesn’t seem finished. Six weeks post-launch the achievements still don’t pop and while early adopters are being cajoled with the promise of new game modes and maps, so far the only thing that’s materialised is a set of premium dino skins. There’s not even a hat for punching a raptor in the gonads.
Those with lasting and fond memories of Jurassic Park will appreciate the fleeting joy of being devoured by T-rex, and no doubt get a kick out of leading a pack of squabbling raptors into battle, but competing in the cutthroat first-person shooter market, it’s hard to imagine there’ll be too many people left to appreciate Primal Carnage if the developer ever gets round to finishing it off.
Primal Carnage, by Reverb Publishing and Lukewarm Media, is available now for PC.