Dinosaurs. Despite being the coolest, baddest motherfuckers to ever walk the Earth, our reptilian ancestors (well, not technically) have been alarmingly absent in contemporary video games, especially following the downfall of the Turok series at the turn of the century. The recent popularity of zombies in games has made sure of that. However, following their meagre attempt at a comeback loaded with weaponry and ridden Nazi troopers in Dino D-Day, new studio Lukewarm Media have released their own attempt at dinosaur-laden, asymmetric multiplayer madness in the form of Primal Carnage. Let’s remember that asymmetric multiplayer gameplay is a feat that very, very few developers can pull off while retaining all-important balance. Are our prehistoric predecessors able to tick all the boxes?
According to the game’s official website, the five maps featured in Primal Carnage are located on “The Island”, a remote island on which mankind has… well… created dinosaurs. Somehow, somewhere, something went wrong, and those dinosaurs escaped and wreaked havoc on the Island. “[t]he screams… silenced.” A special team of operatives have been sent in to regain control of the prehistoric beasts and reclaim the Island.
Hang on, wait, take a step back. A covertly run island, on which scientific experiments are being done? Dinosaur cloning? On an island? Disused scientific facilities and escaped dinosaurs? On an island? I’m not the only person getting this, am I? Essentially, Primal Carnage is what Jurassic Park would be if Jurassic Park were a multiplayer game. Is this a bad thing? God no. While running through the abandoned facilities might stir up more than a fond memory of everyone’s second favourite dinosaur movie (second only to Theodore Rex), this is sure to enhance your experience rather than hinder it.
So, Primal Carnage is an asymmetrical multiplayer-only arena game. Teams of up to quite a lot go head to head in a deathmatch-mode in which five classes of humans take on five classes (species, I should say) of dinosaur. It is in the classes that Primal Carnage finally conquers the challenge of asymmetric gameplay – unlike the majority of games before it, there’s not one team that totally dominates the others and thus one team every player strives to be a part of.
Unbelievable as it sounds, it’s equally fun to play as a scaly monster of doom as it is a hairy, fleshy sack of meat. As a dinosaur, the third-person perspective offers you a more complete view of the battlefield compared to the humans. Your choices are the flying Pteranodon that enables you to pick up humans and dump them from height; the quick and vicious Novaraptor; the Dilphosaurus, which is capable of poisoning and blinding humans with its spit; the all-rounded Carnotaurus; and, of course, the slow, hulking Tyrannosaurus Rex, able to gobble up a human in one movement yet unable to jump.
The humans also have five classes available to them. The Commando is your typical assault-rifle wielding tank; the Native American Pathfinder is a shotgun-toting soldier with the ability to blind the dinosaurs; the Pyro, equipped with a flamethrower/mounted chainsaw and grenades can deal huge damage at close range; the Scientist disorientates the dinosaurs with her tranquilliser darts and cattle prod; and the Trapper combos his net-shooting gun and knife to ensnare and instakill dinos.
As an asymmetric game, the styles of gameplay and teamwork in particular are inherently different depending on which side of 65 million years ago you’re representing. For the humans, it is absolutely vital that all members of the team stick together, as a one-on-one face-off will almost certainly end in the dino’s favour. In the huge, sprawling maps, human spawn points are often located quite a walk from the primary group, leading to a very tense, nervy walk back to safety.
While the humans survive in a group, as a dinosaur you’d be better off travelling alone. Each species of dino is able to fend for itself, unlike the humans which have defined support classes. The dinos are expected to coordinate their species choices while staying on the fringes of the map and attack the human group from all angles, as well as picking off stragglers trying to return to the group. As far as I’m aware, it’s unique to Primal Carnage that such a simple, basic game mode (team deathmatch) has this level of depth, particularly with either team having such unique strategies.
Rather unfortunately, Primal Carnage seems to be suffering from the same disease infecting indie games that I’ve discussed in previous reviews. It was simply released too early. I enjoyed every minute I spent in game, being it tearing puny humans apart between my jaws or tensely twitch-firing at everything that moved. And yet, there’s only five maps and one game mode, which might last be a couple of weeks before I move onto something fresh. That’s the worry with indie multiplayer exclusives – they are so reliant on player-bases, that once people stop playing, the game can be effectively pronounced dead.
Lukewarm Media have promised more game modes and maps, and even NPCs in future updates, which is fantastic. My only thought is this – why weren’t they just released alongside the game? Sure, they might not be ready yet, but surely waiting would be beneficial? I’ve read a lot of reviews of Primal Carnage and the sole consensus amongst journalists is that the gameplay is fun and well crafted, but there is a severe lack of content that might cause an early death, similar to what happened to The Ship. Had more content been included on launch, the reviews would have been far more positive, which would have lead to more sales, more players, and more money. Sadly, I’m worried that people will forget about Primal Carnage too soon, and a potentially great game could be throttled by its own release date.
On a lighter note, Primal Carnage doesn’t seem like an indie. I mean, sure, it’s rather laden with glitches, but I can look past that in this case. All of the models look and feel great. The change in music from a lighter tone to a subtly darker one upon change from dinosaur team to human team is absolutely sublime, perfectly orchestrating the emotional change when you go from the hunter to the hunted. The maps are absolutely massive and brilliantly designed, with specific points on each map that favour either the humans or the dinosaurs. This makes a large portion of each map essentially abandoned for entire games at a time, but this only contributes to their feeling of vastness that will keep coming back regardless of how often you play Primal Carnage.
And it might seem silly to point out, but if there’s one thing that has been done absolutely perfectly, it’s that the dinosaurs are terrifying. It might seem like a given, but I’m so glad that this crucial element has been pulled off. There’s no cheese-factor that Dino D-Day relied on so heavily. As a human, this is a terrifying game.
I had a lot of fun playing Primal Carnage. Really, I did. Lukewarm Media have demonstrated an extremely impressive level of skill with creating this – it’s not often that I’ll enjoy such an asymmetric game. The gamemode might say “team deathmatch”, but it’s unlike any game you’ve played before. I really, really enjoyed it. This is why I’m so disappointed at the lack of actual game in the game – not just for my own sake, but for the sake of the playerbase.
If I become unable to play Primal Carnage in a month’s time because a lack of content has caused a mass extinction event amongst its playerbase, I’m going to be mortified. This is a game that deserves to succeed by a development team destined for big things, but if, like me, you’ve not got the best attention span when it comes to video games, I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it right now. I might have a rethink of the score if more is added, but for now, it just feels a tad empty. I’ll still recommend it, just not with gusto. Because, you know, I usually have gusto. Yeah.
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Primal Carnage by Lukewarm Media.