There's something incredibly enticing about the idea behind Primal Carnage. Shoot dinosaurs. Or even more compellingly: be a dinosaur and eat people. This is the game that your childhood self wanted, but was never able to play. But now, thanks to Lukewarm Media, we can indulge our prehistoric childhood fantasies to our adult's heart's content.
First impressions of Primal Carnage were not entirely positive, it has to be said. Luckily many of the issues plaguing the game immediately after launch were resolved in an extensive update, and it's much more stable now. For your investment of £11.99 you get five maps, one mode and two factions (each with five classes). That's it. There's no character progression or customisation, and no map rotation. There's so little meat on these bones that you might mistake it for a fossil.
This would be a considerable problem if it wasn't for the planned free updates that should provide us with more maps, an objective-based game mode and more features in the coming weeks. Despite having been released to the public, this still feels very much like a game in transition, and without the benefit of a greater variety of modes and maps, it's impossible to predict what the future holds.
Uncertainties aside, there are two main factions in Primal Carnage. Human and Dinosaur. Dinosaurs play in the third-person, humans have a more familiar first-person perspective.
There are five classes for each, and the featured dinos include the T-rex, Pteranodon, Raptor, Dilophosaurus and Carnotaurus. The creatures vary in size and function. A T-rex will tower of the battlefield, gobbling up humans, and stamping them into the ground as they plod through the environments.
Carnotaurus charge headfirst into combat, sending their victims crashing in different directions. Like the T-rex, Carnotaurus is most effective when in full stride, and timing your charges into the fray is key to success. The Raptor is the all-rounder on the team, with pace in abundance and fierce claws, along with the ability to absorb a decent amount of punishment. Dilophosaurus is small and nimble, spitting venomous sludge in the eyes of their opponents. Weak, though.
Pteranodons hover over the battlefield, swooping in on unexpecting victims. Controlling them is tricky, and as is the case with all the dinosaur classes, success comes from the careful lining up of attacks. Pteranodons, once airborne, glide menacingly through the air, always on the lookout for a victim to drag skyward, ready to be dropped to their death.
There's a nice balance between the different classes, and despite settling on my favourite very early on (as a child of the Jurassic Park generation, it's all about that Raptor for me), I'm still undecided about which of the others I like best. The T-rex is a hulking brute, and a massive bullet magnet, but clamping your massive jaw round a plucky human's torso and then throwing your head back to eat them like a lightly salted bar snack, well, it's incredibly satisfying as you can no doubt imagine.
Being a dinosaur is cool. It's a conclusion that I came to pretty quickly, and even if some of them are tricky beasts to handle, taking down an opponent is nearly always satisfying. With some of the smaller dinosaurs there's an element of stealth that is easy to appreciate, and you have to be careful when lining up your attacks with the bigger beasts: miss your prey and you quickly become a large and vulnerable target.
The Human Touch
Facing up against the dinosaurs is a selection of mercenaries, each with a very particular skill set.
I instantly gravitated towards the Scientist (sniper), and although I remained committed to playing that way, it felt like the rifle was a tiny bit underpowered. I wanted a bit more bite from my long range shots. It's an area that, in my opinion, could do with addressing.
The other classes provide for a variety of different gameplay styles. The all-round Commando sports a high powered assault rifle (with a very handy grenade launcher attachment), and there's a Pyromaniac class for those who prefer things a touch hotter. The Commando is easy to get on with, but the Pyromaniac is a little harder to master. He's excellent at crowd control, especially when supported, but felt vulnerable on his own.
The Pathfinder carries a shotgun into battle, and uses flares to blind attacking dinosaurs, a perfect combination for repelling the up-close and personal charges made into combat by the dinosaurs. Mercenaries regularly congregate around flares strewn across the map, as it makes them infinitely more difficult for the dinos to land successful charges. This makes the Pathfinder a key ally, worth sticking near during a scuffle.
The last class was perhaps the most interesting, even if it wasn't to my own personal tastes. The Trapper fires a net that can envelop smaller dinosaurs, and I think I saw someone fire one over the mouth of an advancing T-rex, stoping it from using its jaw to swallow a victim (although I was in the middle of frantic battle myself and only caught a glimpse).
It's a good selection of characters to choose from, but individually they're pretty bland stereotypes. Perhaps some customisation options would've allowed us to put a more individual stamp on proceedings, and whilst these features may well be planned further down the line, there's very little there at the moment that allows for user expression, whether it be gameplay related, or simply cosmetic.
There are five maps in Primal Carnage, and they're big. Their size is both a help and a hinderance. On the one hand there is much to explore, on the other you can sometimes spend far too much time exploring, and not enough time fighting.
That said, I was checking out Forest Chasm - a map set in dense forest, cut in half by a deadly chasm - and there were only a handful of other players on that particular server at the time. It wasn't long before I was sneaking through the long grass, hunting out potential targets. Playing with so few others on such a large map might be a slower way to experience Primal Carnage, but it creates a cat and mouse feel of the action. It's a genuine hunt, and it immediately made me think back to times spent sneaking around in DayZ.
Thankfully, each of the five maps is distinct, and because of their size, there's plenty to fight over. The Falls is the map I played on the least, simply because it was hardly ever present on the Server List. It's a good map, and I've no idea why it's so underused, especially considering there's only four others. It's set inside a bio-dome and provides a really interesting alternative to other environments.
Of the other maps, my favourite was probably Airbase. The constant splashing of raindrops on the HUD keeps you on edge. The one time you dismiss a tiny flash of movement on the periphery of your vision is almost certainly the time a Raptor will attack you from out of nowhere, chewing your face off in the process (unless you've got a friend nearby to rescue you). It was also in Airbase that a most enthralling moment happened to me. I can tell you from first hand experience, there's nothing more electric than watching a dark airstrip full of twitchy fingered humans desperately shooting a sky full of swooping Pteranodon. Seeing this wonderfully organic moment unfold will live long in the memory.
Add to those already mentioned, The Docks and Utility Base - both day time maps set in self-explanatory locations - and you've got a very small selection of very big maps. Hopefully, it won't be long before we're treated to more.
The Future or the Past?
As is clear from what I've said so far, there's plenty of things that are good about Primal Carnage. It's fast, it's frantic, it's got dinosaurs in it, and on the whole it's stable and works. That said, it is still hard to outright recommend as is. There's not enough content here to sustain you past the initial "dinosaurs are cool" buzz, and that will eventually dissipate. Planned content for the future would appear to address some concerns, but at the end of the day, you can't count your little baby dinos before they hatch.
Whilst there's definitely potential in Primal Carnage, and the future looks promising, there's still a couple of issues that need addressing. If you've been waiting for a dinosaur game like this all your life, then it's probably worth the download: the action's decent, even if there isn't much to occupy beyond some very basic features. For those seeking a well rounded shooter crammed full of customisation options and interesting game modes, you might want to wait and see what this one evolves into.