Primal Carnage Hands On
Developer: Lukewarm Media / Publisher: Reverb Publishing / Platforms: PC / Price: $14.99 / Release Date: Fall 2012 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
A SOUND OF (INDIE) THUNDER
Like Marvel heroes vs. DC heroes, like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets vs. Star Wars’ Galactic Empire, like Pirates vs. Ninjas, it’s one of the undeniable, classic, nerd-intensive, what-if deathmatches: Dinosaurs vs. Humans—who would win, and what would be left of them? Whether you’re rooting for Skins or Scales, Reverb’s forthcoming Primal Carnage is an asymmetrically teamed first-person shooter focused on just such a hypothetical clash. Aching to delve deeper into the mindset of a gun-toting weekend-warrior chrononaut, as portrayed in Bradbury’s classic short story ‘A Sound of Thunder‘? Enamored with games boasting painstaking, intriguing settings and backstories? Keen to ponder the deeper, long-range implications of dino-hunting, as complicated by time-travel’s plethora of potential perils? Yeah, well go suck a Cretaceous-period rock, Cheez-Doodles: We got dinosaurs, we got heavily-armed humans, they’re killing the crap out of each other for some reason, and we’re not really sure how or why or even when. Just go with it, already; some of us have girls to chase.
Lukewarm Media’s Primal Carnage doesn’t waste any time or energy: It pits a player-team of modern-day mercenary-types against a player-team of dinosaurs in and around the vicinity of a military compound, shortly after an experiment that presumably could have gone, um, better. The two opposing teams are ‘asymmetrical’ not only in terms of their individual character-classes’ respective abilities, but even in terms of their respective user interfaces: The armed humans play from a standard first-person viewpoint, while Team Dino experiences the battle from a third-person perspective. It all goes a long way toward giving any given player a succinct sense of scale—almost particularly when you’re a puny human hopelessly back-peddling in the final, grim seconds before a rampaging T-Rex tramples you into paste.
Currently, the opposing sides of Primal Carnage each feature five character classes for a total of ten, but there are already rumblings of more to come in the future. For the moment, the human character types include the British (blonde?) female Scientist with her precision sniper rifle, dino-tranquilizing dart gun, and close-combat cattle prod; the big, badass African-American Commando, whose assault rifle can alt-fire grenades (and who is SO badass that, as a melee option, he can simply smack dinosaurs in the scaly-skinned face with the butt of his weapon); the Aviator-shaded Aussie Trapper, who otherwise looks like a fugitive from either a 90s bounty hunter show or a 70s ‘adult feature’ and can tangle hostile dinos in constricting nets or duel-wield pistols for a high rate of fire; the tribally-attired, Native American (Canadian Native American, no less) Pathfinder, with a shotgun, close-in machete and handy dino-blinding flare; and the ever-subtle, hothead Scottish Pyromaniac, packing a flamethrower-mounted chainsaw, just in case some of the dinosaurs that show up turn out to also be zombies. It’s like a death-dealing Benetton ad up in here.
And of course, the dinosaurs. T-Rex is obviously the alpha; a heavy, lumbering, deadly giant who can bite, trample and let out a dino-rallying roar (they all have roars, read on) that will effectively ‘buff’ the attacks of nearby prehistoric allies. There’s the nimble, pack-hunting, pouncing Novaraptor, who can clear seemingly-safe distances in a single bound and employ his special ‘frenzy’ maul-attack; the poison-drenched Dilophosaurus, who spits venomous, screen/player-blinding toxic goo (and with considerably longer range, using his special ‘alt-roar’ attack). The Pteradon, whose flight-mechanics takes some getting used to (as in any self-respecting FPS), but who can shriek to ‘paint’ the positions of human players to his comrades… or can simply swoop in, wing a hapless human to breathtaking heights, and then let gravity take its dependable, lethal course. And the Carnotaurus, a heavy, horned, straight-line freight-train berserker.
It quickly becomes apparent that, despite their comparatively-exotic weaponry and fancy distractions, the humans will really, really, really, really, really, really want to coordinate their myriad attacks, gadgetry and general abilities—it’s just too easy (and tempting) for some oversized Jurassic reject to bulldoze through your popgun-fire and trample you (or cart you off to about 200 feet and let gravity sort out the rest). At the moment, the game’s sole mode is Deathmatch, but other objective-based multiplayer options are claimed to be already in the works, as is a long-range DLC plan for the core game.
We experienced some promising touches—such as the fact that, ‘signaling’ dino-roars aside, the game does not employ an artificial ‘radar’, or show enemy dinosaur health-bars or other cheapo visual cues so often found in FPS games. Here, when you’re peering into the tangle of trees and other flora, you either actually SEE the enemy about to romper-stomp you, or you don’t. Very nice. Also, we did note the occasional rotting dinosaur carcass lying about: a source of replenishing food for the dinos… and also a tempting campsite for patient, opportunistic human hunters. The core game, like many, seems to ignore the possibility of ‘friendly fire’ between the humans, but we’re told this could well be a simple toggle in multiplayer matches.
It doesn’t look terrible meaty or ambitious on the setup/story-telling end of things so far, but Primal Carnage is a fast, frantic furball—skin ball? Scale-ball?—that gets right down to the business of settling the age-old humans-vs.-dinosaurs hypothetical (with the bonus of some unintentionally amusing—and occasionally downright hysterically-funny—player deaths).