The island is overrun. Up ahead I can hear gunfire and the crackle of flames as my team mates battle for their lives. I run to help, looking all around me as I go. They could be anywhere, and they move fast. I look up - some of them can fly, after all - and carry on, my fully loaded assault rifle on a hair trigger. It's a fearsome bit of kit, able to take down a charging buffalo in half a second. It still may not be enough. As I emerge into the carnage, my eyes are drawn to the monster ahead of me. It's a Tyrannosaurus! But in the two seconds I'm distracted, it's already too late. A smaller, fast-moving raptor leaps upon me from my left, and now I'm supper. Time to respawn and try again...
If I were to sum up Primal Carnage in three words, they would probably be "Jurassic Park Deathmatch". Players from around the world unite in two teams - one team playing the humans, the other playing the dinosaurs. Each team allows you to choose one of five options - for the humans, these are a range of specialists: warriors with big guns, flamethrower units, trappers with nets, scouts and scientists. Whichever you go for, the humans have one advantage - guns. In every other respect, the dinosaurs have them outclassed - either with the speed of the raptors, the aerial superiority of the pterosaurs or the sheer size and power of a tyrannosaur. Which team can score the most kills?
You control your avatar through a combination of keyboard and mouse. The WASD keys are your primary means of motion, the mouse looks around and the mouse buttons offer two different attacks (or other abilities - the scientist, for instance, uses the right mouse button to switch on/off the target scope of her guns). Humans with more than one weapon can switch between them with the number keys. You can jump with the spacebar. There are a LOT of controls to learn, and I still don't know how to work half of the more advanced ones - with no tutorial, the only way to learn is in the field. Lessons tend to be short and often need repeating.
Primal Carnage is set in a variety of lush jungle settings, with tropical forests surrounding human bases. The dinosaurs themselves are very convincing. I've struggled to play the game on my aging PC largely because of these graphics - I've had to scale the settings right down to cope at all, and I fear my graphics card is not entirely compatible. My game was often marred by large white or green areas flickering on the display, often making it hard to see what was happening, and this obviously can prove fatal. Hopefully this will not be an issue for most players but if your computer is more than a few years old you may not find this playable.
The sound effects are very good, lending a great deal to the immersion. T-Rex footsteps, dinosaur roars, gunfire, screams... it's all there, and all good quality. I'm not clear whether the speech of the humans ("I need some help over here!" and so on) are triggered by the players or by the game itself - there are, as mentioned, a lot of controls, but I don't recall one for this. There's the option to send text messages your fellow players, of course, assuming you can find a place to type without being slaughtered.
It's hard to know how many of my problems were graphics related, but even that aside I still struggled with the playability - mostly, I think, due to the steep learning curve. The only way to master Primal Carnage is to die over and over again, learning the maps and the controls, and so far I've only mastered the dying part. I can't fly a pterodactyl. My T-Rex is more of a turkey. My humans have a nasty habit of being surprised by unexpected dinosaurs (especially being picked up by pterodactyls and dropped from great heights). As my opponents are established players and socialising is highly limited, I have been massively outclassed in every game. On the plus side, there is some attempt at balance - you can't play as a T-Rex, for instance, unless the teams are large enough, and if too many of one side quit, players can be automatically switched to the other team.
Assuming you have the hardware to run it properly and the patience to learn, there's a lot of replay value in Primal Carnage. A host of different maps, plenty of different classes to try out and strategies to master, and Steam also offer about 60+ achievements to unlock. I've managed three so far, which include merely running the game and getting stepped on by a T-Rex, so there are clearly achievements for every ability level. A number of servers are running across the world and I've so far never been unable to find a game in progress. At present the deathmatch option is the only game mode on offer, but this is something that the developers are hoping to expand on in future updates.
It's a shame that my experience has been marred by graphics problems and occasional lag, because there's a highly professional game behind these hiccups. I've tried not to let my own hardware limitations impact on the scores too much but there are two areas that really did strike me as a problem. One - the complexity of the game really needs a way for players to learn and develop. Previous review game "Guns of Icarus" did exactly that with a sandbox mode for players to practice the basic controls, and this would make a huge difference to a game with far more to learn such as this. Two - a lack of a decent front end. Accessing the menus in-game is inviting death, making adjustments to controls or graphics settings in-game rather difficult. It's not clear what half of the graphics options do. There are no explanations of the various game types on offer and there doesn't seem to be a "chat room" equivalent for players to talk between themselves and arrange matches, which leads me uncertain whether I'm actually playing against AI opponents rather than humans.
Primal Carnage is a fun and promising game - it just needs a bit more work on the user interface for my liking. And if anyone would like to buy me a new PC, I will be happy to revisit the graphics!
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