Published in 1998, the original Carnivores arrived just in time to cash in on the popularity of the hunting genre. One year earlier, the budget-priced Deer Hunter introduced players to this type of game, which used a first-person view to simulate the hunter having to stalk his wild prey. Carnivores took this concept one step further by placing you in a fictitious yet realistic-looking setting in which dinosaurs roamed the land. You'd get to hunt these as though they were deer--the key difference being that a lot of them could fight back. Carnivores was an interesting game, and it actually featured a rather impressive 3D-graphics engine as well. One year later, the sequel to Carnivores introduced a more open-ended play style but remained basically identical to its predecessor. And now, more than one year after Carnivores 2, the third installment in the series is once again essentially the same game as the very first. The only difference between Carnivores: Ice Age and the previous games is that there aren't any dinosaurs to shoot this time.
Carnivores: Ice Age is only superficially different from its two predecessors, and its superficial differences don't even amount to much. The game recycles the same exact 3D graphics engine that was used in the previous two installments, and while this engine was actually rather impressive several years ago, it doesn't look like much the third time around. A lot of the engine's problems still remain in Carnivores: Ice Age, most notably in the way that objects such as trees and shrubs tend to get very blocky when they're viewed up close. Also, although most of the game's five similar-looking hunting environments are covered in snow, nothing--not even a gigantic woolly mammoth--leaves prints in the snow. Nothing left footprints in previous Carnivores games either, but being able to track your enemies through the snow would have been a perfectly suitable way of enhancing the gameplay of the third game in the series.
The game recycles all the same weapons as Carnivores 2, which itself added only one new weapon to the original game's selection. The small selection of weapons in Ice Age still includes a pistol, shotgun, rifle, crossbow, double-barreled shotgun, and sniper rifle. The latter weapon remains especially disappointing, as you can't even actually see the rifle--instead, you're limited to using it from a locked, slightly zoomed-in perspective. The powerful, high-tech crossbow and the double-barreled shotgun (which looks like it was taken straight out of id Software's classic shooter sequel, Doom II) are still the most satisfying. Certainly, the fact that the Carnivores series essentially plays like a hunting simulation precludes the inclusion of any particularly original weapons; but nevertheless, there's no shortage of variety in real-life firearms, so the weapons in Ice Age could have at least looked and sounded different than in the previous games.
As in the other Carnivores games, the actual creatures in Carnivores: Ice Age look excellent. Clearly, these are the focus of the game. As the title suggests, there are no dinosaurs in Carnivores: Ice Age--instead, you'll get to hunt various gigantic, fur-covered prehistoric mammals, including mammoths, rhinos, deer, wolves, bears, and, of course, saber-toothed tigers--plus, for good measure, a bipedal prehistoric bird. Most every one of these creatures looks very lifelike. You can tell a lot of time went into making them look and move realistically. You can walk right up to them and watch them wander about in the game's observer mode, and it's actually quite enjoyable to do this for a while. Most of the animals seem to act realistically as well, as the meeker ones will flee if they notice you, while the tougher ones will rush toward you for the kill.
The creatures sound fairly convincing, as do the various environmental audio effects in the game. But there's little sound in Carnivores: Ice Age overall, and a lot of it is recycled from the earlier games.
Carnivores: Ice Age plays just like Carnivores 2. There's no campaign and there are no missions--you just specify what you want to hunt for and what you want to hunt with, and then you get to it. You can exit out of a hunting area at any time, and if you get killed, you can easily start over. You have an allocation of points, which you spend to customize your hunt. Each weapon costs a specific number of points, as does each type of creature and each of the five expansive outdoor environments. Initially, you'll be able to hunt only the weaker creatures with the weaker weapons in the less challenging environments. But as you successfully shoot down creatures, you'll earn more points, with which you can expand your arsenal and take on greater challenges. As in previous installments, you can opt to use tranquilizer rounds, which give you some bonus points but don't earn you any trophies for showing off your hunting skills. You can sacrifice a percentage of points you earn in order to bring along cover scents, camouflage, and even a radar display, all to make hunting easier. The actual hunting still basically involves your having to use animal calls for attracting or tracking your unwary prey and then trying to stay quiet and moving against the wind so that the prey doesn't smell you. When you get close enough, you need to make your shots count, as your foe will either run away or try to kill you if you fail to aim precisely. As in previous Carnivores games, the close-quarters showdowns with the gigantic predators in Carnivores: Ice Age can be very intense.
The game's reliance on an open-ended play system is what might ruin it for you. The five different locales don't offer much variety; some of them seem more dangerous, but there are no environmental hazards. At least you can choose to hunt either during the day, at dawn, or at night, though these options aren't new. Also, being able to hunt multiple types of creatures per session as you earn more points doesn't add much to the game, but rather makes you have to do a lot of guesswork as to which animal call to use. And eventually being able to afford bringing all the weapons along on a hunt doesn't do much for the game, either. Some weapons are simply better than others, and there's no use in trying to switch guns if you've been spotted by a predator. Furthermore, you'll be tempted to bring the radar along on every hunt and to simply keep resetting a hunting scenario until you begin with targets nearby. The radar makes finding foes a nonissue and eliminates any challenge in having to track creatures. Finally, unlike in previous installments, Carnivores: Ice Age doesn't inform you about the various creatures' weak points--and in fact, the creatures seem more resistant to damage in general. You'll find that the game rewards you for pumping rapid-fire rifle rounds into a target just as soon as it'll reward pinpoint accuracy.
In the end, there isn't much reason to recommend Carnivores: Ice Age. Fans of either or both of the previous installments will be disappointed to find that so little has changed in the new game. Meanwhile, those who are new to the series will find that its production values and open-ended gameplay don't leave much of an impression. So unless it's extremely important for you to find a game that lets you hunt prehistoric mammals as opposed to prehistoric reptiles, you might as well stay out of the way of Carnivores: Ice Age.