Any way you look at it, a dinosaur hunting game is a brilliant idea: It's all the action, tactics, and strategy of a true hunting simulation, with none of the guilt. Turns out, Carnivores is even more than that, more than enough to be tantalizing yet not quite complete to be entirely satisfying. Still, not only is it a solid hunting simulation, but it features first-rate graphics and sound and a fully customizable challenge that'll test the mettle of both would-be hunters and action gamers alike, even as it leaves both categories wishing there were more to the game.
There's a loose plot to justify why it is that you're hunting dinosaurs with high-powered weapons, but when you get right down to it, Carnivores is a simulation not unlike Deer Hunter or anything in its class. You grab yourself a gun, designate a species of dinosaur as your target, pick a place to hunt, and get to work. The dinosaurs can see, smell, and hear to varying extent, so you'll need to take heed of wind direction, keep quiet, sit still, and shoot straight if you hope to bring one home. Options like cover scent and camouflage can make life easier, but using these deducts points from your total. In a humane touch, however, using tranquilizer ammunition actually increases your score, although tranquilized dinos won't be on display in the keen 3D trophy room. You need those points to advance in rank, so that you can hunt bigger and badder dinosaurs in more challenging areas.
Chances are, these are going to be some of the best-looking 3D dinosaurs you've ever seen, and the best that you'll see for a while. They're big, and they look real. They go plodding about, over hills and around obstacles, stopping to graze if they like to eat plants or charging and leaping straight for your throat if they prefer meat. Shooting down the dinosaurs isn't easy and may be especially difficult against certain types that are either vulnerable only in specific regions or highly aggressive. For instance, you'll need to do better than a head shot to bring down a triceratops; you'll need to shoot him in the eye, the throat, or the back of the neck if you intend for him to fall. Meanwhile, the velociraptor demands lightning-fast reflexes and offers no second chances. If you manage to kill a target, it'll topple over dramatically, although perhaps not quite as dramatically as you might like. Shoot a dino with a tranquilizer round instead, and you can see and hear it breathing heavily as it lies paralyzed. There's quite a bit to shoot at: There are seven varieties of dinosaurs to hunt, from the meek parasaurolophus with its telltale head crest, to the small but ferocious velociraptor, to the enormous, nigh invincible tyrannosaurus rex.
You'll get to track these through half a dozen different environments, which look surprisingly authentic. They're mostly plains, hills, and jungles, although you also get coastal, swamp, and volcanic regions that look especially good. Everything warps underwater, and a mist hangs in the air as you trudge through the swamp, and special effects like these help make Carnivores look not just good, but great. It doesn't look perfect, though. Your field of vision isn't very far, and fleeing dinosaurs will vanish into the horizon long before they should. There's a clever use of atmospheric fog to help hide the pop-up, but it won't fool you for long. Meanwhile, you'll spot the occasional graphical glitch when a dinosaur's shadow clips through a hill, but it's nothing serious. The dinosaurs themselves will get stuck on objects once in a while, but most of the time they're every bit as smart or as stupid as you'd like to believe they were back then. There's no music in Carnivores, a decision presumably made in the interest of realism, but you get plenty of well-suited ambient sound effects to keep your ears busy. Beyond that, the dinosaurs all sound different, and although no one can be sure just what they sounded like, you'll find that their calls are both plausible and appropriate. At the same time, the three guns with which you'll shoot them sound as good as the best that first-person shooters have to offer.
Those guns, including a high-powered shotgun, a hi-tech crossbow, and a sniper rifle, carry varying amounts of ammunition and are ideal for specific situations. The shotgun's your best bet against small, aggressive dinosaurs, the sniper rifle's perfect for precision shooting from long range, and the X-bow is virtually silent but slow to reload, making it your best bet for stealthy kills. The weapons all look great, and they're different and effective. You'll wish, however, that there were more, and just as well wish you had even more to shoot at and more regions to explore. That's really the only shortcoming of Carnivores. Although it forces you to earn a certain number of points before you can use the sniper rifle or hunt the more advanced dinosaur species, that just seems like an artificial constraint to camouflage the game's slim content. And that'll invariably disappoint you a little, since you'll more than likely enjoy what Carnivores has to offer.