Of the great dream matchups in humankind's evolutionary history, none is more pervasive than humans versus dinosaurs. Countless books, movies, video games, and more have broached this subject, but a definitive winner remains elusive. The latest in this ongoing academic effort is Primal Carnage, a team-based, competitive multiplayer game that hits on a fun design, but stumbles in execution. A lack of content and some technical issues leave this game feeling like a $15 beta rather than an official release.
Primal Carnage has only one game type: team deathmatch. One side plays as the humans, and the other controls the dinosaurs. The first team to shoot, bite, stomp, or grenade the other into submission wins. The two teams then switch sides, and it starts up again.
Each side is composed of five distinct classes. On the human side, every class comes equipped with a gun, as well as a secondary ability. At the most basic there's the commando. He has a machine gun that shoots lots of bullets and doubles as a grenade launcher. Pretty simple. On the other end of the spectrum sits the trapper. He can disable dinosaurs with his slow-firing net gun and wields two pistols that can be fired (and reloaded) independently.
While the humans' focus is ranged combat, the dinosaurs like showing off their fine dental work. Running and biting are key pillars of the dinosaur fighting style, but developer Lukewarm Media has injected distinction into each of these dinos as well. The Dilophosaurus' attacks cause temporary blindness or poisoning, while the headstrong Carnotaurus can charge through and scatter groups of humans like bowling pins. Meanwhile, the Pteranodon circling overhead can mark enemies for all teammates to see.
Then there's the Tyrannosaurus. Its specialty is swallowing people whole.
While shotguns and sharp claws are handy, the greatest weapon in Primal Carnage is teamwork. Generally speaking, the humans stick together and watch each other's back as they migrate between health and ammo kits to resupply. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs patrol on the fringes, sending in the occasional Carnotaurus or T. rex to break up the pack and feast during the ensuing chaos.
Despite having wildly different play styles, the humans and dinosaurs are well balanced against one another. Each human class is designed to best a specific dinosaur, and vice versa. For example, commandos are great at laying down fire on a slow-moving T. rex, but have trouble tracking nimble raptors (who are easily netted by trappers). This subtly encourages a balance of classes during every match by further defining each character's role. In turn, this balance creates more dynamic, and enjoyable, matches.
Isolation is a vulnerability for both man and beast. The maps are very large, and after respawning, your character is usually located on the outer rim, far away from his or her allies. The jog back can lead to some great Jurassic Park-esque hilarity, because every faint footstep or distant growl can lead to near-instant death. And when you see a bush rustle out of the corner of your vision, you know it can't be anything good.
With 10 characters, five maps, and one game mode, Primal Carnage is short on content. The core game is a lot of fun, but it grows repetitive and is subject to the quality of competition found online. And since this game is online only, there are no offline training or single-player modes. Creating a private room to test-drive the characters isn't even an option, since you cannot enable a password. To play, you must undergo a trial by fire with the rest of the game's community.
Getting shot by other players is bad enough, but you can also get shot down by the game's technical bugs. Oversized geometry and background elements flickering in and out of existence are some of the less-serious hiccups. At the time of this publication, the option for antialiasing has been removed because some players have reported that enabling it causes repeated game crashing. On a less serious note, sometimes after losing a match the game will display the victory logo. While inaccurate, this mismatched logo does help boost self-esteem.
Thankfully, the developers have been quick to release updates to correct these issues. But this less-than-stellar first impression may sour your interest interest in this prehistoric cage match. Primal Carnage has the markings of a great game, but is held back by a number of bugs and a shortage of content. For a game that celebrates the excitement of dinosaurs, hopefully it will not share their fate.