Players partake in the Jurassic Park video game they’ve always wanted, where Jeff Goldblum becomes a Native American gifted with a powerful shotgun and dinosaurs partake in casual bouts of parkour. In all seriousness, Primal Carnage is an independent shooter/third-person melee game and it may be the best playing dinosaur video game to date. Whether players feel like shooting the prehistoric giants or wreaking havoc on lowly humans, Primal Carnage is a blast to jump into, though it manages to wear thin after investing a few hours into its divine chaos.
Though pithy and reductive, “Left 4 Dinosaurs” may be Primal Carnage‘s biggest compliment and the wisest thing one could say about the game. It employs a multiplayer variant that’s now been seen in products such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Space 2, where players take control of the creatures that add the spice to the multiplayer environment. There are ten classes total with five given to both sides. Not every class is especially interesting, and the largest and perhaps most sought after dino, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, is limited depending on the amount of players in a given match. Humans are given a rather standard set of archetypes, including a sniper class equipped with a stun dart and a rather standard assault class equipped with a machine gun and grenade launcher. Dinosaurs are almost always more interesting (and successful) to play as, though the “Trapper” human class has a net gun that can be devastating for the swifter dinosaurs.
Unlike Left 4 Dead‘s versus mode and the games that have followed in its wake, Primal Carnage manages to play great regardless of which side you find yourself on. Though unlike those more score-based experiences, the dinosaur-on-human action of Primal Carnage doesn’t quite feel up to the authentic competition and balance you might expect from a multiplayer-only game. That doesn’t make it without joy, however, and even being stuck on the typically lower-scoring humans side makes for a thrilling time when you’re barely dodging a vicious Raptor assault or combing together with your human compatriots to take down a rampaging T-Rex. Dinosaurs are thankfully as simple and fun to control as their fleshy opponents. The sheer size of the T-Rex can be frustrating in the more geometrically busy maps, but players are typically too busy swallowing their opponents whole to notice their inability to properly navigate a narrow space or two.
Lukewarm Media has made fantastic, lush art within the typically gray confines of Unreal Engine 3 that’s unfortunately undermined by the gigantic dinosaur models they’ve created to exist within it. The uglier moments of Primal Carnage typically deal with the sheer size of the T-Rex. Superb lighting and polished atmosphere makes the more fearful moments of venturing out alone legitimately terrifying, but seeing a T-Rex flop around in ragdoll violently yanks the player away from any immersion. The map design does aid to the suspense players will face when running as a human from a dire, talon-filled situation. Playing as an extremely vulnerable human in the rain-drenched Airbase level was the key reason my heart rate would spike while playing, and I often found myself jumping at the moment a brutal Velociraptor attack ending my hiding spree. The game’s blemishes can be hard to ignore, however, and bursting out in laughter at a clipping T-Rex head tends to ruin any fear one feels about being eaten alive.
The comparisons to Left 4 Dead don’t end at gameplay, since only five maps and one mode leaves Primal Carnage feeling a little shallow after a few hours. Lukewarm Media has promised free updates as time goes on, but as of this writing the game feels rather stripped and becomes boring after an hour or two of play. Once the novelty of playing as dinosaurs wears thin, the game’s problems with finding true balance between the dinosaurs’ power and the humans’ vulnerability becomes more aggravating during long stretches of play. To its credit Primal Carnage is not a self-serious game by any means, and the the fact that the Velociraptor has enough agility and athleticism to become a parkouring dinosaur serves as a nice reminder to never consider Primal Carnage to be anything more than a rather goofy product that wears its strengths well but thin.
Parkouring dinosaurs, sub-horror moments of Velociraptor terror, and picking up a human as a Pteranodon and dropping them to their death are just a few reasons I love the concept and execution of Primal Carnage. It’s just too bad that there’s not more here to flesh out the more positive qualities and suppress the negative ones from seeping through.