The Hunter: Pri­mal

PC

EDGE - - GAMES -

At its worst, The Hunter: Pri­mal lets you win knife fights with Utahrap­tors. Stand­ing taller than a man, th­ese in­tel­li­gent pack hun­ters are un­able to turn faster than you can strafe. They ro­tate on the spot, dis­placed cries loop­ing as you wound them with a hail of weight­less blows, then sprint off in a spas­modic zigzag to con­found track­ing. But in a twist un­ex­plained by palaeon­tol­ogy, a flee­ing raptor might launch you 50ft sky­wards, al­low­ing grav­ity to ac­com­plish what hooked claws could not. By of­fer­ing a melee weapon as your sole start­ing gear, Pri­mal ex­poses se­vere de­fi­cien­cies in its AI, an­i­ma­tion, au­dio de­sign and as­pi­ra­tions to be­ing a be­liev­able di­nosaur-hunt­ing sim. Get­ting up close to the rep­tiles kills the illusion of tense, skil­ful stalk­ing and re­veals a game as un­likely to ap­peal to hunt­ing en­thu­si­asts as it is gung-ho Juras­sic Park day-trip­pers.

Un­leashed via Early Ac­cess in De­cem­ber, Pri­mal has made com­par­a­tively rapid progress to full re­lease, the trade-off be­ing min­i­mal im­prove­ments over the beta: the di­nosaur ros­ter has been ex­panded to in­clude the dog-sized Ve­loci­rap­tor and colos­sal Quet­zal­coatlus, and player de­ploy­ment is pre­ceded by a much-needed item shop in which you can spend points earned through suc­cess­ful kills. How­ever, the struc­ture of the game re­mains un­changed, de­spite feel­ing like a proof-of-con­cept. As­sum­ing you have no points to trade for weapons, you’re dumped on Pri­mal Eden with a map frag­ment and an im­pro­vised ma­chete. Hunt what you please; don’t get eaten. That’s all there is to it.

Small- to medium-sized dinosaurs are no match for the knife, even in num­bers, but should you want to take on a Tricer­atops, T rex or Quet­zal­coatlus, you’ll need the firearms that are spawned at ran­dom in the set­tle­ments scat­tered through­out the vast wilder­ness. It is mostly chance as to whether you sur­vive long enough to reach an ef­fec­tive weapon: drop into the arse-end of nowhere and be­fore you can even think about hunt­ing, you’re faced with an hours-long trek in a di­rec­tion that may have a set­tle­ment, that may con­tain a good gun, and that may come with an ap­pre­cia­ble quan­tity of ammunition. This is far from a sim­u­la­tion: a real hunt re­quires fore­knowl­edge of prey, the right equip­ment and the proper ammunition. Imag­ine if Euro Truck Sim­u­la­tor made you walk your de­liv­er­ies un­til you stum­bled on an un­guarded lorry in a lay-by.

The ran­dom­ness is made more galling since your in­ven­tory is dropped upon death. Should you even­tu­ally se­cure a weapon but be un­lucky enough to be­come supper for a T rex be­fore slay­ing any lesser rep­tiles, you’re back where you be­gan with no points to spend on start­ing gear in the spawn menu. Even if you did leave small lizard dev­as­ta­tion in your wake, the weapons avail­able for pur­chase are level-gated, the newbie given ac­cess only to the stu­pen­dously in­ef­fec­tive bow – die once more and the points that went into it were wasted. Items can be re­trieved from the site of your corpse, but again get­ting there is con­tin­gent on your spawn point and the dis­po­si­tion of the dinosaurs on the way your be­long­ings (air­borne Quet­zal­coatli are fond of drop­ping peo­ple for an in­stant kill). Get­ting started is ex­haust­ing, and the open­ing hours will suf­fo­cate am­bi­tions to un­lock 50 ranks’ worth of guns. When devel­op­ment was in full swing, di­nosaur track­ing was a con­tentious is­sue. Fol­low­ing foot­steps and drop­pings through ferny wilds for a sin­gle shot at a Tricer­atops that then bolts and starts the whole chase again is, for many, slow and in­sipid. But that much Pri­mal does right: its tar­get au­di­ence rev­els in the pa­tience that pre­cedes an all-or-noth­ing pull of the trig­ger. Creep­ing through pre­his­toric forests, mead­ows and coast­lines with­out spook­ing prey and strug­gling to align vi­tal or­gans down sights holds some of the au­then­tic­ity Ex­pan­sive Worlds in­tended to cap­ture.

While it of­ten feels as if Pri­mal Eden was painted in batch in­stead of hand-crafted, the un­der­brush it­self is re­spon­si­ble for the in­ten­sity of those chases that work as in­tended. Pri­mor­dial ferns and grasses cloak the ground so thickly that you’d ex­pect all but the high­es­tend GPUs would be beg­ging for death, yet Pri­mal’s veg­e­ta­tion barely touches the fram­er­ate and is in­te­gral in dis­rupt­ing sight lines and con­ceal­ing preda­tors. It’s close and fore­bod­ing, com­pounded by ca­cophonous in­sec­toid dron­ing, avian chat­ter and the cries of un­seen dinosaurs – you can sense eyes on your or­gans.

When threats come at you, it falls apart. Au­dio cues give the po­si­tion of the source in­ac­cu­rately, caus­ing mo­men­tary con­fu­sion as to where a hun­gry raptor is, and that eas­ily means the dif­fer­ence be­tween a kill and a restart with­out weapons. As so­cial crea­tures, rap­tors com­mu­ni­cate in­ces­santly, but their caw­ing is de­void of an­i­ma­tion – get within melee range and it feels as if squawks em­anate from a sound­board taped to a flank.

Ev­ery­thing es­sen­tially func­tions, which is more than can be said of some games emerg­ing from Steam Early Ac­cess, but The Hunter: Pri­mal is blighted by an all­round rough­ness that speaks of a game that needed longer to in­cu­bate: the player pain tell sounds like it was shouted too close to the mi­cro­phone; but­ton prompts persist when ac­tions are im­pos­si­ble; the draw dis­tance for dinosaurs is too short. Ex­pan­sive Worlds en­tered Early Ac­cess with the raw con­cept for ei­ther an im­mer­sive hunt­ing sim or a di­nosaur shooter, but Pri­mal hasn’t ma­tured into ei­ther one. The hunter will be baf­fled by the crude in­tro­duc­tory hours spent with­out means to hunt, while thrill-seek­ers will be dis­ap­pointed by ex­tended treks across Eden. Though Pri­mal has been padded out with new dinosaurs, it’s an in­com­plete skele­ton, and it’s a pity that it has ex­ited devel­op­ment be­fore it was fully evolved.

Imag­ine if Euro Truck Sim­u­la­tor made you walk your de­liv­er­ies about un­til you stum­bled on an un­guarded lorry in a lay-by

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