Everybody walk the dinosaur
By my count, Primal Carnage will be the third recent attempt at an online-only multiplayer game involving ferocious dinosaurs against wimpy humans: Dino D-Day was barely a game, ORION: Dino Beatdown had a shaky launch and has since fallen off, and now Primal Carnage looks to satiate my prehistoric pining.
After playing the closed beta, I can safely say that this a bright light in an otherwise dim sub-genre. Plus, you can play as a T-Rex whenever you want!
Primal Carnage (PC)
Developer: Lukewarm Media
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Release: Q4 2012
First off, this is clearly a beta. I had a decent amount of issues that either crashed the client or forced me to close it myself. One map in particular never loaded the team select screen, leaving me to intentionally avoid servers running that specific map. On top of that, I also had troubles joining servers in the first place -- I could only join one or two official servers or any user-created dedicated server.
The good news is that the developers seem to be paying close attention to the game. I had an earlier experience of the entire human team holding up near an ammo station in a corner and simply laying waste to any dinosaur that dared come near. Only a few days later, that ammo station had been moved to a more remote location, making it way harder to defend indefinitely.
Primal Carnage pits humans against the way more appealing dinosaurs in an arena-based team deathmatch. Both sides has five classes, each with different roles and abilities. The roles aren't as cookie-cutter as many of the other class-based games out there, because they are dinosaurs.
Here's your dinosaur starting lineup and my experience with each type:
T-Rex: Obviously a fan favorite, but since the T-Rex is so big, he becomes a HUGE target. It's a blast running around and chomping up humans, though without some support from smaller dinosaurs, it will hit the turf before even reaching the humans.
Novaraptor: Your classic raptor. Moves incredibly quickly and can pounce on targets to gnaw them to death. If you can cooperate and work in packs, small groups of humans don't stand a chance.
Dilophosaurus: Also known as "that dinosaur that can spit goop on suckas." Very much a team player, blinding the humans so other dinos can go in for the kill. Sort of the underappreciated character of the group.
Pteranodon: Hey, don't you mean Pterodactyl?" No! That's actually an informal name, kind of like T-Rex or Brontosaurus. Anyway, the Pteranodon is easily the most difficult dino to play as. Its main approach is to swoop in on an unsuspecting human and grab them, bringing them along for the vertical climb into the sky. From there, it's a long drop to their death, either into the ground or water. The Pteranodon can also mark targets for its teammates from the sky, allowing for a huge amount of utility.
Carnotaurus: Easily my favorite dinosaur to play as, the Carnotaurus' claim to fame is its charge move, bashing every unlucky amalgamation of flesh and bones that happens to be in the way. Charging into a group of humans and swinging your head around is a perfect way to initiate a huge fight as your teammates come in to pick off anyone and everyone.
The dinosaurs control extremely well. I was really surprised when I took control of a raptor and the movements felt naturally smooth. There's a certain ebb and flow to the small dinosaurs, while the larger ones are appropriately hulking and slow.
The humans are a bit more run-of-the-mill, from their stereotypical appearances to their gameplay:
Scientist: The Scientist is the sniper of the group. Great for picking off those goddamn Pteranodons and dropping a dino's HP before they get into the fray. She also has a dart gun to make the dinosaurs slower and a cattle prod to help keep them at bay. Even still, if a dinosaur is within melee range, generally you are ate.
Commando: Naturally, the class with the most firepower would resemble Terry Crews. With an assault rifle and a grenade launcher, the Commando is a necessary force to have on your team, even if they're rather uninteresting to play as. Shoot stuff dead, and quick.
Pathfinder: While I personally love playing any class that specializes in shotguns, it seemed as if this class was the least played. The shotgun is as great as you'd expect, but the true star of the Pathfinder is the Flare. Dropping a flare during a fight provides a huge blow to the dinosaurs' vision, making it nigh impossible to see what's happening when near the center of the flare. It looks like the result of a 14-year-old finding Photoshop's "lens flare" filter.
Trapper: The Trapper is a great asset to the team, and is incredibly fun to play as. His primary weapon is a Netgun, allowing him to entirely disable small dinosaurs like the raptor, and to seal the mouths of larger ones. It's tricky to nail the net shot, so hitting a moving Pteranodon mid-air is an incredible feeling. Oh yeah -- he also has dual pistols and looks like a complete badass.
Pyromaniac: Another straightforward class, although the Pyro seems less useful than most. The flamethrower is good for causing chaos at short range, but the attached chainsaw seems really hard to hit with and can be borderline useless. He does come with an ever-so-useful grenade, though.
There's a delicate balance to be struck when it comes to team sizes. Too few players on each team results in a lot of dinosaur kills, since many of them excel in one-on-one combat. Too many players is very chaotic and feels uncoordinated. It's mindless fun, not unlike a 32-player server on Team Fortress 2. The golden number hovers around seven players on each team. If you manage to get on a server with the perfect amount of team members, the game really shines.
Just like Left 4 Dead before it, Primal Carnage requires you to work together as a team in order to effectively pull out a win. It isn't quite as intense as L4D, but a team who communicates will have much more success over one who does not. Hitting a T-Rex with a net as a Pathfinder lays down a Flare and the Commando unleashes bullet hell is something that only these kinds of team games can offer.
I do hope that more interesting game modes are added. Currently, only Deathmatch is available and while it is serviceable, it can get a bit tedious after a while. It also doesn't seem to force a team switch after a round, allowing the humans to play dinosaurs afterwards. More often than not, people will understandably do all they can to switch to the dinosaur team as soon as possible. If the community acts anything like the L4D community, people will quit if they don't get to play dinosaurs first.
Primal Carnage contains a feeling that I can't quite put my finger on. You'll need a decent team makeup and some good communication to really sense it, but trust me: it is there. It's a warm feeling, one that lets you know everything is going to be OK. It tingles up your spine and into your brain just to whisper "Hey, not all multiplayer dinosaur games have to suck."