Beasts of Prey review (Early Access)

Patrick Carlson

Alpha and Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future. Read our full review policy for details.

need to know

Version reviewed: Alpha build 1135
Reviewed on: Windows 7 64-bit, i5-2500k 3.6 GHz, 8 GB RAM, GTX 560 ti 2 GB graphics card
Recommended: Windows XP or later (Vista/7/8), i7 CPU, 4096 MB RAM, NVidia GeForce 560GTX or higher
Price: $19/£14
Publisher/Developer: Octagon Interactive
Multiplayer: MMO PvP, PvE, and private servers
Link: Steam store page

Beasts of Prey is for builders and I'm hard at work. I've already scavenged enough stone and wood to piece together a crafting bench and a furnace. With a good supply of lumber and a selection of metal ores smelting away, I'm making progress towards a home of my own. But I've also got self-defense in mind. I've been active on the game's official PvP server for a couple hours already this session, and I have yet to see another player. Feeling secure in my solitude, despite the countless buildings that dot the hills, beaches and forests, I set out to stock up on resources.

I spot a giant grey boulder through the foliage. Unlike the ubiquitous palm and jungle trees, raw stone is a bit trickier to find and usually requires some scouting. After scanning my immediate surroundings, I still don't see any sign of movement. I sprint to the outcrop of boulders and use my ax to hack away a few chunks of raw stone. On my way back to camp, I stop to gather more wood. I've just looked down to pick up one final log when I hear the all-too familiar and deadly sound of a silenced gun. I look up just in time to see a man walking towards me. His second volley finds its target and I collapse. Game over.

Was it something I said?

Just like in the genre-defining DayZ, the real beasts in Octagon Interactive's online, first-person survival game are the other players. For sure, there are also dinosaurs in the alpha build of BoP's jungle sandbox, but they're slow and easy to hear coming and going. They also have a tendency to wander through solid walls and hillsides. Even with the occasional run-in with a triceratops, it's the game's human element that creates all the interesting tension and surprising situations. While there are region-specific community servers to play on, as well as a separate, PvE only environment, the official PvP server appears to have seen the most activity since the game entered Steam Early Access on June 5.

BoP drops players into what looks, at first glance, like a tropical paradise. With craggy mountains to climb, forests to scrounge lumber in, and beaches on which I can build a compound fit for an Bond villain, the potential is immediately apparent. Players initially spawn with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a hunting knife. With the knife, they can harvest wood and chip off some pieces of raw stone, two materials that form the basis for a much-sturdier ax. Everything is easier to harvest with the ax, and as I outlined above, until you build some sort of shelter, you are vulnerable to ambushes and raids that could mean a lot of wasted work. And because it could play a role in your ability to survive a run-in with a dinosaur or bandit, it's important to note there's no option to invert mouse look in BoP at the moment.

Dinosaurs appear to go where they please, even through walls.

After a few hours of wandering or foraging for crafting resources, however, it all starts to blend together. A day and night cycle as well as quality sound design help to break up the monotony of seeing the same trees, rocks, and building materials everywhere. But I can't help feeling the visual dimension of the game's sandbox is a bit shallow at the moment. Alternate character models, a wider color palette for buildings, and a more diverse tropical environment would help make the world a more interesting place to hang out in during the quiet times.

Each server, whether official or community-run, saves its own profile of your character, so it's possible to vary your playstyle from server to server. By planting a flag and building defenses around it, you can claim a plot of land for a personal palace or a home base for player-run clans known as tribes. Other players and tribes can raid these claims, destroy your flag and claim the land for themselves. Buildings on land claims in each server persist, even though you lose your personal item inventory with every death.

In contrast to its repetitive environmental design, the game's clear and functional crafting system hints at some incredible possibilities for the careful engineer. These include oil refinement for fuel, advanced firearms, and laser-guided, proximity-activated gun turrets. And even when the world feels desolate and empty, with little or no activity, the evidence of a whole lot of hard work is visible everywhere I look.

A lakeside retreat fit for a super villain.

Players not content with the game's small, pre-fab homes can build much bigger structures by crafting a series of modular pieces. These include concrete slabs, wood and concrete walls, as well as gates and doors that only the builder or tribe member can open. Because of this modular flexibility, the only limit to building appears to be land claims, resource control and player ingenuity. On the PvP server, strange, castle-like structures jut out from the sides of mountains, while other players have constructed elaborate, maze-like defense systems, complete with radar antennae and oil derricks. But even with all that obvious effort on display, more often than not, it feels like nobody's home.

BoP, which the developer plans to move to beta in October, pairs a robust and interesting crafting mechanic with a bland game world as a backdrop. Like so many online, open-world games, the potential for weird and wonderful encounters depends mostly on who's playing. BoP's community will likely determine its present and future.

Verdict

With its accessible crafting system, good sound design and base-building potential, Beasts of Prey is a game for the patient survival engineer. But even with its active Steam forum community, BoP's official servers often feel empty. And if you demand detailed and varied environments as a substitute for PvP, it'd be worth waiting to see how the game develops.

Outlook

Unclear. Even with more polish and variety applied to the game's environment, the fate of BoP likely rests in the hands of its players. This is a case where the developer's earnest call for player feedback could be highly influential. Octagon is active in BoP's Steam forum, and says the addition of a PvE server came in response to the game's community.

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