When I tried to play theHunter: Primal a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t get past the logos, where it stalled for a bit and then said “could not connect to server.” What server it was connecting to before the menu even appeared, I couldn’t say. I also wondered why the title of the game was written like a hastily-typed tweet. Mysteries.
Another thing I thought: what’s up with dinosaur games? Primal Carnage, Dino D-Day, Beasts of Prey, The Stomping Land—that’s a lot of green history monsters. And now Expansive Worlds and Avalanche Studios (the creator of Just Cause) have joined in with theHunter: Primal, a dino-hunting game they claim is “the most realistic prehistoric survival game ever created.” Realistic? I kind of thought dinosaurs went extinct 60-something million years before humans existed, but hey, semantics.
This week, I’ve jumped back in, and theHunter: Primal is working as promised. The Early Access page says that “the player will be able to download the game and jump into it straight away,” which wasn’t the case the first time, but these things happen, I suppose. Buyer beware, no matter what the store page and user reviews say.
Anyhow, it’s time to hunt some dinosaurs on an alien planet (it’s not even prehistoric, as it turns out, so that claim about realism is getting even more dubious). The first thing to do is to pick up a bow and some arrows from my landing craft and seek out more supplies. Easy enough. And then I see some big tracks. I wonder what makes tracks like that? Then I hear what sounds like a timpani drum approaching.
A T-rex makes those big tracks. Because I am a hunter, I shoot an arrow at the T-Rex.
The T-rex does not like that, and swiftly murders me, my limbs flopping everywhere under a red glow. Well, crap.
My first issue with theHunter: Primal is that I have no sense of where my arrows are going. Did I hit the T-rex? It wouldn’t have mattered if I did, because it’s a fucking T-rex, but as a greater issue, there’s no point taking shots at anything if I have no idea what my range is and what kind of arc I’m looking for.
The feedback from shots is a bunch of screen shake, which doesn’t help at all. As unrealistic as slow arrows or tracer arrows would be, it also isn’t realistic that I live in this world and yet I have no depth perception, don’t know the physical properties of my arrows or bow, and don’t know how hard I’m pulling the bow back. I can’t intuit where my arrows will go, and so I need guidance. There’s none here.
So, I figure I need to find a gun. There are supply crates scattered throughout this island, and I just have to find the right one without being torn to bits by alien hell lizards. Getting a workable weapon can’t be too hard, I imagine, as I’m supposed to be the hunter here.
I imagined wrong. First, I’m killed by a Utahraptor.
Then another Utahraptor.
And then again, and again, and again.
I swear I’m being careful. I’m spotting tracks and dung. When I hear a noise behind me I go prone and wait. When I’m on the move, I walk slowly. Very, very slowly. So, I decide to be even more careful, start again, and walk for ages searching for a crate—oh so slowly—when I discover another pack of raptors. I stay quiet and keep my distance, and they're pretty far away, but they come toward me. I lie down behind a rock. They come closer.
They attack. I can only run, which is really more of a jog, for a very short time, so I don’t get far. I hide again. They eat me. Fun.
At this point, I'm feeling like theHunter: Primal isn't for me. Its “realistic” survival consists of a health bar which is depleted when you fall from heights, run into poisonous plants, or run into dinosaur teeth. The only other stat is stamina, which is used to jog very short distances. There’s no need for shelter or food or water.
But OK, it's a hunting game, not a survival game, despite what the description says. And given the mostly positive Steam user reviews, I figure I’m missing something, so I keep at it. I discover a volcano, and the volcano is a safe place. Dinosaurs aren’t into volcanos, it seems. On this volcano is a research station. I spend twenty minutes finding my way up the volcano to the research station where I find...
A gun! Herah! A shotgun probably isn’t the ideal weapon against dinosaurs, but it’s a start. So, then I decide that walking half-way back around the volcano to get down is dumb, and try to scale the side of it from where I am. I’m making good progress, despite the clearly unwalkable incline, and then I slip and bounce down the terrain a bit and die. Oh, to hell with this. I'm just not patient enough.
With another hour’s work I might actually manage to shoot a dinosaur dead, but A) what for? and B) no.
I'm just not enjoying Primal in its current state. The sound design is spotty: A T-rex's footsteps don't sound like footsteps, and while its roar is terrifying, it’s hard to tell where it’s coming from even with my Roccat Kave 5.1 headset. The island is pretty enough, but there’s nothing exceptional about it. Except for the volcano and a nice-looking lake, I haven’t stumbled across anything more interesting than a smoldering campfire, and getting around takes forever. Stamina is in precious short supply for someone supposedly capable of hunting dinosaurs.
And as someone put on this planet to hunt dinosaurs, it's odd that I start with a bow and some unretrievable arrows, which I've found useless. The only useful thing I start with is a GPS to help me find crates, but all the crates I’ve found (except the one with the shotgun) contain health juice and ammo for guns I don’t have. Nothing has convinced me that the thrill of taking down a dino is worth hours of wandering through a boring jungle opening crates. I can't imagine that the intrinsic sense of reward I might get from killing one of these things will be worth the energy. It sounds psychopathic to say (especially from a vegetarian), but there's no joy for me in tracking and killing animals that aren't afraid of me. They're the ones after me in this world, and my only survival tool is making sure I'm nowhere near them. I guess theHunter became theHunted (thank you, thank you).
But if you're into long, slow, deadly walks that may eventually lead to a dead dinosaur, as a lot of people on Steam seem to be, go for it. I can accept that what seems excruciatingly dull to me is someone else's ideal Friday night. Still, I'd recommend waiting for more updates (there are currently only three dinosaur species, for instance), and personally, I'd much rather get my chased-by-an-unstoppable-killing-machine fix from Alien: Isolation, where at least I have lockers to hide in.