theHunter: Primal is a first person survival/hunting game from Expansive Worlds and Avalanche Studios. The game was released into Steam’s Early Access on the 16th of December, so anything negative I’ve experienced is almost certainly subject to change. Once the game is far enough along in development, I’ll see about doing an update. Until then, here’s my take on the current state of the game.
The concept of the game focuses on stalking and killing dinosaurs, but that was probably evident already. You play a convict who’s been dropped onto an alien planet as an expendable means of early preparation for later colonization. If that’s not a great setup for a story, then I don’t know what is. tH:P(as I’ll be calling it from here on) is what I would consider a spin-off of EW’s free-to-play title theHunter, which follows a very similar premise sans dinosaurs, alien planets, and criminals. I’ll be the first to admit that I came out of playing the original game feeling a little bit burned from what I consider a very greedy paid content system, and fortunately EW has confirmed that Primal won’t have any kind of content locked away by microtransactions.
With that in mind, I crossed my fingers and hoped that I wouldn’t be making a repeat mistake. From the game’s main menu, you’ve got a couple of different ways to get yourself started but they’re a little deceptive. You can either select “Start Game” or “Join Game” to get into the action. The catch is that there is no actual offline play right now, as “Start Game” just creates a server. I do really like that the developers included a button on the game menu to send feedback, though. I’d enjoy seeing more early-access games implement a fast access method of communication like that.
Once you either create or join a game, however, you’ll be dropped right into the world of Primal Eden and begin your career hunting dinosaurs. After I finished loading, I was greeted with a data screen briefing me on my assignment and offering me the reassurance that if I were to die, my body would be providing sustenance for the plant and animal life of Primal Eden, and as such I would be considered a traitor, damning my immediate family to the same fate of disposable labor that I myself had been sentenced to. Talk about motivation.
The game definitely isn’t ugly. The area I was spawned in was an extremely dense jungle, and in the dead of night, no less. There’s just enough post-processing to create an atmosphere suitable for a foggy and humid climate like a planet teeming with dinosaurs might have. The sky looks nice as well, with Primal Eden’s sister planet looming above you. The game’s colors aren’t too overly saturated or too muted, and that’s something that’s easy to mess up. In front of me was the crashed pod I had arrived in and inside were ten arrows, an improvised bow, and a data drive that revealed a random location on my world map.
…And we have a problem. The inventory is really clunky. There’s no easy way to manage items without being slow because they all have to be manually clicked and dragged to where they need to be, and that’s something that needs to be addressed. You also can’t stack items of the same type, which means that you’ll almost constantly have several incomplete stacks of the same item.
I want to take a step back to the map for a minute, though. The game’s map is GIGANTIC. According to the store page, it’s something like 9 square miles. This is easily the most impressive part of the game to me so far. It also raises another important issue that I’d like to see addressed: Every inch of those 9 square miles has to be traveled by way of foot power.
There’s not a jeep nor truck to be found. In fact, there’s not much of ANYTHING to be found. The world is very richly detailed, but there’s not much substance to the set pieces. Much of my time has been spent walking with my GPS out searching for supply boxes, which can contain guns, ammunition, and clothing.
Across the world are a few spread out locations with markers that’ll appear on your map when you get close enough. There are five or six different icons, but I can’t really make heads or tails of what each one actually means since every location is pretty much identical in purpose. Despite the current lack of content, the names of the locations seem to let on that there will eventually be much more depth to them. Right now, you’ll walk up and almost always find 2 crates at each location and nothing more.
Nothing to enter, nobody to speak to, and little more than some loot and another landmark to take away from the experience. So, with such a huge world, what types of prehistoric lizards are stomping around on all that land? Well, I was disappointed to find out that right now, there are just three types: utahraptor, tyrannosaurus rex, and triceratops. The developers have confirmed that more dinosaurs are in the works, but I’ve already seen some definite red flags with the three we have right now.
By scanning dinosaur-related clues with your do-it-all GPS, you can find out different information about what the tracks belong to, including how old the tracks are and where the creature who left them might have gone to. When you’re hunting dinosaurs, you’ll notice pretty quickly that any kind of tracks or droppings will be highlighted with a glowing red outline from a pretty good distance away. I don’t know how to take this, because it feels a little bit too much like hand-holding to me.
Once you actually hunt down a dinosaur, you’ll be given a huge host of new problems to deal with. First and foremost, there is no real way to know how much noise you’re making or where noises you hear are coming from specifically. If there was some kind of noise meter and directional noise sensor, that would help out immensely. Secondly, the dinosaurs themselves are pretty stupid. The AI lizards don’t in any way acknowledge the existence of other dinosaurs, and it’s not too uncommon to see a T.Rex just maxing and relaxing next to a triceratops like best buddies.
In addition, their pathfinding and behavior towards players just seems too shallow. A loading screen tip says that triceratops are docile but can become dangerous when bothered, but every triceratops in the game will flee like a frightened gazelle the moment they detect that a player is too close for comfort. Never once have I been attacked by one, and I don’t even think I’ve ever had one face my direction after detecting me.
That is, of course, until I met my first utahraptor. The utahraptor is a cousin of the velociraptor, and the largest of the raptor family. In reality, the velociraptor was only about the size of a large turkey or a vulture, so utahraptor is what the raptors in Jurassic Park probably should have been called. What I didn’t know about the utahraptor is that they were the first practitioners of inner-city gang violence if tH:P is to be believed.
My first encounter with the raptors came while walking through the very same dense jungle I mentioned spawning in earlier. Off in the distance, I heard what sounded like laughter, and being an idiot, I decided to find the source of the noise. Unbeknownst to me, I had already been spotted, and was merely walking into my hunters’ arms. Out of nowhere, a raptor came charging from the foliage!
…And then kind of just walked past me and stopped. I don’t even know what I was expecting at that point, as it looked like the raptor’s AI had just forgotten about me. After four or five solid seconds of backing up while the raptor stood there, he slowly turned to face me, hunkered down, and charged again. Fortunately, I had readied my trusty bow and let loose an arrow right between his eyes…which did nothing. I got a quick bite to the face and got the hell out of there as soon as possible. This guy chased me for a good 25 minutes before I finally died by falling off a cliff on accident, denying him the pleasure.
Another fun fact about dinosaurs in the game is that much like a tank, all prehistoric reptiles have several centimeters of steel plating to protect them from any stray projectiles not aimed right for their engine block. Seriously. EVERY encounter with a dinosaur in tH:P will end in either one shot, or twelve. I think this stems from the use of hitboxes for organs inside the dinosaurs to judge damage. A direct hit to the heart will almost always bring down your target in one shot, but if you’re even a little to the left of a vital organ, he just shrugs it off.
At the moment, you can find 5 different weapons in crates on the island. The improvised bow you start with, a .44 magnum revolver, a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun, a .308Win bolt-action rifle, and a break-action .700NE elephant gun. Weapons can’t be fired without first shouldering them to aim down the sights, which would be fine with me if it didn’t feel so slow. Not like it matters when regardless of the weapon you use they continue their attack until you land a shot on a weak point. Because of that, it feels like the only difference between the weapons is how hard ammo will be to find.
So, if raptors are eating 4-course meals of lead and surviving, how do you think the T.Rex encounters usually go? I’ll tell you: badly. The T.Rex AI is an all-powerful manipulator of men, finding joy in suffering. It’s like the T.Rex always knows exactly where you are, and even when he doesn’t, he’s probably just pretending not to. By the time you hear the ground shaking, it’s too late to do anything but pray.
If you hit the dirt and stay motionless when trying to hide he’ll almost always walk up and sniff around where you’re standing to let you know that you can’t fool him. Then he waits. I think there’s an error with the Rex’s AI, because once you’ve alerted him, he’ll just keep looking for you indefinitely. Once Rex is standing next to you, he’ll walk circles around your position until you crawl far enough away to get out of his sight and run.
And that’s it. 3 dinosaurs with bad AI and titanium bones if the hitboxes are to be believed. I don’t even feel like there’s any reason to bother with hunting the dinosaurs, really. All you get in exchange for your health and ammo is a trivial score on the bagged animal and nothing else. If the developers can figure out how to make the dinosaurs act like dinosaurs instead of just looking like dinosaurs, I’ll be a happy man.
Being mauled isn’t your only peril, though. Despite being a hardened criminal, you can’t swim for whatever reason. Attempting to wade into water deeper than thigh-high won’t work, as your character will just refuse to move forward as if there was an invisible wall there. If you fall, though, you’ll be damned to a watery grave while the game holds you in place and drowns you. Several times now I’ve made one wrong step and left all of my gear at the bottom of a shoulder-height pond.
After a couple of hours playing alone, I got the bright idea to try connecting to an online game just to see if other players would improve my survivability. This was a mistake and I regret ever making such a decision.
Online play ranges from fair to terrible depending on who’s playing. It works well enough, as anyone who forwards the recommended ports can host their own game and play with others. What doesn’t work well is how the game handles connections. Any time that a player has even a slight connection issue, all of the other players have to stop what they’re doing and stare at a black scoreboard screen with the timeout counter on it for the person having trouble. The host can select to resume the game, but this does nothing. The only other option is to kick the person, which resumes the game immediately. It makes no sense to me, and I don’t see why it’s needed at all.
I thought I’d leave feedback about these issues via the button on the main menu, only to find out that when typing up a report, lowercase letters and the spacebar were the only keys that worked properly. Every other key was replaced by miscellaneous symbols and mathematical notation. My resulting feedback report looked like the work of a hyperactive third-grader.
I can only say that my experience with theHunter:Primal thus far has been a headache. Just a big headache. For whatever reason, though, it’s a headache I’ve been coming back to again and again over the past few days. There’s some intangible charm to the game that just feels promising. I have no idea what it is, but I know the future is still really bright for the game, despite all of the dark spots currently present. I can’t bring myself to recommend the game in its current state, but I definitely think that it’s going places.
theHunter: Primal is a super promising game with a lot of potential, but right now, it's just too early on for me to recommend it with the flaws present.