Primal

Gamestyle Archive intro: this was an incomplete review on the PS2 spreadsheet that we’re working our way through currently, but my own documents have revealed the full review. I actually thought Primal was a game that could have been so much better; it looked fantastic but lacked gameplay. This review dates from April 2003 and is from JJ. We actually played an early preview of the game during the PlayStation 2 show the previous year – remember those shows in London?

Primal_NTCS_cover

Unquestionably words in the English language are abused daily, thereby devaluing their true meaning.  Yet as I stand on this broken cliff path, gazing down on what was a once vibrant city, which now lies broken, and shrouded in darkness, I utter the word epic. For this is what Primal truly represents – an epic adventure and a formidable piece of artistic design and programming.  I may have lived through Morrowind and slain Halo, but this is equally impressive.

You take the role of Jennifer Tate (Jen), a reluctant heroine, who finds herself the victim of a vicious attack from what can only be described as a demon.  Released from your deep sleep whilst in hospital, you are offered the opportunity to track down your assailant and much more besides.  Your companion throughout this journey of discovery is Scree, a gargoyle and fountain of information and energy.  Together this unlikely duo forms an effective team, with their abilities allowing you to overcome a variety of problems.

As your attacker is not from this world, you find yourself cast into the underworld, where recent events threaten chaos.   Not wishing to spoil anything, I will only add that you must defeat Abbadon (chaos) in each of the four underworld realms.  Here begins your long trek of crossing each of the four kingdoms, solving puzzles, killing enemies, restoring the balance and discovering your true self.

Jen is an ingenious character, not only in terms of her inner strength and feisty temper, but because she should appeal to a wide cross-section of gamers.   A strong female lead should attract male and female alike – along with those who favour loud metal.  Strong design runs throughout Primal, commencing with the memorable architecture, natural environments and characters.  For anyone who has seen the film Nightbreed, I’d suggest that SCEE Cambridge has stormed through those cemetery gates and made the demon world their own.

Avoiding Primal recently has been an uphill struggle, with various adverts and reviews appearing everywhere.  I do not heed the words of others, but you can safely say that Primal has been received with varied responses.  This is a release, which you will either cherish or loathe.  Admittedly the first few hours are solitary and unrewarding as you wander aimlessly trying to learn your new abilities and adapt to puzzles from the viewpoint of two controllable characters.  Apart from asking Scree, there is no help on hand, which probably explains some of those negative reviews.  We’re used to being helped easily through games, as formulated by Nintendo, and if I was to write a review after only three hours play it would be totally different to the one you are now reading.

First I want to discuss the faults of Primal, and honestly these do not take much effort to pinpoint.  This is an ambitious project and one that perhaps has proven to be far more difficult than expected. Primal is a grandiose version of Soul Reaver, stronger in every sense, offering new elements, but ultimately still flawed.  The much-maligned combat system, which relies on the shoulder buttons, is a part of the game, but this is not Soul Calibur and should not be judged as such.  Yes, it’s very limited and can rely on luck or the poor AI of your opponents; but combat can be enjoyable, if shallow.

A major problem with games of this ilk is the reliance on back tracking to boost the length of the title i.e. Shadowman.   Primal avoids such a trap, by putting the emphasis back onto the player, but the lack of direction means that many of us will wander looking for the next stage.   The main issue with Primal is the game design, which allows for puzzles and enemies, but nothing in between.  Your journey consists of nothing more than triggering cut sequences, fighting enemies whom exist around monuments or key points and solving the occasional puzzle.  This may be the underworld, but the lack of life apart from warriors is noticeable.   Zelda represents the same battle against evil, yet manages to fill its world with sub missions and local life.  Not only does this hide the shortcomings of the story; it provides a welcome distraction from the conquest by offering variety.  Primal does not, and you do begin to question if these kings and queens actual rule over anything apart from land and empty buildings.

Elsewhere the camera has improved and manages to keep up with events on screen, although occasionally you are forced to intervene with the right stick.  The presentation is exceptional but there are noticeable delays in speech when asking for advice.  This is offset by the excellent dialogue throughout which includes the vocal talents of Hudson Leick and Andreas Katsulas.  The effort of the actors is shown in an informative featurette once you complete the first realm – the first of several bonuses.

One area that has been overlooked is the use of the rumble function, which only kicks in when your health is low.  With buildings collapsing and brutal fights taking place, you would think that the function would have been implemented better.  Most problems can be categorised into the finding of a key or lever, and these seem timid in comparison to the huge scale of Primal, which would have benefited from more elaborate set pieces and problems to overcome.

Faced with such a list of charges, the plaintiff would have no other option but to plead guilty and take the punishment.  However Primal contains much to savour, but like so many releases you have to put the effort in first.  Technically the game is unquestionably a tour de force: a glorious technical demo thanks to the involvement of the Performance Analyser.  There is no loading after starting the game, and the level of detail, lighting effects and draw distance really shows that the Playstation 2 has some tricks left.  It’s made all the more impressive by the sheer size of the levels and architectural detail.  The inclusion of 60hz and progressive scan options, rounds off a formidable package, but a game needs more than just visuals to sell these days.

Primal’s main strength for me is the story, which can so often lift a release above merely average.  We all crave for an engrossing story, with twists, revelations, characters and decent voice acting.   Not only that, but the game posses atmosphere, thanks to the dark and brooding setting and effective use of music.  Duos are becoming more popular in releases and Primal offers the best usage yet.  Jen has her expanding demon qualities whilst Scree is able to climb walls and posses statues – although it must be said only certain walls and statues.  This feature is well implemented and again lifts the game above the likes of Shadowman or Soul Reaver.

My overall feeling is a huge adventure such as Primal suffers because there are no distractions from the by the numbers game play.  The variety of kingdoms and demon abilities are solid enough but the progression is entirely linear.  If only the same level of planning went into the game dynamics as the programming, then we’d have something truly memorable.      To get any satisfaction from Primal takes a great deal of effort and compassion, and this price will be too high for some of us.

Graphics – 10

Sound – 9

Presentation – 9

Lastability – 7

Gameplay – 6

Gamestyle Score  – 6

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