Saturday, August 16, 2008

Primal: For once a good game...

More or less by accident I came across Primal for Playstation2 and was pleasantly surprised. While doing a little cleanup I came across on old video game magazine that mentioned the game, never heard of it before, but it looked interesting and ratings seems to be ok'ish (80/100), so I bought it. The basic setup is quite a bit similar to The Longest Journey or Dreamfall, a normal girl from this dimension, gets sucked up into another one and go on and save the world, while being supported by a small Gargoyle creature which follows you around and which you can also control. The game is seperated into four realms, each pretty much completly different then the other, which gives a nice chance on each realm switch. The four realms have to be explored one after another, so you don't actually have to travel forward and back to them, even so I think you could (never tried).

The basic gameplay is a little unusual and yet very familiar, its not quite like Tomb Raider and not quite like Drakan, but also not quite like Dreamfall. Its kind of has elements of all of them. You do have a quite large world to explore, so in that sense it feels like a large scale RPG like Drakan, you can also smash barrels just like in Drakan, but you don't actually have RPG elements, its more of an adventure game in which you just walk along solving puzzles in a mostly linear fashion. But you don't have an inventory and you don't talk to characters via the usual multiple choice dialog, the worlds (since there are four of them) are quite empty for most part. You do quite a bit of climbing in this game, but not as extensively as you do in a Tomb Raider. What however sets this game apart is that you can't actually do that much beside walking, you don't have a jump button, you don't have an inventory, you don't have a look at command and you can't just punch around. While exploring the only thing that you can do is switch characters, the whole navigation happens automatically, so when you reach a ledge you will jump automatically and such. You do have a use button, but that only works when standing in front of a usable object, it will do nothing for an unusable object, not even the "I can't use that" thing, which can make the game a little confusing, since usable objects are not highlighted by any means. On the other side it also makes satisfying gameplay, since you have to solve puzzles by understanding the situation and not by just clicking on every highlighted object. You have also your Gargoyle friend which will give you a hint on a button press, which will most often guide you in the right direction. You also have a map that will show you where you have to go next. So while you can get lost a little bit from time to time, you for most part have a pretty good idea of what you should be doing.

Due to the lack of inventory and talkable characters the puzzles in this game are all environment based, you have doors to open, switches to press and such. Every now and then you even have to carry a special object around. The whole puzzeling is made interesting since you control not one character but two, both with different abilities. The Gargoyle can climb stone walls and carry things, while the girl does the fighting and can also swim later in the game. Many times in the game it is your job to prepare the path with one character, so that the other can follow. While at times there is a little repetition in the puzzleling, doors and switches after all all kind of look and work the same, you still have a good bit of varity and the puzzles are all pretty logical and straight forward, so no frustrating mind bending required.

Beside the puzzling the game also features fighting monsters, kind of similar to Tomb Raider in that the monster fighting never becomes the central part of the game, but still is quite a lot when compared to a more regular adventure game like Dreamfall. The fighting itself is a little unusual as well, it for most part feels like a regular 'beat the other guy up' kind of thing that you get in Zelda or a lot of other games. However the enemies can take quite a bit of beating and its not overly clear when you hit them and they hit you, i.e. at the end of a fight you will often be left with little energie left, while othertimes you come out without hardly been hit once. It feels all rather random with your doing having only small impact on the result. Its not really a game breaker issue, since you can refuel your energie at your Gargoyle friend and you can also just run past the monsters, so there is a little bit of strategy going on and some fun to be derived from that. Enemies also stay dead once beaten and continue to lie around for the rest of the game and they also give you energie that you can use to restore your health or when in human form your health will restore automatically. So for most part of the game you won't have much trouble with the enemies, but a bit of work to manage your energie levels properly. While the fighting is far from perfect, it works well at giving you a bit of varity inbetween the puzzeling.

Dieing is also kind of interesting in this game, since you don't actually die, but are thrown out of the current world back into the normal world, in which you lie in a hospital in coma, your Gargoyle friend can then go back to one of those stargates that connect the worlds to get you back. When you wait for to long, you might actually die completly, but I haven't tested that one yet. Dieing however is pretty much a non issue in this game, due the automatic jumping you can never kill yourself by jumping down the wrong cliff, the only way to die is by fighting enemies, but even there you always fall back to human form first.

The characters in this game are well fleshed out and interesting and the overall story is decent too, but it lacks a little bit of a connection, since all four realms are completly seperate and you don't really have much story cross realm borders, beside the two main characters of course. The ending also leaves a bit to be desired, its pretty much what you expect, with no real supprise. The story overall however is decent enough and certainly one of the more interesting onces I have seen in a while.

The graphics are pretty nice for PS2 and feature some good particle effects, the game also supports progressive scan as well as widescreen and supports plenty of languages that you can switch between at any time. Some making-of stuff is included as well. So on the technical side its very solid.

Overall the game is pretty good, but not without its short comings. The focus on exploration is a nice change compared to all the shooters I have played recently. However at times it can also get a little lengthy, since the ways you have to walk are not the shortest. The fighting is also mostly button mashing, not really annoying, but also not all that interesting. But the characters and story make up for all the short comings it might have on the gameplay side and with its strong focus on adventuring, while not actually being a classic adventure game, you also have a type of game that you don't see very often.

PS: On the Playstation3 the game shows in some areas graphical glitches, the glitches are however limited to specific areas (whenever you have many trees with leaves) and mostly only happen in the first realm.

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