I’ve always loved dinosaurs. It’s partly to do with my fascination with fossils and David Attenborough documentaries, and partly because I’ve never really grown up. Carnivore: Dinosaur Hunter HD sounds like a dream game for a paleo-geek. Unfortunately hunting big scary dinosaurs in HD (as implied by the title) turned out to be an underwhelming experience.
Firstly, I should point out that the game is not marketed as a hunting game. It is an exploration game with a mild danger element, or so say the developers. However, putting the word “Hunter” in the title does lead to certain expectations. Even so I approached the game with an open mind.
As soon as you begin a new game you are presented with a screen showing your weapon/utilities and what dinosaurs you can hunt, depending on the location. You only have one to start with until you have unlocked the other eight. Then you are dumped into the location and left to your own devices.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The controls are pretty easy to master. Left trigger to aim, left bumper to hold your breath, right trigger to fire. Pressing triangle brings up your Dino-Nav (yes, I made that up but it’s better than the game’s “Gadget”) which also tells you which way the wind is blowing so you can stand downwind from a dino and fart to your hearts content.
You receive money for killing dinosaurs so you can unlock new weapons, of which there are a sniper rifle (you start off with a standard .243 rifle) and a crossbow. Even if you are desperate to reap these meagre rewards it’s going to take you a while because killing dinosaurs can earn you less than ten dollars and your sniper rifle costs about $1000. Similarly you can unlock new locations for several thousand points but killing a dinosaur only earns you about 200 points. It made me think of that South Park episode where they are playing World of Warcraft and end up killing boars in the woods for hours upon hours to level up. Dinosaurs are undoubtedly more interesting to hunt but even that can wear thin after a while.
And if you have spent an hour grinding to get that elusive sniper rifle and progress to the next level, you’re going to be disappointed because after the third time, you’ll find yourself in familiar territory, albeit a bit darker. How could you not recognise it after all the time you were here hunting stegosaurs here? Yep it’s the first level, dusk version. There’s also a fog version which looks lovely but does mean that there are only three unique locations. There are also only nine dinosaurs, only two of which are carnivores. Maybe your character is also a carnivore? Does he/she feast on living-impaired lizards? You don’t know and the game never bothers to tell you who you are and why you’re there. Apparently there’s a description on the PlayStation Store but I refuse to look. I shouldn’t have to.
What was nice about the game was the way you were left to wander about, taking in the scenery and choosing how you wanted to take down your prey. You can go in all guns blazing or take the stealthy approach by planning your strategy. Your magic Dino-Nav also tells you if a dinosaur is aware of your presence and where the waterholes are. If you don’t like being cruel to extinct animals, you can shoot them with a tranquiliser. Or you can shoot them until they’re dead again. I recommend the latter, mainly because tranquilisers don’t really do the job properly and you’ll just end up chasing the dinosaurs about.
Unlocking further upgrades makes hunting a bit easier and the game definitely picks up once you get to explore the other islands and can hunt more ferocious dinosaurs. However, using upgrades means your bonus is reduced. This is a nice touch though as it limits your use and lets you experience the game as it was meant to be.
Any hunter will tell you that knowing your prey is key to a successful hunt and this game is, thankfully, no exception. You will gradually learn the patterns of the different species and how they react to certain situations. This aspect of the game works well for the most part and the AI is effectively realistic (as far as we know). But again you’ll have to jump through a lot of grinding hoops to get there.
As a gentle walkabout and occasional hunting game, it works but the novelty wears off very quickly and I soon got bored with tramping around the same large maps. For giant lizards, they sure are hard to find. And as far as exploring goes, there really isn’t anything to discover. Just the same locations with a couple of different dinosaurs. Don’t get me wrong, dinosaurs are brilliant but if you just want to watch them like some kind of paleo-phile (I’m really getting my money’s worth out of that prefix) then there are plenty of documentaries for that as well as a much more exciting Hollywood movie.
The animals themselves are well rendered and animated and the landscape is decent, lovely in places, but the promise of HD doesn’t really come through. If they hadn’t put it in the title, I wouldn’t have known. After saying that the game ran pretty smoothly. I did notice a few odd textures and glitches but there was nothing that ruined the experience for me.
The lack of music certainly adds to the ambience of the setting. The only sounds are the strange animal noises you can hear about you as you wander about aimlessly, the thudding or crunching of your footsteps, which lessens when you slow down or are crawling, and the noise of the wind rustling the trees and giant fern leaves. It’s a shame that with so much effort put into creating a wonderful environment, the developers forgot to add the game.
One thing which did excite me was hearing the dinosaurs before seeing them and then following the sound. If you are hiding in a patch of vegetation, which I did a lot of, and a dinosaur walked by you, the controller vibrated with each of its footsteps, getting louder and stronger as it approached and then fading again as it passed. It was the only really immersive aspect and I was so enthralled the first time it happened I forgot to shoot at the creature as it went by. This is also suitably unnerving when being attacked as sometimes the carnivores employ their own Batman tactics and catch you unawares. It was disappointing then when I was killed by a dinosaur and the screen simply went black. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to the game and this lack of urgency, while probably intended by the developers, puts a damper on what is already a slow haul. Even a slash of blood across the screen would have been more dramatic.
The main problem I see with hunting games like this, and hunting in general if I’m going to get topical which apparently I am, is that hunting big slow moving prey that runs away from you isn’t fun. Hunting big fast moving prey that runs towards you is much more exciting but I felt pretty dejected after trying to hunt a stegosaurus and other herbivores over and over, and it really killed the mood for me. By the time I got to the ceratosaurus, the first available carnivore, my heart wasn’t really in it.
If you haven’t got bored and you do actually complete the game, the chance is you won’t want to play this again. I couldn’t detect much in the way of achievements and objectives so there isn’t any incentive to dive back in and find things you might have missed or try hunting in a more challenging setting.
I really wanted to like this game but the developers missed a trick by not clearly defining what they were trying to do. To be honest after playing, I’m not entirely sure they knew what kind of game they wanted to create. If you’re a fan of hunting games you might want to check it out and maybe you’ll get something out of it that I missed but I wouldn’t advise spending a lot of money on it.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: PlayStation 3 Release Date: 18/12/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter HD for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.