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Primal

Developer: SCEE | Publisher: SCEA
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 03/25/03 | Genre: Action

Primal is a tough game for me to review. At first glance, it is a fun and exciting Action/Adventure title with realistic graphics and a great story. While all the elements of a great game are present, it appears that Sony's Cambridge Studio (Sony of Europe) got a bit sloppy when working on Primal or was forced to cut the development time short. While the end product doesn't live up my high expectations, it may still have the elements you are looking for.

You are Jen, a girl in her twenties who is dating the lead singer of a punk rock band. They are attacked by a demonic being and both are rushed to the hospital and placed in critical care. The doctors don't give Jen much of a chance to live and they have even less hope for her boyfriend. Scree, a gargoyle like creature, awakens Jen from a coma and explains she only has a short time to live unless she comes with him to his world. Uncertain of what she wants to do; Scree also explains that it is also the only way to save her boyfriend. She decides to come with Scree.

To help players adjust to the gameplay, you will have to follow Scree around. As players progress into the first of four enormous levels, you will be told what do to and how to do it. It is also in one of these early instances that the puzzles begin to surface. For the majority of Primal, players will explore and solve puzzles. These puzzles range from logical, easy to solve, to the difficult, I better look on the Internet and find some tips. Normally, once completing a puzzle, and occasionally when you first have a puzzle presented to you, a cinema will play setting up the scene. This helps progress the story. Failure to complete a puzzle will stop the story from continuing any further.

Graphically, Primal is incredible looking. One look at Jen in her non-demonic form (more on this in a bit) and you just won't believe the detail. She blinks, moves, and looks just like a real person. Scree is also detailed looking. However, at times when holding a torch, he will get a very unrealistic lighting effect. The other main characters in the game are also very detailed. But non-boss enemies are not that detailed. This seems to be a disturbing trend I have noticed in gaming... Developers make the main characters as good looking as possible. However, when it comes time to add details into the normal non-boss enemies, they don't come anywhere near the same detail level. I feel like this needs to be stopped. Developers should take the time to fully develop even the most minor character. It will make your world seem that much more realistic.

As my subtitle to this article indicates, all is not well with Primal. This is something that is hard for me to admit. While Primal is far from the "biggest release of the year," I really became captivated with the story. I really don't want to spoil any of it for you--but trust me that this is one of the most well written pieces I have ever seen in a video game. This is coming from a big RPG fan too. However, while the story is great and I enjoy most of the exploration and puzzle elements, Primal has two big problems: Combat and bugs.

Okay, so while I am classifying Primal as an Action/Adventure, it could easily be called just an Adventure title. Combat begins with enemies appearing on-screen and players hit R2 to begin fighting. Using X, they can swap between targets and use R1 to block. R2, L2, and L1 all use pressure sensitive attacks. However, don't fret spending too much time trying to learn specific combos. Combat is a button smashing affair. But when an enemy tries to strike you, use the R1 button to block. If this sounds boring to you, it is. Combat is less about skill and more about being annoyed. While it isn't necessary to fight every enemy, you will need to kill most of them. Don't worry, even if a group of them come up on you, there will only be a select few times you are in danger of dying. The AI is absolutely dreadful.

Once combat ends, you can hold down one of the D buttons as Jen to regain health from Scree. Scree then collects "energy" from fallen enemies to resupply his meter to give to Jen.

Even with the issues with the combat, how do I justify giving Primal a C+? Well, if it wasn't for the incredible story and fun exploration/puzzles, I would have given it an F for the number of bugs in it. On a GameFaqs.com message board, there are over four pages of different bugs players have found. I have run into several myself. I will try to list a few of the bugs I found most annoying here. When moving around the game world with either Scree or Jen, players may run into an object like a wall, table, rock, etc. Upon hitting this object, you will not be able to move left or right or perform any action until you back up like a truck. It gets worse, several times, I ran into bugs that kept me from progressing in the story further. I had to save the game, restart the system, or use a prior save to resolve the problem. When communicating with Scree and Jen, there will be times when the players freeze up and say a single word five times or more. Also, the frame rate drops from being extremely fluid to well under 30 fps for several seconds before turning back to normal. These are but a few of the many bugs found in Primal. In fact, I haven't seen this many bugs in a game since Obi-Wan was released on the Xbox. If you aren't familiar with that title, save yourself some frustration and don't look into it any further. Those of you who have played Obi-Wan know exactly what I am saying.

How does a First Party Title released from Sony with a major advertising campaign get released with so many bugs? Did Sony rush the title out of the door? Did the developers slack off? Why did nobody catch any of these bugs (and the others I didn't list) during the debug phase of development? At least the bug where the demo would lock up your PS2 was fixed. But what about the other bugs?

Primal also has some strange sound problems. All of the sounds in the game--whether they be sound effects or music are very low. Using the default sound levels, I can barely hear anything. Even after turning up all of the in-game sound options, everything is still so low I have to turn my speakers much louder than any other game I have played before.

Despite these problems, I kept playing Primal. I was glued to the game trying to see what happened in the story next. As the player progresses through each of the different huge words, they will gain a new demonic form that Jen can morph into. Each form has its own abilities that can be used in combat and for solving puzzles. Scree also is used in solving puzzled. He can climb walls, take on the form of certain statues, and get into places sometimes Jen cannot. For the most part of the game, these two characters will be following each other around. While there were times when one character decided that it did not want to follow the other one anymore, for the most part this AI is very good. (Why couldn't they have used similar intelligence for the enemies?

If you can look past the negatives, there is a good game in here. However, if this title was in development for another 3 to 6 months, this could possibly be game of the year. As it stands, the final version of Primal plays like a beta but is worth at least a rental. Those who can suffer through the flaws will find an excellent story that is worth the price of admission.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 04/08/03
ESRB Details: Blood, Violence
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Screenshots for Primal

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