Still deciding whether or not to give Primal a whirl? We finally deliver our thoughts on Cambridge Studio's high-profile adventure in the full review.
Sony Cambridge Studios
By Kikizo Staff
"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." - Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)
A trifle melodramatic, yes, but the sentiment rings true. Primal is by all accounts a game filled with good intentions; borne of the minds that brought us Medievil, it is clearly a title crafted with much enthusiasm and love. That, sadly, proves to not be enough as the end product is hampered by a modicum of design and technical issues and ultimately falters because of it.
Arguably its most endearing trait, Primal regales players with a familiar yarn, one that tells of an evil force and the imminent doom of numerous worlds, including our own -- something that only the player can prevent. That said, it is intelligently crafted, and, backed by some of the most impressive voice work yet seen on a console manages to weave a compelling narrative that often serves as the only incentive to continue the drudgery of Jen's quest.
That's Jennifer to you. If the Tomb Raider series has given us nothing else, it is the feisty female protagonist that has engrained itself as the de facto standard for the genre. Orphaned at a young age, we're introduced to Jen, now a beautiful, strong-willed woman in her early twenties, who is involved in a relationship with Lewis, her kindred spirit and the lead singer in a rock band. Shortly thereafter an assault by a brooding, demonic entity leaves Jen in a coma and Lewis purportedly whisked off to the realm of Oblivion. Accompanied by Scree, diminutive gargoyle aide to Arella, Goddess of Order, Jen is freed from her mortal bounds and travels to the world of Oblivion where she will learn of her true destiny.
Unlike most similar offerings however, this seemingly trite setup works largely because of the empathy one feels for the character and the tenuous emotional link created as a result of the outstanding voice-acting. In fact, Hudson Leick and Andreas Katsulas' work as Jennifer and her gargoyle sidekick Scree, breathes life into what are otherwise run-of-the-mill characters. Marred only by the repetitive responses elicited whenever the player's path is blocked by a door or similar obstacle, the exchanges between Scree, Jennifer and the denizens of the various worlds are, simply put, exceptional.
Far from a mere plot device, both characters play an integral role in terms of gameplay as players must make use of their intrinsic abilities in order to surmount the challenges before them. Though having to occasionally part company, the duo travel together for much of their journey, with the character not currently controlled by the player following closely behind (pressing the Select button instantly switches control to the other character).
Jen is the more athletic of the two, and to whom it falls to fight off the hordes of beasts that litter their path. Scree simply turns to stone until the threat has passed. Although initially unbeknownst to her, Jen is also a half-demon and through the course of the adventure will acquire the abilities of four different demonic races, one for each realm of Oblivion. Scree on the other hand, is capable of possessing stone statues, climbing sheer stone surfaces and absorbing energy that is imperative to Jen's survival.
Both characters are also necessary to circumvent the many puzzles that hinder your progress. However, it is here that the first of the game's many deficiencies arise. The 'two-character' dynamic opens up a realm of possibilities, but few of these have been explored by the developers, opting instead to offer rudimentary tasks that require one player to scout ahead in order to find a switch/item/open a door which will then enable the other character to join them. While the puzzles show initial promise (one scene in which Scree must possess a statue to combat a massive demon comes instantly to mind), the formula changes little over the course of the game, a realization that will dishearten all but the most determined of players.
The fighting engine too, lacks depth and scope, requiring players to do little more than mash a combination of the various shoulder buttons in order to pull of punches, kicks, blocks and even finishing moves. Also annoying is the fact that although players are besieged by multiple enemies, only one engages in combat at a time. Given the limited fighting engine, I can understand the reasoning behind this, as to have done otherwise would have proven, I'm sure, very frustrating with cheap shots coming in from all sides. However, knowing that the fighting is at best, passable, the developers should have made battles less frequent and concentrated instead on the puzzles. Oh wait...
The gameplay, admittedly a vital aspect (if not the most), is really the biggest problem with the title: the fighting is moderately enjoyable at best, and the long, drawn-out exploration and puzzle-solving is needlessly tedious. Add to this a camera system that can be best described as temperamental and you're looking at an incredibly frustrating experience.
What makes this easier to bear is the high-quality presentation. The sound and visuals are exquisite; each of the realms you visit has its own distinct look and feel. The first world of Solum for example, is quite literally falling apart. Earthquakes are common and debris is scattered everywhere. Everything about it, from the fallen ruins to the eternal night conveys a sense of foreboding and doom. Although the transitions between her fighting animations can prove awkward, for the most part Jen is animated wonderfully. Her transformations too, are a sight to behold.
Provided by electronic rock outfit, 16 Volt, Primal's soundtrack is of special note, providing a suitably gritty, powerful aural experience to accompany your on-screen exploits. There simply are not enough superlatives to heap upon the game's voice cast. As previously mentioned, the story is relatively standard fare elevated as a consequence of the accomplished interactions between the many characters players will encounter. And it remains the only reason Primal is even worth completing. Pity about those repetitive in-game references, though. When all is said and done however, Cambridge Studio's latest reeks of missed opportunity.