Looking for a unique, story-driven experience that eases you into its gameplay and is loads of fun to play with friends or alone? Well then you’ve come to the completely wrong place. But if you’re looking for an absurdly difficult action co-op game about shooting hordes of mutants, Primal Fears is the game for you.
Primal Fears is an isometric action-shooter in which you control a guy or girl blasting your way through a post-apocalyptic world overrun by mutanty-bug things. The story is the stuff of zombie movies and is only just barely touched upon through the occasional newspaper you’ll find lying around. There was some sort of weird insect/mutant infestation and this pharmaceutical company, having no employees familiar with the Resident Evil series, released this chemical called pharGONe that was supposed to help stop the infestation, but instead made it worse and turned the humans into gross mutant things, too. Your character is traversing the urban landscape, trying to make his or her way to the laboratory where it all started and killing so, so many mutants along the way.
Gameplay is crazy simple. Levels are divided into two types: missions through lengthy areas that progress the “story” and arena levels where you remain in one smaller area and attempt to survive for ten minutes. Making your way through mission levels is hugely linear; if paths branch, they dead-end before long and, other than killing things, all you have to do is find keycards, smash through boarded-up doorways, and move a crate with a forklift (for some reason only once in the entire game, which is lucky because it’s boring and has fidgety controls). There are checkpoints to respawn from spaced out throughout the levels. The arena missions are even simpler. In fact, I’ve basically already described them. The only thing to add is that if you die in one of them, you simply retry or return to base camp.
Control-wise, you have a primary fire for your guns, a secondary fire for explosives, and a melee attack. You can sprint for short periods of time, but your stamina decreases quickly and then must recharge. Your stamina also takes a huge hit when you perform your melee attack, something which gets annoying fast when a mutant is munching on you because your guy is just standing there, apparently too exhausted to wield his machete. However, it’s rare you’ll want to use your melee attack anyway as baddies appear to be able to harm you from some decent distance away, so you’ll mostly rely on your firearms and explosives.
Aside from a crowbar for your first melee weapon, you start with an assault rifle, shotgun, and grenades. There are more powerful weapons available at the shop kiosks at your base camp and sprinkled throughout mission levels, but you’ll sadly learn that the weapons you’re given from the outset are the ones you’ll come to rely most on. This is unfortunate because there are more fun ones like a flamethrower, a nail gun, and an exploding RC car, but these hold so little ammo that you’re bound to run out fast. Killing enemies in both mission and arena levels and progressing through the latter types, as well as finding boxes with dollar signs on them tucked away in alleyways provides you with cash for buying new weapons or upgrading the ones you own. You can upgrade weapons so that they hold a higher maximum ammo count, but you’ll still be faced with so many endless waves of mutants that even your trusty shotgun will get tapped out. Then you’re stuck with the assault rifle, which, no matter how much you upgrade it, always feels like it’s only picking away slowly at enemies, bit by bit.
This leads to the problem with Primal Fears on the whole. It is annoyingly hard and in a really tedious way. You can try every level on Easy, Medium, Hard, or Insane, but you are awarded points for completing levels and receive very little for playing on Easy. These points are used to unlock more levels. However, I ran into numerous other players who were discovering, as I was, that even on Medium the game is extremely unforgiving.
You will spend the majority of your time backtracking through levels as you retreat from mutant onslaughts, shooting all the way. Though offline play is available, Primal Fears is clearly designed with co-op (up to 4 players at time) in mind, sort of playing like Gauntlet with grenades, and, admittedly, it’s more fun to take down mutants together. Still, enemies hit points ramp up markedly in relation to how many people are playing and the gameplay is already so simplistic and repetitious without enemies being able to take bucketloads of bullets that it almost feels less tedious to just go it your own. Furthermore, the multiplayer can occasionally be wonky. Twice, I joined a level and was faced with a bizarrely unkillable enemy who wouldn’t go down no matter how much I filled it with lead.
Graphically-speaking, the game is nothing special. There are decent lighting effects since the game is mostly about being in the dark with only your flashlight and meager light sources to illuminate your way. It’s also satisfying to kill the bigger enemies as they explode in a shower of blood, which drips down your screen. The mutants, on the whole, are appropriately nasty and off-putting, but for the majority of the game there are only four different types of them, two of which you’ll fight primarily: these lanky-looking brown guys and these semi-headcrab things. And some of the other enemies are simply bigger, differently-colored versions of these.
There’s technically a decent amount of variety in the settings as you’ll venture through a hospital, a suburb, a mall, a sewer, and a number of other places, each with its own look. But, considering everywhere is destroyed and post-apocalyptic-looking, the differences between levels don’t feel that pronounced. (There is a nicely atmospheric graveyard in the Abandoned Park arena level though.)
The audio is nothing special. You’ll get pretty tired of hearing the same mutant squeals and the constant rat-tat-tat of your rifle. The music is of the action-thriller type and is decently done, though standard. It does kick in at appropriate times, leaving you in silence at others, which is a nice touch. The music that plays at base camp is catchy as well.
The beginning of Primal Fears is anything but welcoming, throwing you into a sea of mutants and forcing you (unless you find a good co-op game to join) to play the first level more than once until you have enough points to unlock the others. Admittedly, the game gets easier and more rewarding the more you play it as levels begin unlocking more easily and your weapons get upgraded to a point where they’re a significant help. But the gameplay becomes very predictable very quickly and you may not feel like sticking with Primal Fears until it actually starts to feel fun.
Den of Geek Rating: