When Exoprimal was announced, it made a pretty big splash – it’s just a shame that splash was the sound of fanboy tears as Capcom decided once again to do anything but reboot Dino Crisis. All conversation was taken up by that fact, which is a shame considering how fundamentally different the two are from one another in pretty much every regard aside from having dinosaurs and a character with red hair (who I didn’t even see in this technical test).
After getting the chance to play a few hours of the closed technical test that took place earlier this week, I’ve come away surprisingly impressed with Exoprimal. Blasting waves of dinosaurs in a squad feels great, it has some uniquely dark humour reminiscent of Dead Rising, and the tech powering it is truly impressive.
I also came away wishing that it hadn’t put all of its eggs in a PvP basket and gone with something closer to a level-based Left 4 Dead approach. We only know about the Dinosaur Survivor mode in Exoprimal so far, so we may get more that aren’t just lengthy multiplayer matches, but Dinosaur Survival has some pretty big stumbles and is in need of significant tweaks if it has any hope of keeping our interest.
Exoprimal’s tone is the first thing that surprised me. I don’t know why I didn’t expect a game all about dinosaur weather forecasts to be funny, but its tongue-in-cheek nature and clearly evil AI companion steering the action made me laugh quite a few times. A few good examples include when the AI sarcastically said “hope you like dinosaurs” when confronted with a horde for the first time, or it giving you increasingly lower survival odds as more and more enemies appear on-screen.
The main gameplay mechanic of Exoprimal (aside from dinosaurs) is the totally-not-like Anthem exosuits that the player can wear, each one fitting into a different role with distinct skills and personalities. You can also swap between them on the fly during combat, which adds a huge layer of versatility to proceedings.
We were given access to four of them during the closed technical test, two assault, one tank, and one support. I gave them all a decent try, but mostly stuck with the assault classes to deal out some serious dino damage. Both the gun-wielding Deadeye and sword-focused Zephyr were a lot of fun to control and felt distinct from one another, while the tank-like Roadblock felt incredibly cinematic as it used its shield to hold off swarms of dinosaurs.
Sadly, it seems that Capcom handed out the four most boring suits imaginable for this technical test. The opening cutscene showcased some awesome picks, including a roller-blading exosuit with dual guns, a sniper class, and even a fiery-headed assault suit called Barrage. It’s a shame they went with the more generic choices here, but at least they all felt unique enough to stand out on their own.
Once you’ve selected your exosuit, you’re paired with four other players and set against another team of five. The other team appears as ghosts as you both race around a map to complete objectives as fast as possible, including killing swarms of raptors or fighting bigger dinosaurs. The team who completes objectives faster seems to get some kind of advantage over the final round, which has the two teams fighting against each other to protect an objective or collect energy cells. It’s all a bit formulaic, which goes against the creative chaos of massive dinos.
This is where Exoprimal is going wrong currently. Not only does the competition side of it as the main mode make matches feel a little intense, but the final round having pretty much nothing to do with dinosaurs and turning into a boring deathmatch and escort mix is really weird. Exoprimal would be far better if it just focused on PvE combat, or featured a narrative hook like Left 4 Dead, especially considering each of the exosuits has a personality and seems like they could bounce off of each other well enough with some actual character development thrown in.
One moment towards the end of the technical test showed the true potential of what Exoprimal could be. Midway through a match, the evil AI told us we’d all performed so well we’d been rewarded a special challenge. That challenge turned out to be all 10 players going up against a big T-Rex together. It was far more interesting than the main mode, and made me wish it was just one big PvE, perhaps with more dinosaurs and bigger stakes.
It’s a shame the main mode doesn’t feel right for Exoprimal, because its gunplay and movement both feel fantastic. Blowing away dinosaurs in a squad is satisfying. The sheer number of them on screen really reminded me of Dead Rising, especially during the semi-final stage when a massive storm in the sky drops thousands of them on you at once. It’s incredibly cool, and easily the highlight.
I didn’t expect much of Exoprimal going in, but I’ve come away hopeful that it can stick the landing. It’s got almost all of the right ingredients, but its focus on PvEvP seems like a missed opportunity. It’s still good fun and should surprise people who would rather it was Dino Crisis, but it could be so much more if it refocused.
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