With the vast proliferation of hunting games to hit store shelves in the latter part of the 1990s, it was inevitable that somewhere down the line one of them would break free of the clone-mold and offer an interesting and realistic approach. The release of Carnivores into the field nicely meets that criteria. The heavy irony is that the hunt is for creatures that no longer exist and, in fact, features encounters of the dinosaur kind. I find it amazing that this game, with its prehistoric prey, is quite possibly the best of the genre and I don't say that lightly, considering I've played most of the "normal" hunting games based here on Earth.
Make no mistake, though, Carnivores is pure simulation and doesn't pretend to be an action title. Even so, the designers set the stage for the hunting action by creating a plausible and interesting back story to allow you to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the hunt. Suffice it to say, the science fiction-based story isn't a big factor in the game but it does revolve around the discovery of a new Earth-like planet with atmospheric conditions suitable for human habitat. Unfortunately, the planet is going through its prehistoric phase and hunters going there are transported to a world rife with dinosaurs -- a fact that is exploited by the DinoHunt Corp.
For the environmentalists out there who despise even the thought of killing wildlife of any sort, Carnivores addresses the concern by allowing hunters to bring down their trophies with tranquilizer bullets and arrows -- in fact, use of the non-lethal ammunition actually increases the score. The only downside of using these weapons is the realistic loss of a trophy head to hang in the trophy room at the virtual lodge. Anyone who does enjoy the game, however, owes it to themselves to use the deadly ammo at least once to see the animated scene of the craft that swoops down to gather the trophy-head.
Gameplay in Carnivores is extremely smooth with the 3Dfx-driven graphics and has an astonishing amount of options complemented by a well-thought out approach to expanding hunting opportunities based on successful completion of "rites of passage." It works like this: the hunter earns points for bagging specific prey each time he or she goes into the field (in this case, one of the many islands on planet FMM UV-32). Once the pre-defined total is reached the hunter advances to the next skill level that brings with it new and better weapons as well as additional dinosaur types to hunt.
In a fascinating design concept, the hunter isn't limited to any particular prey while hunting, however, stalking and dropping just any dinosaur won't earn points, only the specific one chosen before the hunt. Likewise, an extremely realistic take on the amount of ammunition available for any one hunt is one of the features that, in my mind, make the simulation much more grounded in fact -- it just doesn't offer a chance for the undisciplined trigger-happy hunter to blast away at anything that moves without ever running out of ammunition.
Through this cleverly designed checks and balances system, the virtual hunter is forced to learn dinosaur-hunting etiquette and virtually assures a controlled hunt, with all the best elements coming into play such as patience, cunning, tracking, stealth and discipline. Without mastering those traits, the player will be destined to restart the game repeatedly until the lesson is learned. With just two small requirements, limited ammunition and selective hunting, Carnivores races ahead of the pack.
There are many other features awaiting the intrepid dinosaur slayer, all of which add to gameplay in significant ways. In addition to the hunter's option of breath or death for the prey, various items and hunting paraphernalia are available that can reduce or increase the points earned depending on how much the equipment increases or decreases the difficulty of the hunt. For example, using radar, a cover scent or camouflage reduces points while using non-lethal weapons (tranquilizers) adds points. Use of binoculars, map, dinosaur call or compass has no impact at all.
Rounding out this surprisingly complete package is the varied terrain and landscapes of the planet's islands (hunting zones) as well as the individual characteristics of each dinosaur, including sight, smell and hearing capabilities. The use of flashing graphics prior to the hunt depicts the "target zone" of each dinosaur -- hitting areas outside the range of these zones will normally cause the creature to either attack or simply run away. Needless to say, the mighty tyrannosaurus rex, which becomes an available target in the latter skill levels, is the only dinosaur ranked "excellent" in all three categories and has the smallest "target zone" -- the eyes.
The six areas on the planet include three at the novice level, two at the advanced level and the final one for experts only. A hundred points opens up the advanced level while 300 opens the Pandora Box of dinosaur hunting and unleashes the terrifying t-rex. As previously stated, the 3Dfx are outstanding -- from surrealistic mist (you haven't lived until you've been patiently staking out a secluded mist-shrouded spot only to have a velociraptor suddenly emerge right before you) to blazing sunlight. Creature movement and animation seems very realistic with the only slight drawback being the lack of distance you can normally see.
Although all hunting locations are islands (which guarantees a certain amount of beach front stalking), a full range of terrain ensures the need to learn specific techniques when hunting in each specific area. Whether you like swamps, mountains, hills, volcanic terrain, flat plains or stifling jungles, you'll find it in this game. If you enjoy virtual hunting and are tired of the meek prey offered in many of the current hunting simulations, sink your teeth into Carnivores and come face-to-face with the plant-eating stegosaurus, parasaurolophus, pachycephalosaurus and triceratops. Or, fight on equal ground with the meat-eating allosaurus, velociraptor or tyrannosaurus rex -- now, if only I could get that elusive pterodactyl in my sights!
Graphics: Clear, concise, smooth, atmospheric. Animation is superb.
Sound: No music -- but who plays music on a dinosaur hunt anyway? Ambient sounds definitely let you feel as if you've arrived in a prehistoric landscape.
Enjoyment: It is so nice to finally play a hunting simulation where the hunter is affected by his or her own actions. Limited ammunition on each hunt, non-effectiveness of indiscriminate animal slaughter and the importance of learning proper techniques required to stalk the dinosaurs make for a realistic experience in a fantasy world. Easy controls.
Replay Value: Any long term replay value after bagging the t-rex can only be assessed by the player using Carnivores. There are enough options and methodologies included to give the game significant hard drive staying power.
People who downloaded Carnivores have also downloaded:
Carnivores 2, Carnivores: Ice Age, Carnivores: Cityscape, Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2004, Championship Bass, Castrol Honda Superbike World Champions, Caveman Ugh-lympics, Castrol Honda Superbike 2000
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