At the beginning of Primal, a hulking demon assaults the lead singer of a heavy metal band just after his show, making off with him to who-knows-where and leaving his girlfriend unconscious and at death's door. Jen, who looks like she'd go out with the lead singer of a heavy metal band, is rushed to the hospital, and she eventually awakens from her coma, thanks to a diminutive gargoyle named Scree, who urges her to follow him into a strange, chaotic alternate reality and to help restore balance both to that world and to hers. Jen's not terribly interested in playing the heroine, but she'd definitely like her boyfriend back. That's where you come in: Primal challenges you to help Jen and Scree help each other as they explore big, seamless environments, solve puzzles, and battle enemies. This action adventure game features some excellent production values, between its outstanding graphics and first-rate voice acting, and it also has some clever twists and original ideas. At the same time, Primal isn't a fast-paced game, and its core gameplay and mechanics aren't always much fun since there's a lot of legwork involved and a lot of locked doors. But it's still a showcase game for the PlayStation 2 and one that will particularly appeal to fans of other occult-themed action adventure games, such as the Soul Reaver series by Crystal Dynamics.
Jen and Scree make an unlikely yet likable duo as the main characters of Primal.
These obstacles take many forms, though many of them take the form of locked doors or other doorlike devices that need to be activated somehow. You'll use teamwork to get past these. Scree can scale some vertical stone surfaces, so often he'll be able to climb right over a wall that's in the way and then open a door from the other side so Jen can get through too. Or, Jen might find a narrow crack in a nearby wall, one that she can slip through but that's too small for Scree, and then find a way for her companion to meet up with her. The two have other powers. Jen gains the ability to transform into several different demonic forms during the course of the game, such as one that has sharp claws and powerful legs and another that can swim. Scree can possess inanimate stone statues and absorb the life force of defeated enemies, which Jen can then use to replenish her own health. All in all, Jen and Scree make a pretty unusual pair of protagonists, and likewise, the puzzles in the game are integrated well enough into the environments that they usually seem natural rather than contrived.
You'll explore a dangerous world, but there's more exploration than danger.
The combat is also rather easy, and it's one of the weaker points of Primal. Jen has slightly different abilities in each of her demon forms, but still, combat is mostly just a matter of mashing on the attack buttons. Once the average enemy has lost all its health, it stands there dizzy for a moment so that you can press two attack buttons simultaneously to finish it off. It's all rather clunky and doesn't look particularly good either. You'll automatically target one enemy at a time, so landing your blows isn't the problem. It's that the combat requires little skill or timing, so whenever you have to fight multiple enemies in a row, you'll feel like the action is there just to slow you down. Controls in Primal aren't all that great anyway. Your character will automatically interact with the environment when possible, such as by jumping across a narrow chasm or climbing up on a ledge. Other times, you'll literally run into a wall and nothing will happen, because you mistakenly thought that that's where you were supposed to go next. Despite the impressive level of detail in Primal's environments, they can somehow still seem sterile, because you can't do anything in them unless you're supposed to. As Jen, you can't even wind up and attack unless there's an enemy in range.