Ok, let me get this out in the open. I’m a closet hunting simulation fan. There, I’ve said it. That out of the way, if anyone thinks this makes me soft, you can find my e-mail at the bottom of the page if you want to challenge me to a game of Half-Life.
I know these hunting games are mostly aimed at the non-traditional gamer and perhaps I am a bit of a 3D environment freak, but I have in the past enjoyed stalking virtual mule deer in Texas and bringing home a nice computerized 12-point buck from the woods of New Hampshire. Them computer deer is good eatin’ after all.
Seriously though, a lot of work goes into hunting simulations. Just because you are out there shooting helpless deer does not make the job of programming the game any easier. And they have to look realistic, or else real hunters will dismiss it as a silly toy, and the target audience won’t be captured.
But even though I enjoy playing hunting simulations, at least once in a while, I always felt kind of bad that the animals did not really have a chance. Other than running away, there is not much a whitetail doe is going to do against the might of your Remington 700. The constant slaughter — I’m told you don’t often bag 10+ point deer on most hunting trips — turns to boredom most of the time leaving me to eventually drop my Winchester 70 in favor of a nice gauss gun and opponents that actually shoot back.
So it was with great interest that I took a look at Carnivores 2 from WizardWorks. The premise of the game is a bit odd and has something to do with a newly discovered planet full of dinosaurs. At least I think that’s the plot. The book does not really say and I’m mostly just guessing from the fact that spaceships come in and take your kills off to your trophy room, and the fact that you "beam out" of the hunting area about four seconds after you are ready to leave. But weak plots aside, this game puts hunters in the unique roll of stalking an animal worthy of the might of gunpowder.
The very word conjures up images of a giant Tyrannosaurs Rex munching heads off in movies like Jurassic Park, or of the misty swamps of yesteryear before they all became human shopping malls. Hey, these creatures supposedly ruled earth for millions of years before we moved out of the cess pool of bio matter, so they probably were pretty good at what they did, comets aside.
When you first start the game you have to register with "the company." This basically says that if you get maimed or killed while hunting, it’s your own fault. I thought this was a nice touch, but it also has a purpose. Each registered hunter has a certain number of points that can be used to gain access to weapons, a license to hunt new dinosaurs or access to new hunting grounds. You don’t actually spend these points per se, the number you have never decreases (it resets to your current level at the beginning of each hunt) and starts at 100. But it only goes up with kills.
When you start out, your 100 points give you access to either a pistol (at 20 points) or a crossbow (at 50 points.) You also have to "purchase" the right to hunt certain dinosaurs. At that level the best you can hope for is a couple of plant eaters. You can kill anything you run across, but you will only get points for animals you have registered to hunt.
After that, it’s off to the hunting grounds. You have a choice of five areas, but it will be a long time before you have enough points to see them all.
Since I wanted to hunt many animals, I chose the pistol and dumped the rest of my points into registered beasts. The landscape is well detailed, although I have some problems with the terrain in the game. Short little inclines that you should be able to climb are sometimes impassable, which is maddening since dinosaurs can fly right up them. If you wound a creature and are tracking its blood, be prepared to make long detours around even the smallest ravine. You can eventually get up most inclines by constantly jumping, though I think this is more of a game bug than anything else. If you hit the jump key fast enough, you can climb most mountains, getting to a high point that even the largest of dinosaurs can’t climb. And from your nest you can rain destruction of the valley below.
Another problem I had was that the hunter does not move nearly fast enough. Even on run mode, he barely moves. Forget about chasing any dinosaur around the map. If they get out of sight you are never going to catch them.
That said, the game is amazingly eerie to play. I learned fast and hard that it only takes a split second to get ambushed by the more aggressive creatures in the game. Just because you are not out hunting Velociraptors, does not mean they won’t hunt you. The first time I was killed was a total surprise. I heard footsteps running behind me and turned just in time to see a raptor in mid-leap. A second later I was his lunch.
Man, lets hope the deer don’t catch on to that trick.
At first the game will be highly frustrating. The advertising for the title says something like, "marching around the woods with enough firepower to level a mountain…" but apparently by their definition a 9mm Glock is used in demolitions because it s all you really have to start the game. I am very disappointed that no matter what weapon you take with you, you can only carry two clips. I know if I was hunting in a world filled with man eating creatures, I would want more than 18 bullets. A lot of times I would have to end my hunt simply because I was out of ammo.
Eventually you are able to upgrade your weapon to a crossbow. This has the advantage of silent operation and better range, though it won t fire as quickly. Then you can get a shotgun, a double barreled shotgun, a rifle and a sniper rifle. The sniper rifle is always my favorite weapon in any game, but I really did not like the one used here. When you switch to your rifle it looks like you are suddenly peering through a tube of old tires, with a cross hair at the far end. I would have preferred to see the method used in most hunting simulations or even LucasArt s Outlaw, where you can see your rifle, but the area around the scope is magnified. Also, for some reason about half the time I pulled out the rifle the game would crash, which should not be happening on a Pentium III system with 256M of RAM and a Voodoo 3 card.
When you kill a dinosaur, a little spaceship-thingie comes and pulls it up. Apparently the dinosaurs are either magnetic or sticky, because they smack the flat plate the ship drops and get pulled skyward. If you kill a dinosaur in the water however, for some reason the ship does not show up. (I guess the water washes off their sticky coating.)
You can also tranquilize dinosaurs instead of killing them. You get more points for doing this but they won’t show up in your trophy room. I killed one of each dinosaur type for the trophy room but mostly used the tranquilizer the rest of the time. Any weapon can be used as a tranquilizer too; there is not special tranquilizer gun.
I found myself playing mission after mission at first to gain access to the new weapons, and then to get access to more deadly dinosaurs. Hunting the big guys can be very frightening. Normally I would get to high ground and wait for one of them to come by, but sometimes I cheated and took dinosaur radar with me (costs you a 20 percent penalty on your kill count but shows you where the dinosaurs you are hunting are located on your map). The radar makes it pretty easy to corral the plant eaters on a peninsula and then pick them off if they try to leave, though the carnivores will more likely attack than run from you.
The are some abandoned towns and forts scattered throughout the worlds, but I would have liked to have seen more done with this, like letting a player find ammo or a colony of Raptors living in the ruins or something. But then that may just be the Half-life player in me coming out.
The ultimate hunt involves going after the undisputed king of the dinosaur world, Mr. Tyrannosaurs Rex. You can only shoot a Rex for effect in his eyes, which means the obvious weapon is the sniper rife. Where is the best place to shoot a Rex? From a mountain top a mile away would be my answer. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned lockups, my Rex hunts normally ended in me resetting the test computer. I did finally get one for the trophy room though, with a lucky last ditch shot from a double barrel shotgun as he was about to eat me. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me, as he fell mortally wounded at my feet.
In the end, because this is produced through GT Interactive s WizardWorks line, it’s value software, and held to a lower standard than a $50 game. For the money, it s a pretty nice title. Wooing nontraditional gamers away from shooting deer won’t be easy though, and Half-Life players, even with the threat of becoming lunch, will soon find themselves reaching for their old gauss gun.
The game gets a solid 3 1/2 GiN Gems, because for the money, it s a good title and a nice break from killing helpless Bambi time and time again.