Clever Game

Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter HD is a solid remastering of Carnivores 2, a dinosaur hunting simulation game originally released for the PC in 1999. While the pacing and lack of story render the game incapable of competing with modern shooters, that doesn’t seem to be the game’s aim. Instead, Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter HD is about breathing life back into a genre long extinct.

In Carnivores you play as a space-faring hunter who has caught wind of a planet full of dinosaurs. Before descending to bestow your taxidermist wrath upon the unsuspecting reptiles, you have your choice of stages, weapons and perks. Weapons and perks are unlocked using the game’s currency, which is accrued by bagging dinosaurs. Perks are indispensable for tracking and remaining concealed from dinosaurs. Stages are unlocked using trophy points, which serve only to unlock more stages and signify your leader-board ranking. You get more cash and trophy points for killing better quality dinosaurs, which is largely dependent upon the weight of the beasts. You can save trophies from your hunts, in the form of stuffed and mounted dinosaurs, if you buy a license for a particular breed prior to embarking.

Carnivores is a surprisingly relaxing game at its core. The alien landscape has been lovingly remastered. Certain stages are picturesque at dawn and dusk, but foreboding when a layer of fog is applied. The opening stages, which are free of carnivores, are pleasing to explore. Pterodactyls circle overhead and perpetually startled Gallimimus skitter past you. The accompaniment of certain ambient sounds, like a waterfall or birds chirping in trees, make the sometimes plodding speed of the game, in which you can go for minutes without seeing a dinosaur, not only bearable but enjoyable.

Adding to the laid-back nature of the game, failure is downplayed to the point that you might not realize you had died on a hunt unless you were paying close attention. When a predatory dinosaur tracks you down the screen simply fades to black. You’re not forced to view your gory dismemberment. There’s no “game over” or “you died” screen dripping with blood. It’s a very civil affair, your evisceration. Carnivores philosophy on death can be summed up by a tip frequently seen on loading screens: “Got yourself killed? No worries, just try again.” The game even counts all the kills you got during a round in which you die. If you’re paying attention, though, you’d be hard-pressed to actually die. The evacuation mechanic, the only way to leave a hunting ground besides death, is instantaneous. You can beam yourself out of trouble at a moment’s notice. The only truly stressful moments in Carnivores arise when you have to mark a dinosaur as a confirmed kill, which happens automatically when you get close to a downed dinosaur, and you never know what might have been alerted by your gunshots.

The more zen-like moments of Carnivores can sometimes be disrupted by the game’s sloppy sound design. While it’s clear that the game was meant to include ambient noises appropriate for the jungle setting — the sound of insects buzzing and frogs croaking — the effect is sometimes ruined by the cacophonous volume and sheer abruptness with which these sounds present themselves.

Imagine you are concealed in the dense jungle grasses, stealthily hunting an Ankylosaurus. You raise your weapon, hold your breath, take aim for the heart, and are about to pull the trigger when the sound of bees, thousands of bees, explodes into existence all around you. You whirl, startled, not sure if you’ve triggered an environmental trap or if you’re just having an Animal Crossing flashback. You do an alarmed little dance in the grass. By the time you’ve realized that the bees are just a sound effect gone mad, your quarry has escaped, likely musing on what a weird person you are. That was how my first hunt in Carnivores went. After a while I was no longer alarmed by the surprise auditory onslaughts, I just found them annoying.

There are some visual issues with Carnivores, as well. Rocks and other landscape features will sometimes fizzle out of existence if you’re not looking at them dead-on. The propellers on your spaceship, which house the trophies you collect and supposedly hover in the atmosphere, don’t move. Perhaps there are performance reasons for the fizzling rocks. Perhaps there are very scientific reasons relating to my spaceship and its ability to stay aloft in the absence of seemingly essential mechanisms. But when taken as a whole the issues in Carnivores make a fairly good budget game look all the more budget.

A lot has changed in games since Carnivores 2 came out, which has the effect of making Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter HD feel like a game out of time. There are no world-ending machines to shut down or undead plagues to beat back. There are no terrorists. There is no socially awkward, nerdy engineer sidekick or  an exhausting, buxom love interest. It’s just you, an island, and some dinosaurs that occasionally want to eat you.

As someone who played a good deal of Carnivores 2 when it was released, it’s good to see a port do right by the original spirit of the game by not adding any of the aforementioned fodder. It’s a little broken, no doubt, but I’m still drawn to it. I can’t recommend Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter HD  to everyone, but if you feel like you’re in need of a palate cleanser then this might be the right game for you at the right time.