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Dino Shooter Exoprimal Knows Writers Who Use Subtext, And They’re All Cowards

Capcom’s new multiplayer shooter Exoprimal is essentially Iron Man vs. Dinosaurs, a premise that’s delivered with all the nuance and subtlety of smashing your action figures together on the living room rug. I mean this as a compliment. Based on an early access period to the upcoming open beta test, this is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously and revels in its silly grandiosity. When the evil artificial intelligence grows more sinister-sounding as it encourages you to fight and die for the sake of its exosuit research, you know exactly the type of B-movie tone it’s going for, and I was totally in for the ride.

Even using the full word “dinosaurs” as often as Exoprimal does feels like it’s winking at the audience. After walking through a handful of your different exosuit options, the tutorial explains that your ultimate weapon is a special collar called the Dominator that can pull a dinosaur through a wormhole and temporarily take control of it. In battle, when this ability is ready, they tell you to “commandeer a dinosaur.”

Commandeer. A dinosaur.

For the purposes of the tutorial at least, I only commandeered one dinosaur, the carnotaurus–a bipedal carnivore recognizable by its dual horns. But Exoprimal was actually satisfyingly inclusive in its dinosaur representation. Raptors are low-level enemies that swarm by the dozens, while the pachycephalosaurus is a mid-level threat that uses its armored head to charge. Much larger, tougher beasts like triceratops take more concentrated teamwork to take down. I was especially pleased to see an ankylosaurus make an appearance, a massive armored dinosaur with a hard clubbed tail. Believe me when I say that the ankylosaurus was always my favorite dinosaur, and this game’s playful spirit prompting me to even think in terms of my favorite dinosaur was a real treat.

What’s striking about these larger dinosaurs is that they aren’t the slow, lumbering monstrosities we’ve typically seen depicted in movies or other games. These creatures move fast. The triceratops charges at you like a rhino, easily clearing half the battlefield in seconds. The ankylosaurus puts the momentum of its entire, massive body to use when it whips its tail towards you. I don’t have enough expertise in real dinosaurs to know how realistic this is, but it certainly feels like you’re seeing how fearsome they would be if you actually came face-to-face with them, and it makes the whole experience more intense, besides.

The references feel built for the kid who once upon a time memorized the World Book Encyclopedia on dinosaurs, but this being a video game, it also sprinkles in original creations known collectively as Neosaurs. These are mutated variations of other dinos in the game, with special properties like stealth or exploding sacks of flesh.

Meeting the dinosaur mayhem are your team in their exosuits, which are designed like Iron Man armor and imbued with their own individual personalities. The exosuits themselves talk when you enter or exit them, giving just a little bit of flavor to each one. When you swap out of a suit, one might swear it will return, while another might ask, “Hey, can we talk about this?” Some sound angry while others sound hurt that you’re abandoning them. It’s a little touch that helps drive home the personality of the game.

Exoprimal features 10 suits in all, but the main tutorial only covers three–one from each of the Assault, Tank, and Support groups. To get a feel for the other seven, you should spend some time in the Training mode instead of, say, jumping into a live match and probably frustrating your teammates by constantly swapping suits, like I did. The battlefield is chaotic. Sometimes it’s overwhelming even once you know what you’re doing, so it’s not the best place to learn the ropes.

The only mode available in the beta, and seemingly the main mode of the game, was Dino Survival, an objective-based PvE/PvP mode. You’re split into teams of five and put through the paces of taking down swarms of dinosaurs, separated from the other team, for the first several rounds. The match then culminates into a final round where you’re all together and given one final objective, but this time you can take down dinosaurs as well as members of the other team. (This is also where you can commandeer a dinosaur, which still just tickles me to say.)

It took me a few matches to find my rhythm, and the Exoprimal beta doesn’t explain its systems very thoroughly before you’re made to jump into a live game–hopefully this won’t be the case for the full game. Once I understood the pace at play, though, it was very fun. The ability to swap between exosuits on the fly gives you a lot of versatility in combat and team composition, while a short cooldown keeps you from abusing the privilege. I ultimately gravitated toward Krieger, a large Tank unit with a minigun for mopping up smaller mobs or concentrating fire on larger targets. The suits are designed with definitive weaknesses, and like the other Tanks, Krieger’s is a lack of mobility. But it does have a quick dash with a sizable cooldown, letting you extract yourself from a situation if it gets too hairy.

And when the PvE and PvP elements come together, it sings. At one point, I was in the final round and came face to face with another Krieger, and we both started spinning up our miniguns. Just as I was starting to look for cover, though, my opponent Krieger got jumped by a stealth Neosaur and was stuck desperately trying to shake the creature off his back. Without such an obstacle myself, I simply kept firing, ultimately taking down the enemy with an unexpected dino assistant. It was like the end of Jurassic Park, if Dr. Grant had a mecha suit.

It’s easy to see how Capcom has plans for Exoprimal. I earned “Bikcoin” in matches but I had nowhere to spend it. The game promises a season pass to earn new cosmetics, so this seems primed to be the studio’s attempt at an ongoing live game. It’s hard to tell, based on this small preview, how long it will be able to sustain itself. More modes are certainly on the way in the full release, but only time will tell how different they feel from Dino Survival, or how the story of an evil corporate AI throwing bodies at dinosaurs will develop in a multiplayer environment.

What I can say is that the concept seemed very silly to me, and when I played it, I found that silliness both intentional and endearing. Smashing through hordes of dinosaurs in a high-tech exoskeleton sounds like the kind of story a child would dream up, and it’s hard not to like Exoprimal for doing it so earnestly.

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