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First Impressions - Kristan goes hands-on with an early version of Cambridge Studio's beastly adventure

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

It's almost two years since Sony first unveiled Primal to the world - an ambitious, dark action adventure far removed from Studio Cambridge's most famous offering Medievil.

The project's nearing completion, so we were naturally keen to get our hands on the first playable build to give us a flavour of what to expect when the PS2 title debuts in mid March. Interestingly, Sony is going head to head with two other massive titles out at roughly the same time - Capcom's Devil May Cry 2, and Eidos' long awaited Tomb Raider - Angel Of Darkness, but is nevertheless confident that the title will stand up on its own merits.

Say hello to Jen, who looks nothing like Lara Croft. Ho no!

"Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me…"

The star of the game is a feisty, American by the name of Jennifer Tate - a pneumatically athletic type with supernatural/demonic abilities; so forgive the inevitable Dante/Lara Croft comparisons. Apparently the demons of the dark side are gaining in strength and power - thus upsetting the world's natural equilibrium, and causing the popularity of the Sister Of Mercy and The Fields Of The Nephilim to rise exponentially. Clearly the rise of Goth cannot be allowed to continue unabated, so Jen and her gargoyle sidekick Scree must go on a jangly guitar pop fuelled world tour in order to haul the world back from the black death of Marilyn Manson and his evil dark cohorts. Except all of that is a lie, but you get the picture?

Having played an early, and understandably buggy build of Primal, we're not a million miles away from the real plot. Essentially Jen is a bit of a Goth, and even has a fetching (henna?) tattoo emblazoned on her back (because she thought it looked, um, cool) and undergoes a 'terrifying' metamorphosis as she begins to unlock her latent demon abilities. We thought the same about Rob once, but then we realised it was just a hormonal thing.

In a nutshell, there are four richly detailed 'realms' Jen and Scree must explore, all linked by a central hub, all inhabited by distinct demon races - and from what we've seen so far, it's a game that requires you to utilise the unique abilities of each character in order to progress through each area.

And here she is without the make-up

Buddy dynamics ahoy…

For example, the first section involves Scree plodding off to find a lit torch to allow Jen to pass by some scary demon types that are afraid of the light, while Jen's anorexic frame allows her to pass through a small gap - thus enabling her to open a door for the gargoyled one to accompany her. Early on you also learn that Scree can climb down (or up) vertical stone surfaces - giving him access to areas that Jen cannot, and making for potentially interesting level designs. It's a buddy dynamic not a million miles away from Ico, albeit you can switch between characters whenever you feel like it by tapping select, while tapping triangle will prompt Scree to remind you what your objective is, or provide hints.

On a visual level it already surpasses most action adventures we've seen, with rich texturing, and a level of detail on the characters rarely seen on the system. Weather and particle effects also add atmosphere to what instantly comes across as a moody, dark game. In particular we were taken with the heat shimmer when Scree carries his torch, while the water blurring when you go for a swim is truly excellent.

At this early stage it's hard to determine how involving the combat really is, with the AI not fully implemented, and only a few functioning areas, but suffice to say that the use of the L2 and R2 buttons made an interesting change from the normal use of the symbol buttons. The main thing we're certain of from this preview build is that a) it looks impressive, and b) has a fair serving of narrative - with regular breaks to painstakingly explain why you're there and what you're doing, although thankfully nothing as painfully laboured and obscure as MGS 2.

Not long to wait

We've been promised a fully functional review copy within the next few weeks - but our initial verdict is that this is one you should keep in mind for the inevitable Spring releases splurge. Whether Primal has what it takes to oust Devil May Cry 2 or Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness from your thoughts is something we're looking forward to finding out over the coming months. Until then you might want to check out our recent Q&A with the game's producer Chris Sorrell here.

Primal screenshots (PS2)

Primal interview (PS2)

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