She's cute, sassy, possessed by three demons and despite having a figure that is closer to Gwyneth Paltrow than Barbie, Jennifer Tate may be the next Lara Croft. Jen is the smart-cracking girlfriend of speed metal rocker Lewis, a man haunted by demons 'and I don't mean metaphorically. The game starts with said demon crashing the band's final set and beating Jen and Lewis into life-clinging comas. It's up to you to guide Jen's spirit and her gargoyle-like sidekick, Scree, through the six realms of Primal, solving chaos-created problems to unleash each of the realm's demons inside Jen and ultimately restore order to the universe.
Much of the game is about solving problems, running from cave A to castle B to find a gem or unlock a door. There's also a measure of combat thrown in for good measure, but it often plays as formulaic and all to repetitious because Jen is equipped with only three attacks, one block and a bloody finisher. As a consequence the fights are really nothing to write home about.
What will keep you going through much of this game is the original story with well written and even better voiced characters and graphics that push the envelope of the PS2. The cut scenes are a delight to watch and elicit more than a few chuckles as Jen cuts her side-kick, badguys, and the occasional demon down to size with her quick wit and sharp tongue. And the game glories in the details, never rounding a corner or coming up short when it comes to graphics. You can even watch Jen's breath billowing around her in short puffs when she walks through the cold of certain realms.
Unfortunately, Primal's gameplay just doesn't live up to its look and story. The puzzles are far too easy and the fighting just a time-waster. There are some fun elements to the game'players can switch between Jen and Scree at will. As Scree, a player can walk up walls and possess statues. As Jen, players can switch between demon forms, slowly floating around Jen as she transforms before your eyes - it's quite spectacular.
Although Primal goes a long way to create a game that is more about hacking and slashing your way to victory, it may have gone too far - leaving too much of the game's worth in the hands of the plot and acting.
I'm a huge fan of third-person action-adventure games like Eidos' similarly themed Soul Reaver series, and I also really enjoyed Sony's MediEvil, so I had high hopes for Primal. But I can't help feeling let down by it. Without a doubt, the game is absolutely gorgeous, both in its in-game graphics and its Buffy The Vampire Slayer-style story sequences. It's definitely one of the recent batch of PS2 games giving Xbox titles a visual run for their money. The voicework is equally impressive and, save for the cheesy guitar-laden tracks that play during combat, so is its soundtrack. On top of the game's high production values, it's got a few nice gameplay touches, like an excellent mapping feature and the option to ask your gargoyle friend Scree for hints when you're stuck. Unfortunately, Primal doesn't hold up in the areas that count the most: Its combat is mindlessly repetitive, its puzzles aren't very inventive, and there are often long, boring stretches between the action. I'd much rather spend time with Sony's underappreciated Drakan: The Ancients' Gate, which had more technical problems but was ultimately much more fun to play. Also, Primal is a big game but, like most story-driven action-adventure games, once you're done, you're done--even with its DVD-style unlockable extras. It'll likely take you longer than a three-day rental to beat, but you'll have little cause to play it again.