A one-trick pony walks a fine line. If the experience is short and sweet, the nature of the repetition can be easily forgiven and overlooked, whereas doing the same thing over and over again for dozens of hours on end can really put a sour taste in the mouth. That's what Exoprimal is battling against. Capcom's latest has a fantastic elevator pitch: two teams of five players in small mech suits battle against hordes of dinosaurs to complete a course as quickly as possible, whereupon one final climactic showdown decides the winner of the match.
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Release date: July 14, 2023
The two teams of five players get to decide their roles, between Assault, Tank, and Healer classes. There's a few differing mechs within all three classes, each offering unique flashy abilities with which to smite dinos. The Assault mechs have explosive canons and pinpoint sniper rifles, while the Tank mechs are kitted out with giant hammers and miniguns, and the Healer mechs can gracefully soar high above the battlefield while peppering down aid.
Carving through hordes of dinos is really bloody fun. Exoprimal has this wacky physics system where any dino hit by an explosive is shot up into the air like a cartoon, and it's really satisfying to launch a cannon and see dozens of raptors bounce off the nearby environment and into the sky. Minibosses provide a nice change of pace from mowing down hordes, and force the entire team to work together if they want to step up the pace and best the other team.
Every mech is entertaining in its own right, and offers a surprisingly varied playstyle. The Vigilant caters to those who want to hang back and provide support, while the likes of Roadblock is better for those who want to get stuck in on the front lines. Bouncing between mechs, even in the middle of a match, brings a great variety to Exoprimal, since if you're not really feeling a class, you can just jump from one mech to the next.
You can even play as a damn dinosaur, albeit briefly. Exoprimal will occasionally grant you the chance to invade the enemy team's world as a gigantic, horned T-Rex, where you can smite and chomp enemy mechs until your health runs dry. It's a really nice change of pace from the frantic sprint through the horde-based challenges, and brings things down to a nice level of Exoprimal unshackling itself from a multitude of systems to just let you go wild and have fun.
Again, though, it's just a shame that all this variation in abilities is strictly confined to one game mode. The five-versus-five option has some variables in its objectives – you might be asked to slay a T-Rex in one match, or escort a data cube in another – but the changing objectives aren't enough to make one match stand out from the next. After a while, the whole thing just becomes a messy blur of missiles and gnashing teeth.
The PvP configuration can switch things up, but it's just not that fun, even in short bursts. You can toggle the conclusion of a match being event-based or player-versus-player focused to decide a victor, and I think the fact that Capcom only recently let players decide how to end a match like this is quite telling. Mechs fighting each other should be a blast, but the destructive abilities don't have the same satisfying feeling against mechs as they do hordes of dinosaurs.
A mystery to unravel
All this fighting is done against the backdrop of a time-travelling storyline. Our ragtag crew crashes on Bikitoa island in 2043, only for the sinister AI Leviathan to haul us all back in time three years to fight dinosaurs over and over again, right when the primevals first appeared out of nowhere. The seriousness of the story doesn't really gel that well with the silliness of how Exoprimal handles itself, but it's a pretty decent mystery with some alternate timeline shenanigans thrown in for good entertainment.
This story actually unfolds alongside Exoprimal's gameplay, a nice little deviation from the likes of Overwatch, where the story is stuck in the past and already occurred. There's a big detective-style plot wall hanging out in the menus that periodically opens up new scenes when you complete matches, so you can advance the story at your own pace or just abandon it. Exoprimal isn't afraid to get silly here, scrawling things like 'WHERE DID THE DINOSAURS COME FROM?' across your screen, and I really admire it for that.
Exoprimal's story might not be stuck in the past, but its live-service trappings feel like they are. Game development timeframes are now so long at the bigger studios that hot new trends can cool off by the time a studio gets around to shipping a project. Exoprimal feels like a victim of this – a project that was kickstarted back when it felt as if everyone was trying to riff off Fortnite's success with the Battle Pass, but one that's shipped to a world decidedly colder on being sold a new Battle Pass by yet another game.
It doesn't really help that there's very little in the way of material progression in Exoprimal. Aside from the story, you're working with a series of modifiers and side weapons for each mech, unlocked as you level up each individual suit. The mods focus on relatively minor stat changes, like how much knockback damage you take from a dino, while the side weapons can slightly tweak your mech with healing abilities, or bonus damage via a shoulder-mounted cannon. They're simply not enough to keep Exoprimal feeling fresh after a dozen or so hours.
Exoprimal is really fun – for five hours or so. There's simply not enough variation here to keep Capcom's latest feeling fresh after a dozen or so hours, and mech suit customization just isn't an entertaining progression system. Carving through dinosaurs with destructive weapons like cannons and miniguns is a blast, but PvP combat and a lack of game modes really lets the minute-to-minute action down.
Exoprimal was reviewed on PS5, with code provided by the publisher.