You’d be forgiven for thinking that Capcom’s new sci-fi multiplayer title Exoprimal is a reference of sorts to its Dino Crisis survival horror series. After all, “shooting-based action games involving dinosaurs as a primary threat” is a surprisingly underpopulated genre. After a couple of days of early access to Exoprimal open beta though, I found myself thinking of it as its own thing, a unique experience predicated on mowing down tons of extinct reptiles.
Exoprimal begins with a sci-fi premise. You are an Exosuit Fighter, recruited to become a soldier for the Aibius megacorporation. Exosuits are at the front line of fighting an outbreak of dinosaurs that push through mysterious rifts in spacetime. Aibius is using a “next-generation AI” called Leviathan to design and improve its stable of Exosuit designs. Its idea for gathering needed data? Force people into an infinitely looping series of wargames in some kind of simulated environment.
There’s not much story in the Exoprimal open beta, and all you’re given is a brief intro cutscene and some background details during character creation process. That said, the full game will include characters and cutscenes that provide context. Not that turning huge guns and weapons on writhing swarms of vicious reptiles needs that much justification.
The Exoprimal open beta has one mode: Dinosaur Survival. In it, two teams of five players are pitted against the dinosaurs and each other. You start on opposite ends of a long map. Shepherded by Leviathan’s drones, you move from checkpoint to checkpoint, accomplishing “Dinosaur Cull” missions along the way. As you go along, Leviathan measures your progress, letting you know which team is in the lead and occasionally throwing in equalizers. For example, if your team is moving slower than the other, Leviathan will spawn a special monster that, when killed by your team, increases the power and aggression of the dinosaurs the enemy team is facing on their side of the map.
By the end of a given run, your team and your opponents’ will be sharing the same area, given an objective by Leviathan to accomplish competitively. All the while you’re still fighting swarms of dinosaurs. The most common mission is “Energy Taker”, where you collect batteries scattered about the map. The twist is you can also attack and kill your opponents to take some of their batteries. Final missions become a balance of coordinating your team to survive both the dinosaurs and the interference from the enemy team. Leviathan also sometimes spawns “Dominators,” which allow a team member to take control of an extremely powerful T-Rex and act the spoiler for a short while.
All through this, you’ll experience some top-notch animations. The Exosuits all move in unique ways that combine a semblance of weight with mobility. You don’t always expect a sense of “personality” to bleed through in the Exosuits, but they feel more characterful than the avatar you create yourself.
The biggest joy I found in my brief time with the beta was in learning the capabilities of the Exosuits themselves. There are ten playable Exosuits in the game (with more planned after launch), and they’re spread across three roles: Assault, Tank, and Support. These map to the “holy trinity” of multiplayer design. Tanks can take a lot of damage and excel at keeping zones safe for their teammates to do their thing. Assaults do a lot of damage and clear out the enemies. Supports can do things like bunch up targets and heal allies.
There’s also variation within these roles, so each suit plays pretty differently even within the same general specialization. For example, while a Roadblock and plug up a hole in the line by deploying its huge energy shield, the Krieger’s gatling cannon and dome shield can secure a larger area for a shorter time. Meanwhile the Deadeye assault is a versatile unit that can use guns and grenades, but the Vigilant has a powerful sniper rifle and can down single targets (like hostile players) with much greater ease.
It was quite engaging to play around with each suit and get a feel for its play style, and Exoprimal makes this process of mastery pretty convenient to get into. This is because you can switch suits freely in the middle of a match (it’s only governed by a brief cooldown period). The default mode also doesn’t “role lock” or prevent you from doubling up. So if your team wants to go with four Roadblocks, you can, and you might even do pretty well. You can also switch your suit to adapt to the changing situation. By the time the final stage of a run came around, I often found myself switching out of my favorite Krieger suit to take up the more PVP-friendly toolkit of a Murasame or Vigilant. There’s a sense of versatility in Exoprimal‘s design that gives it a sense of approachability. With regard to abilities, I did also find that the gameplay of holding back swarms of reptiles seems to lend itself better to some suits than others. For example, the sniping capabilities of the Vigilant don’t seem all that useful outside the context of facing down enemy players.
The map design is also perhaps a tad linear-feeling. The environments give off the impression of space, but until the final match in each round, you’re mostly being funneled down a corridor from task to task. This sensation of being a little bit “on rails” also contributes to my ambivalence about certain Exosuits’ play styles. Suits like the Vigilant and Nimbus, which prize mobility but lack the armor to dive straight into the fray only really come into their own when the arenas expand more. In those places, their movement options make more sense. But before then they feel like dead weight compared to the beefier brawlers.
There are also minor concerns with stability. Playing it on PS5, I found that the Exoprimal open beta frequently dropped players out of my matches. They’d be instantly replaced with bots, but it wasn’t unusual for me to end up playing an all-bot match with only one or two teammates or opponents. I also noticed some issues with lag, where friendly suits or player-controlled dinosaurs would slide or teleport across the room. It never became unplayable, but it may pose a problem for players in a high-latency environment. That said, it is a beta, so there’s time for such issues to be ironed out.
I also didn’t get much of an impression on how Capcom intends to keep players engaged over time. My account was gaining levels and building tiers in its “Survival Pass“, but since they weren’t accessible in the beta client, I couldn’t see if they were particularly appealing or game-changing. It’s a bit early to pass judgment on that aspect of the game, however.
Those considerations aside, though, Exoprimal is a good time that puts an appealing twist on the now-familiar genre of cooperative horde shooters.
Exoprimal is in development, and will launch on July 14, 2023 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam. The open beta will run from March 17-19, 2023.