Primal Survivors review

Indie publisher Afil Games are keen to ride the ‘auto shooter’ bandwagon, with a chunk of their back catalogue being Vampire Survivors imitators.  We couldn’t find much enjoyment in their coliseum set Gladiator’s Arena, with it feeling more like a proof of concept than a fully-fledged game. The good news is that the tribal warrior starring Primal Survivors is a marked improvement, with a reasonable amount of content. Even if you’re simply here for the easy achievements, you’re looking at a couple of hours of playtime. If you want to explore beyond that, it’ll serve you even better.

This isn’t a direct copy of Vampire Survivors either. Well, not quite. It’s a twin-stick shooter rather than an auto-shooter, requiring you to aim manually. The options menu gives the chance to auto-shoot (note: not auto target), which is handy – otherwise you’ll be holding down the right trigger for a run’s entire 10-15 minute duration. The screen scrolls endlessly in all directions, with a few power-up totems to find, and periodically a boss will appear. This locks the screen in place, hazards and all, and upon a boss’ demise, you’ll get to choose a unique upgrade such as the giant wasp’s poison spewing stinger. On harder difficulties, bosses have multiple health bars. Most of the deaths we experience were during these additional phases, and usually down to our movement speed being too slow. Trampled by a mammoth is a heck of a way to go.

Primal Survivors review

Easily the best thing about Primal Survivors is the range of upgrades. You’ll get to pick one every 30 seconds or so, improving critical rates, adding elemental effects (fire, ice, and poison) along with the ability to summon tornadoes or gusts of wind. Elemental abilities can be upgraded several times, making fire spread to other enemies and such, and it’s also possible to gain twin-shots, improve knockback, and increase weapon sizes to comical proportions. While trying to construct a ‘build’ is a little tricky, it quickly emerges that some upgrades are more vital than others. Starting weapons, meanwhile, include rocks and bones, while spirit animals are on a cooldown and increase stats for a few seconds. Proficient use isn’t essential, however; they’re just another feature at the end of the day. After maxing critical hits and at least one elemental attack, you should be able to survive a 15 minute run without breaking a sweat.

Bones are also the in-game currency, used to invest in skill trees – of which there are five, but only two can be chosen – along with additional spirit animals (again, a surplus feature) and the ability to play the harder Cursed Survivors mode, in which you’re forced to pick a weakness. Oddly, you’ll need to accumulate a stockpile of bones to play this more challenging scenario and the modes harder still within require a significant outlay too. Rewards for tackling the higher difficulties are minimal; the achievements will have unlocked long before this. If you want to beat every difficulty though, you’ll find quite a bit of playtime here. Shame there isn’t much to show for it. 

Primal Survivors review

Releasing at a knockdown price (£4.19/$4.99 on Xbox One) Primal Survivors is, somewhat predictably, a little bit scrappy visually with a jarringly inconsistency to its enemy roster in particular. The psychedelic filter for Cursed Survivors is quite distracting too. However, the controls are responsive and the framerate never falters, so it gets a pass where performance is concerned.  Sound effects aren’t grating either. Yeah, we’re clutching at straws here. The screenshots on this page are a very good indicator of what to expect.  

While Primal Survivors isn’t bad at all, there isn’t much here to awaken primaeval gaming instincts either. There’s little in the way of innovation, offering more or less what you’d expect from a Vampire Survivors alike in terms of content. It’s saddening that the genre has been saturated with half-baked clones that even something merely competent might be of note to veteran survivors.  If you’re hooked on the genre, this will suffice for a quick fix, but chances are you already own better games in your digital library.

Afil Games’ Primal Survivors is out now on consoles. It first launched on PC in 2023. Developed by Old School Vibes.