Welcome to Hell Creek little Dakotaraptor, and oh, you’re dead! Saurian is a dinosaur life simulator and is the first game from Urvogel Games. Kickstarted in 2016, it met its $55,000 target within two days and by the end of the campaign had amassed over $220,000 in support. Now, had I known about this campaign I would be one of the proud supporters myself, being a Palaeontologist (by training) after all, but it somehow slipped by me. However, it is luckily now available to the public on Steam early access as a pre-alpha.
Saurian is set in the Hell Creek formation (a rather famous dinosaur fossil site) over 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Era and attempts to simulate the natural ecosystem, from the biggest dinosaurs to the smallest plants. The game offers you the opportunity to become a member of Hell Creek and live your life as a dinosaur. Here you journey through your lifecycle starting as a very young hatchling and progressing up to a full adult (if you don’t die before then of course). You must eat and drink to survive and find a mate to create the next generation.
Attention to DetailUrvogel Games pride themselves on the fact that their recreation of Hell Creek in Saurian is as close to the real ecosystem as possible. Their mantra is to stick to the
Urvogel Games pride themselves on the fact that their recreation of Hell Creek in Saurian is as close to the real ecosystem as possible. Their mantra is to stick to the science, because while Saurian is a game, it’s based on evidence and ignoring it would only be detrimental, it could even be used as a learning tool for some. The animals and plants were heavily researched and reconstructed and the entire area was recreated as close as they could to what Hell Creek should have looked like. This means feathered dinosaurs, with realistic habits and needs, and plants from the time of the dinosaurs. Whilst most people won’t really appreciate the effort that Urvogel Games has made for realism, as a Palaeontologist I can say that it’s great to see a) a good new dinosaur game and b) an attention to the facts rather than a fantastical view of what is already a fascinating era.
On full release, you will be offered six dinosaurs to choose from; Dakotaraptor (a larger relative of Velociraptor), Pachycephalosaurus (a herbivore with a thick battering ram for a head), Triceratops (yes that one), Tyrannosaurus (of course), Anzu (a rather large omnivorous feathered theropod) and Ankylosaurus (a reptilian tank with a large tail club). As of the first release only the Dakotaraptor is playable, but with a rather interesting roster of famous and not so famous dinosaurs on the way I can’t wait to see how they play.
Graphics and SoundAs an early access title, don’t expect 4K, it’s still in the pre-alpha stage of development and what they have released so far is more of a prototype rather than a demo of what’s to come. The usual warnings are given to you about the graphical fidelity, so you can kind of expect what’s coming. However, given that
As an early access title, don’t expect 4K, it’s still in the pre-alpha stage of development and what they have released so far is more of a prototype rather than a demo of what’s to come. The usual warnings are given to you about the graphical fidelity, so you can kind of expect what’s coming. However, given that its created in Unity and not a high-end engine, its surprisingly pretty, even during this rough early stage. The environment is a lightly forested area around a river with trees as far as the eye can see and plants covering the ground, there is no grass here, that didn’t evolve till much later. The trees aren’t supremely detailed, and sometimes the ground plants, like the creepers clip through sections of terrain and occasionally hang off into mid-air, but you can begin to see the detail coming through and the atmosphere that Saurian is trying to recreate. The dinosaur models however are really well done, with individual feathers visible on the Dakotaraptors arms and tail. There is room for improvement, the Pachycephalosaurs look rather bland and their skin doesn’t hold that much detail, but again this is a pre-alpha. The sound quality is very basic, there is ambient music in keeping with a forest but it is very minimal and I only noticed it when it simulated a bug flying past my ear. There is sort of battle music which seems to be mainly drums and does ramp up tension a bit, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the animals have sounds, although they don’t always activate when they should e.g. when a Pachycephalosaurus is hit by your dinosaur it mewls but when a crocodile attacks it there is silence. As with most early access games expect bugs and glitches.
Playing as a dinosaur you must keep an eye on two main meters hunger and thirst, like many survival games, but slightly less restrictive as the main mechanic in play is “I’m a dinosaur”. You also have health which when you’re a hatchling means nothing because you are so fragile any hit will kill you, end of story, and a stamina meter which dictates how long you can run for, climb, attack etc. The traversal gameplay is smooth but feels slightly twitchy until you realise that the dinosaur will only travel as far as its legs can reach, so when you are a hatchling expect to trundle along slowly on your stubby little legs before you suddenly get a burst of speed when you hit the sprint button. The combat also feels super sensitive, it’s quite difficult to try to line yourself up for an attack and not miss the target by a couple of metres, but I suspect that this will get better with time and refinement. With just the one playable dinosaur right now you don’t have much replay value or variety, although I’m still struggling to get past year 1 and become a juvenile because running around as a baby dinosaur without looking for dangers is apparently the best way to die. We will have to see what new challenges the other dinosaurs introduce and how the rest of the game plays out when the full product is released. It is engrossing to play as a dinosaur but my one criticism of the gameplay at this point is the world is quite empty and you do spend a lot of time wandering round not doing very much, and the interactions with your own species are limited, if not non-existent. Although due to its pre-alpha state this should all change as the development progresses.
This first look at Saurian sees a very solid (if a bit scrappy) outline for what should become a great game. As a pre-alpha it’s still very, very, rough around the edges. However, because it’s a pre-alpha you can start to see the scale that the team at Urvogel Games is going for, and if it comes anywhere close to its concept art, I will definitely have to write a review upon its official full release.
- Booting up the game for the first time and seeing a giant Tyrannosaurus hunt a Triceratops in just the first thirty seconds from my hiding spot nearby.
- Not realising there are prehistoric crocodiles in the river and attempting to swim across only to see three heads approaching on the water’s surface, start to panic, and get stuck on a partially submerged tree before being very quickly eaten.