Let’s get ready to go prehistoric… sort of!
Shinji Mikami, director of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, captained a production team to put together a new taste of horror, something with a bit more pulse. What he gave us was Dino Crisis, a tension filled exploration game marketed under the newly coined moniker of ‘Survival Panic’ (also known as ‘Panic Horror’), fashioning a different kind of suspense and fear. Released in 1999, Dino Crisis caught the hearts and minds of many a gamer searching for a fresh concept, receiving favourable reviews for its efforts. Though being dubbed ‘Resident Evil with dinosaurs’ for a few core similarities, Dino Crisis had plenty of things that its sister series (so to speak) didn’t have or wouldn’t for a while, as well as doing much to clearly try and keep it a very standalone piece in its own right.
Before I get started, I want to try and keep the majority of the review from falling into a comparison with Resident Evil as most reviews seem to do. At the end, I will probably throw in some observations between the two, but otherwise I will be avoiding it completely so I can give credence to Dino Crisis’s divergence from just being tied into the shadow of another series.
So, to begin, let us get into the story behind Dino Crisis.
Set in 2009, S.O.R.T. (Secret Operation Raid Team), a government squad, are dispatched to the fictional Ibis Island, following a report from Tom, an undercover agent posing as a researcher at a facility located there. Renowned scientist, Dr. Edward Kirk, who had allegedly died three years prior, was alive and well, and conducting secret work within the facility. S.O.R.T.’s mission order is to detain Dr. Kirk and return him to government custody.
Under the cover of darkness, four S.O.R.T. team members – Gail, Regina, Rick and Cooper – parachute in via helicopter transport. Though upon landing, the team discover Cooper is not with them, having veered off course onto another part of the island. With little time to be concerned about their comrade, they proceed forward, unbeknownst to them that the unfortunate Cooper has just met a grisly end to an unlikely foe…
Gaining access to the facility, they find the guardhouse area strangely deserted. While Rick infiltrated the facility to secure access to the control room, Regina and Gail set about investigating the outside area more thoroughly. And it’s not long before they come across signs of violence, which eventually leads them to a horrifically mutilated corpse.
Regina’s response in regards to said mutilated corpse: “That’s disgusting.” It’s said in a completely frank and unfazed manner, as if she walks down the street and comes across an eviscerated body everyday!
They deduce from the tooth marks, that some sort of animal had to have done it. The plot thickens…
With power out in the facility, Regina sets about restoring the backup generator, though shortly after accomplishing this, a commotion erupts outside. Gail is under attack! Though by the time she gets to his position, he has disappeared, leaving only a speckled blood trail behind. And before she has chance to grasp the situation, she suddenly finds herself advanced on by something out of her worst nightmares. A Velociraptor!
And thus, the battle for survival begins!
Taking control of the crimson-haired Regina, Dino Crisis plunges you headfirst into events. She must navigate the research facility, while solving the mind-testing puzzles as she tries to locate Dr. Kirk, all the while trying to avoid becoming, by Regina’s own words, ‘dino droppings’.
Something to learn off the bat, combat in the game is not always a recommended course of action. The dinosaur threat should never be taken lightly, as they are fast, agile and fierce in their attacks – vastly superior to Regina, especially during the first half of the game. Depending on your state of health, weaponry and ammo situation, encounters can vary in their difficulty, and will require a lot of ingenuity to successfully evade or overcome your foes.
Oh, I should also mention that the dinosaurs can traverse through a good number of doors to pursue Regina. (Darn those clever beasties!)
Regina’s starting weapon, the meagre Glock pistol, is a ridiculously pitiful weapon. It takes an excruciating amount of pistol bullets to kill them! And not only that, the game’s most common enemy, the Velociraptor, is hardly fazed by bullet fire to the point that it can suddenly strike while she’s mid-shot and gain the advantage. It makes you wonder why they even bothered with the Glock at all (it would probably hurt more to just lob the weapon at them!) Though, you can make the weapon somewhat useful by using the environment to your advantage!
Many altercations take place within tight corridors, with very little room to manoeuvre, so it becomes a balance of mastering the art of dodge with clever weapon use. Also, if there is a handy laser shutter in operation nearby, just pop Regina behind one and watch her prehistoric opponents stun themselves as they try to attack, giving you ample time to leisurely fill their hides with bullets without taking any damage. Tactics like these will save you from an unnecessary chomping.
A couple of mentionable additions to Dino Crisis for a game of its type included the ability to walk and shoot – beneficial when your enemies move with lightening reflexes. There is also the enemies’ ability to knock the weapon from Regina’s hands on occasion during a fight. There is nothing tenser than scrambling in a vulnerable position to retrieve your fallen weapon.
Aside from the Glock, Regina can also obtain a shotgun and grenade gun over the course of the game, with all three guns having two sets of available ammo to gather and upgradable parts to increase speed and firepower. A huge benefit to try to even out the odds! ‘Try’ being the operative word!
A superb element to the gameplay is the ability to mix items, which can usefully create or upgrade healing items, or on the ammo side, can produce anaesthetic and even poison darts. Particularly in the case of the darts, being able to mix up ones with strong anaesthetic properties can save on bullets by merely knocking out the enemies, which lasts for a fair amount of time allowing you to safely navigate through areas. If you’re lucky enough to obtain the rare poison dart, or able are to manufacture your own with the right concoction, you will have a one hit kill shot. No more beautiful words that these.
To refer back to the healing items; they come in the form of medical packs, varying in strength, which as mentioned before, can be upgraded through mixing with specialised items, e.g. the Recovery Aid. One particular healing item I want to point out, which will bring us onto another element of the dynamic gameplay, is the haemostat, which I’m sure you can guess, stops Regina from bleeding out. That’s right folks, we’ve got a bleeder!
Not all attacks from the dinosaurs will cause bleed, but when it occurs, it is recommended you use a haemostat promptly (or a medical pack that has the properties built in), as allowing bleed status to go untreated will sap Regina’s health and degenerate her condition – not good if you suddenly enter a critical state at an awkward moment. Also, bleeding has a nasty habit of attracting pesky dinosaurs after a quick snack. It’s quite obvious when Regina is bleeding, as a pool of blood will form under her feet if she is standing still or will trail after her in droplets when she moves around.
Through the course of the game, you will encounter ‘danger’ moments – times when Regina will be put in a precarious position that can lead to either injury or death, depending on how quickly you react to the given situation. It will require precisely timed button mashing to save our precious heroine from a rather nasty outcome. Don’t let your guard down for a second, or the game will stomp on your face!
The puzzles within Dino Crisis vary in their degrees of complexity, and they seem to occur more frequently than having to deal with the dinosaurs. You’ll find that it’s not simply a fetch quest for keys to access doors and control computers, but rather the game puts your brain to the test with remembering codes and sequences, operating cranes with a set amount of moves, and tinkering puzzle pieces to match up, just to recall a few.
Certainly, you get the impression that you’re spending most of the game consecutively jumping from one memory based puzzle to another, just to gain access to one of many key items that will get you to the next area. It’s a slog at times with the amount of items you’re trying to get just to solve one puzzle, and then when you solve that, they dump another one on top of you just to be irritating. Though with all due credit, not all the puzzles follow the same pattern, so it remains relatively fresh throughout with the challenges offered. Some might find the experience like being bludgeoned in the brain, and that some might be a bit overly convoluted. Yeah, they’re not perfect, but they’re a worthwhile challenge that fits well within the game’s surroundings.
Regina can carry around an unlimited amount of key items, though, she can only carry around a set amount of ammo and health packs. So what you need is an emergency box. These brightly coloured wall mounted units contain precious ammo and health items, as well as allow you to store any unneeded supplies. Though to access the emergency boxes, you will be required to insert a varying number of plugs (depending on the box) to unlock and use it. The boxes come in three colours to indicate the type of items you will find inside – red for ammo, green for healing items and yellow for both types. Once you unlock a box, you can access its contents as well as those of other unlocked boxes anywhere in the game, though there is a limitation of only being able to access boxes of the same colour when using a particular one; red to red, green to green etc…
Having discussed many aspects of the gameplay, let’s turn our attention to the character’s themselves and get to know them in a little more depth: –
Regina, the sole playable character in Dino Crisis, is recognisable with her bright red hair. Clearly experienced for her young age, she is tough enough to handle unpredictable situations. She has a balanced array of skills including acute combat training and technological aptitude. Personality wise, she has a sassy flair about her, and is pretty blunt in her approach to things. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and certainly enjoys doing so with a level of cynicism and sarcasm. Despite being a little abrasive, she does display moments of genuine care and concern for her comrades and those injured and dying in the game. As a main character, I personally find her a breath of fresh air from some of the meathead type hero characters that quite commonly populated video games of that era. Her snarky responses are genuinely entertaining without coming off as exceptionally obnoxious, and are well timed between battling the dinosaur intruders.
Supporting Regina through her efforts is team leader, Gail, a hardnosed veteran whose muscle and clear thinking cement him as a study, reliable figure. Mostly cold and straightforward in his responses, he has a very fixed mindset when it comes to the mission and doesn’t allow delays or emotions to compromise it, even if that means putting the welfare of his comrades at risk. This puts him at odds with his teammates at times. Regina, while not always agreeing with his strict and harsh ways, has much respect and understanding for his dedication.
Rounding off the team is Rick, the technical expert. He is a light-hearted and friendly guy, whose skills with computers and other technologies are an asset to his comrades. He does play the comic relief a lot of the time with his wise cracks and observations (though Regina does steal some of the limelight with her deadpan snarking). He is very morally driven in complex situations, and doesn’t like to see anyone get hurt, so will always devise a way to get around any apparent danger; on this front, he doesn’t always rub along well with Gail because of his ambiguous morals. His easygoing nature makes him a very likeable character; while his chemistry and banter with Regina is always spot on.
Then we have the subject of the mission, Dr. Edward Kirk, an extraordinary genius though rather lacking in his ethics when it comes to his fellow human beings. Always thinking of number one, he is more than willing to sacrifice others for the sake of his work. He is an elusive figure throughout the game, and he becomes almost stroppy and childish in some ways when S.O.R.T. interferes with his work. There are a few choice words I could say about Dr. Kirk, most not repeatable in polite conversation, but to sum him up in basic terms – he’s not a very nice man at all.
A small number of times during the game, Regina will be faced with choice making that will give the player the option of selecting between two different paths of progression. These choices are options thrown at Regina by Gail and Rick’s disagreeing over how to handle a situation. Many of the choices will just give a differing course and experience through the gameplay, which is good for replay value, though it is only the last choice that will affect the game’s ending. Gail’s route is more action orientated, so if you’re particularly starved in-game for a bit of dino slaying, his options might just be for you, or you could follow Rick’s safer, albeit more puzzle driven suggestions, which can help you avoid ghastly situations. Either way, the option to change up your game a little keeps it fresh each play through.
Dino Crisis, as far as plot and storytelling goes, is well paced and fascinating in concept. There is an intriguing explanation over the dinosaurs’ presence, as well as the ‘third energy’ element – while a little protracted in its basis – presents a good backbone to the story. Revelations and shock encounters all occur at just the right moments to carry things forward with captivation and satisfaction. Its originality and complexities make it for a very fulfilling narrative.
On the sound front, there is a varying degree of what works and what could have been done so much more efficiently. The standard noises from the clattering of feet on metallic flooring to the fearsome dino roars are exactly how you would expect them to; it’s the musical scores that I personally think are a bit of a letdown. It falls jarringly flat on its face. I can only think of one piece within the game that I genuinely like, and that’s the save room music, which has a nice tone to it to suit the situation and purpose; however, with most other pieces in the game, it’s a completely different story. Where do I even start with this?
There are but a handful of basic, atmospheric tunes that feature in some areas, where the ambience is very tense and uncertain. They’re decent enough albeit mostly forgettable, but when anything dramatic happens or the pace quickens, the meltdown begins. It’s as if the music has some kind of cataclysmic seizure, which can only be described as an insane combination of MIDI tunes mixed in with someone smashing their face into a Casio keyboard with the organ setting on. It’s unbelievably detracting and hugely disappointing.
The voice acting, for the most part, is well done with very few dud moments. The scripting is a little stilted in places, but really, the few characters that do speak within the game do so in a very believable way with their tones and reactions. Regina’s voice actress, Stephanie Morgenstern, who I’d only known previously for her voice work as Sailor Venus in the English version of Sailor Moon, plays her role as our sarcastic and blunt protagonist with a fantastic poise.
The game design rotates between metallic silver and grey, and sterile white, with the odd place here and there having a little splash of brighter colours. Characters and backgrounds are all 3D model works accordingly, even if in my opinion, the 3D backgrounds of the PS1 era have aged fairly poorly (everything is so blocky!). The design is very consistent with each area flowing together seamlessly. It’s all very industrial and imposing in its importance, where each computer and piece of equipment has significance and substance. You should even pay attention to shelves and blocks around the place, as many of them are hiding a nice stash of items.
The problem overall is that it creates design monotony, where there isn’t really one area that sticks out predominantly. The uniform colouring and streamlined appearance of most areas just get a little boring as you progress on. While I like games to have some regularity on the design front, I would have liked to have seen some variation within the design to break the trend once in a while.
If I do have a couple of other areas to complain about, firstly it would be the fact there is no health indicator in the game. The only way you can tell Regina’s current health condition is through her posture. If she moves while clutching her side, she is roughly around half health. If she is additionally moving with this stance and also limping, slowing down her movement speed, she is near death and will require urgent healing. It would have been handy to have a clearer indication to the amount of health Regina had so that you could use the appropriate medical item without wasting a full heal on minor wounding.
Secondly, it appears that you can’t store any files you find in-game, a pain in the backside as a lot of puzzles, and I mean A LOT, you come across rely on you remembering a whole load of codes for different areas. You either have to go back to the areas where you found a file to recall the info you needed, or have a handy notepad beside you to write down every (potential) code you find.
Moving on now to discuss game scariness; horror is so subjective in the way it scares you, as not everyone finds the same things frightening. It’s easy to list the types of creatures that regularly feature in horror media that more often than not with get an en masse scare, though where do dinosaurs fit on that scale? They are a diverse approach to creating a foe that is not so clichéd or expected in the genre. Some may find them frightening, some simply an unnerving obstacle, and others might not see them as scary in the least; that is up to the player to realise for themselves individually. Personally, their presence is creepy, but they don’t rank as terrifying as zombies to me.
There are not that many variants on the dinosaurs’ in-game. You have the Velociraptor, the most common enemy, and really quite difficult for a starting foe (an upgraded re-coloured variant appears as a later enemy). You get the odd appearance of the Pteranodon, the game’s obligatory flying enemy and the annoyance of the teeny-tiny Compsognathus, which are mostly avoidable. A later game enemy is the tank-like Therizinosaurus, which are hard-hitting and a pain to take down with conventional weapons. And lastly, the big bad boss of the game, the T-Rex, who appears every now and again to make things exceptionally difficult for Regina. With a one hit kill attack, this bad boy is a formidable foe to be put up against.
Having laid out the fundamentals of Dino Crisis, we can turn now to making a few comparisons.
How does it really compare when placed along side Resident Evil?
It can’t be denied that the core of its gameplay is very similar (down to the tank controls), but really, Dino Crisis took the very basic elements of Resident Evil, and built upon it to achieve something new and remarkable at the time (like the bleeding and being able to walk and shoot, something that Resident Evil wouldn’t touch until the Outbreak series.) If comparable to any of the Resident Evil games in any meaningful way, it would have to be Resident Evil 3, which was released a few months after Dino Crisis. They both have moments where choices had to be made (3 had the live selection which is used a little more often, with the last choice, like Dino Crisis, having an effect on the ending.) Both had a mixing option, though Resident Evil 3’s was more strictly to creating bullets. And we can’t forget that both had a no-nonsense, action heroine! (And Jill Valentine can even dress up as Regina as one of her secret costumes! It’s Nice to see a little bit of Dino Crisis showing up elsewhere!)
Dino Crisis had a different tone with its industrialised puzzles and focus, with a faster paced sci-fi twist. The way it used puzzles made a lot more sense than how Resident Evil handled them. (Great example: Collect the musical score, to play the piano, to open the wall, to swap a plaque, to take to a plaque indentation, to open a clock and receive a key… Did you get all of that? Yeah – move along people, no logic to see here…) There is just so much more realism in the process of Dino Crisis – well, obviously besides the dinosaurs, but you can forgive that!
Did I mention that the game gives a sly, indirect nod to Jurassic Park? That’s a gold star in itself!
To wrap up my review, Dino Crisis is a strong contender in the survival horror series (or survival panic, whatever…); it has a sufficient story, likeable cast of characters, shrewd brain teaser puzzles, tough enemies that take tactical consideration and plenty of replay value with the in-game choices, three achievable endings, unlockable costumes (pretty much all pure fan service… heck, even Regina’s main outfit falls squarely under this!) and an unlockable mini game! It’s a bit haphazard in areas and can be a difficult game to master and complete, but it’s a worthy challenge to take!
GET READY FOR DINO WAR!!!
Images © Capcom