|'Tis the season once again for all
the creepy crawly things. Between now and the holidays, Capcom is flooding us in downright
scary action-adventure titles: Resident Evil 3: Nemesis for the PSX, RE2 for the N64 and
Game Boy Color, and shortly after the new year we can expect RE: Code Veronica for the
Dreamcast. Kicking things off is Dino Crisis, developed by the same team that brought you
the now classic Resident Evil, and if this game is any indication, it's going to be a big
Dino Crisis puts you on an island research station as Regina, "an elite member of a special task force," alongside her teammates Rick and Gail (Don't make fun of his name. He seems to have a "boy named Sue" kind of thing going on.). They are investigating a bizarre accident that, gasp!, has loosed a veritable scourge of nasty dinosaurs on the island. So far things are pretty predictable, and the story premise is probably the weakest part of this game. Comparisons to Jurassic Park are so obvious that Rick, the smart-ass tech on your team, comments that "this is just like that one movie" about a quarter of the way into the ordeal.
These aren't some Alley-Oop kind of dinosaurs, either. The raptors, pteranodons, and omnipresent tyrannosaurus rex you meet along the way aren't going to just hiss and scratch, and they certainly aren't throwing eggs at you. Nope, these guys work to grab your little rag doll body and shake every bit of life out of it. They come running, jumping, thrashing tails, and springing from ceilings, closets, and just about anywhere else they can hide out. The jump factor on Dino Crisis is first rate.
And everything looks pretty nice, too. The dino motion is stellar, and the overall graphic quality is excellent. While the game showcases the limits of the PSX in the form of blocky hands with finger textures, and completely motionless faces, the quality of the textures and body motion, as well as the complete lack of any clipping or glitches, makes Dino Crisis very pretty. This is by far the closest that Capcom has gotten to making a truly cinematic game during actual play. The screen is completely blank and uncluttered. There is no need throughout the game for any on-screen displays, either, although the addition of a map button would have been very nice. The clear view of the action, coupled with an amazing camera provides visuals that really liven the game. I don't think I've ever seen a better camera. At no point is the character lost or put into an awkward view. Also, the dolly shots from either behind or in front of Regina are just a pleasure to see. There is no doubt that the suspense and surprise that the game creates would be impossible to pull off without such a stellar combination of graphic quality and camera.
It is important for Dino Crisis to be so concerned with the visuals of the gameplay because it is clearly aimed at adults who are not so quick to suspend their disbelief. What is almost as incredible as the camera mechanics, is the fact that Dino Crisis is truly an "adult" game, but without most of the blood, guts, and boob shots that usually go with that moniker. Regina, while not an unpleasant sight, is clad in a utilitarian outfit. Of course, playing the game over and over will unlock such delightful costumes as the cavewoman outfit, but that's what replay goodies are for, and even in such a get-up she is not bursting out of her clothing. Dino Crisis also does not rely on excessive gore. Sure, you have to shoot dinosaurs a lot to kill them, and they spray a good amount of blood on the walls and floor, and nothing's dead until you see the puddle beneath them, but these effects don't come off as gratuitous.
Rather than relying on the old standards for "maturing" video games, Dino Crisis builds a mentally stimulating and challenging method of play. The game is full of little logic puzzles, topographical challenges, and decoding. To unlock many doors you must have a Digital Door Key (DDK). After collecting both keys you must decode a password from the DDK unit. The codes get more complex and difficult as you progress. There are several computer interfaces that you must use to forge an ID or program a key chip, and in these instances you are presented with a pattern puzzle, where you must get several pieces to line up in the right way. There are a couple of different types of this game sprinkled throughout. At times you must work a cargo hook to move large crates out of your way. To manipulate the crates, you must "program" the hook using the unique system in the hook controller. The amount of interaction with computers and solving logic puzzles brings Dino Crisis into the realm of such adult computer titles as System Shock 2. You will definitely need a pad and pencil to finish this game.
While the game is typically short (think a good 10-12 hours for the first time through, less if youre an action-adventure fan), there are lots of replay possibilities. Not only can you acquire new weapons, but you can open up the fatigues, cavewoman, and "Rocky Horror Picture Show" costumes (yep, that last one looks like the infamous red and black transvestite ensemble). If you beat it in under five hours you can play "Operation: Wipe Out" where you are given a time limit and a target number of dinos to exterminate. In addition, there are several major branching points within the game that you can revisit to make a different decision. While none but the last of these different story paths change the outcome of the game, they present different types of challenges.
But would you want to replay Dino Crisis? I think so. The game is quite difficult, especially the first time through, so there is a certain pleasure to be derived from repeating sections and flying right through them. Also, the way the game is set up, it flows very smoothly. All of the dialogue is spoken, and the voice acting isn't half bad, so there are no dull periods of paging through information, which replay more tolerable when trying to explore all six different endings. The payoff is there, so why not give it another spin?
There aren't many areas where Dino Crisis falls short. Unfortunately, the story is so bad that it isn't as initially involving as many others. The bulk of the dinosaurs you fight are the same type of raptor-thing, although they do get more difficult as you progress. It would have been nice to see a triceratops or something else. The scenery is fairly monotonous. All of the game takes place within the research facility, so there's not a whole lot of variety. But, as with most really good games, Dino Crisis' faults lie in the potential of the concept that is obvious, but unfulfilled.
Overall, this game definitely has my endorsement. If you've loved Resident Evil or Silent Hill, you'll dig Dino Crisis. And it's worth it to hurry out and pick up a copy; the first 500,000 copies include a demo of RE3 that is to die for. But even if you can't get one with the extras, Dino Crisis will not disappoint. In a genre that's advancing exponentially, Dino Crisis is big, screeching, paleolithic leap forward.