Revisited: Dino Crisis

First, an explanation. Way back in the Eifelian I featured Dino Crisis in this super packed roundup here. Now I know that it's a bit rich to be revisiting games I've covered before but have you tried playing all the way through Combat of Giants Dinosaurs? It's tough and not even the inclusion of dinosaurs can hide the fact that it is a dull and repetitive game. Or how about the Lost World: Jurassic Park? That's one platformer that I wish time would forget. Oh and look there's now four dyed in the wool mediocre film tie in Ice Age games to play. Great. It's not easy you know running a self imposed blog about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in video games when half the games are awful and the other half have dropped off the face of the Earth. I'd love to play Evolution: The Game of Intelligent Life, Lost Eden and Dino Stalker but many didn't come out here or can only be found through less than reliable sources. My hopes were raised by the promise of platforms like OnLive but then, they don't have a single dinosaur game in their library. So to heck with it. Why not take some time out (that implies I spend some time in) from those run of the mill games and those unobtainable experiences and revisit some of the games I didn't spend that much time on the first time around? Good rhetorical question.

Soooo Dino Crisis. What a difference 13 years make. Maybe it is the warm comforting hand-holding bosom (hand-holding bosom?) of modern games with their hand holding, immersion breaking HUDs, usable maps and file sections of the inventory screens that have tainted playing games from yesteryear that were... let's say less than helpful in some respects.

Billed as Resident Evil with dinosaurs, the most striking thing about replaying Dino Crisis is how bland it is. The whole game takes place inside a futuristic science installation which very much feels like the inevitable lab sections at the end of Resident Evil games with the exception that there's no Spencer Mansion to suck you in in the first place. From the first loading screen you're thrown into a generic laboratory and corridor installation, so unmemorable that if it wasn't for my memory card telling me I'd cleared the game three times I honestly wouldn't have believed I had.

Graphics have come a long way since 1999 haven't they? Oddly Dino Crisis hasn't aged as well as the original Resident Evil. The pre-rendered dark, worn and faded corridors of the Spencer mansion aren't nearly as primitive looking as the bright neon lab spaces of Ibis Island. Robotic human models and Capcom rubber faces aside the CGI has fared a little bit better.

Remember backtracking? That was a fun part of video games wasn't it? Find a locked door, find the relevant key card to get you to the next locked door until you find another key card. There's so much of this in Dino Crisis and because the map isn't as useful as it could be and amazingly you don't collect files in your inventory I was both happy and dismayed to have to start sketching annotated maps and writing down codes in order to remember which door needed which key MacGuffin and where the ammo boxes were. 

It isn't all bad. The so called 'puzzles' familiar to survival horror games come in three flavours here. There's the DDK code cracking, circuit board rearranging and then a mini game moving red and blue blocks around to magnetically rewrite ID cards, obviously. It's inoffensive stuff but with the DDK code keys there's a need to keep jotting down the changing encryption rules which I just ended up FAQing rather than running around to relocate the correct notebook to crack the new codes.   

On to the stars of the show. Weirdly for a game called Dino Crisis, there's not a great deal of fighting dinosaurs. I remember that door opening 'raptors' were an exciting antithesis to the usual cadence of safe space, set piece, in survival horror games. However, rather than feel that there's no safe space to hide it becomes obvious relatively early on that the raptors will only open some doors which ruins the whole illusion. As ever our pal, in Dino Crisis a rather yellow, Tyrannosaurus rex plays the role of big bad guy but many of the encounters with it in the build up to finale are just frustrating ending in death a couple of times until you work out which pixel is the safe one to stand on in the set pieces. It seems that resuscitation packs, which give you a mini continue, were included purely to make these harrowing encounters a little more palatable but in true Capcom style many of the run-ins with T.rex are on the wrong side of cutscenes. As ever Pteranodon is the perpetual annoyer of the sky. When will game developers ever learn? Therizinosaurus sort of makes an appearance although it looks like Therizinosaurus and Godzilla had a late night rendez-vous and Capcom employed the love children. Okay, so the year after commercial release of Dino Crisis a key fossil discovery helped to complete the palaeontological picture of this dinosaur but even before this is was unlikely that the dinosaur was going to turn out to be a squat angry stomper shown in this tiny picture here.
There's not a great deal  to remember from Dino Crisis. There's a few interesting bits and pieces and ideas here and there but for the most part it's running up and down-samey looking corridors inching nearer to the end with every key card and DDK code key. After the credits roll there's a few nice little touches that marginally increase the re-playability. A range of costumes for Regina (pantsu visible in two of them) add cosmetic variability but the more inspired design choice is that if you choose the Cave woman look, the weapons and upgrades change too. Want to upgrade the flinstone bone handgun and shotgun? Naturally you need to find a ummm frog bit and a snake bit respectively. Also waiting for you after the credit roll is Operation Wipeout a nice little trio of kill the dinosaurs and Therizillas mini game for fun and giggles.

Dino Crisis is probably best remembered with rose tinted glasses rather than replayed and the sequel game was a significant improvement on it. There was dual wielding, Regina could run and fire, underwater sections added some much needed sauropterygians and the boring laboratory environments were (largely) ditched. The third game is by all accounts a bit pants but thanks to the lack of backward compatibility of some Xbox titles on the Xbox 360 no one will ever be able to play it again. Not even me.

Tyrannosaurus Run

No sooner do I bemoan the lack of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in games when I discover the excellent Tyrannosaurus run, free to play in your browser right now right here.

Remember that bit from Jurassic Park when the T.rex runs after the little JP jeep thing, Goldblum mutters his "must go faster" line, then there's a bit with the mirror and "objects may appear larger". We all know that scene right? Well it turns out that 10 second scene is enough to inspire this lovely little Shockwave Game reconstructed from fossils by Silent Bay Studios. The game is fairly straightforward. You are a land rover. There's a T.rex behind you. GO! The game has a nice little twist however, playing homage perhaps to the mirror in Jurassic Park as you can see your rear view mirror and I won't spoil it but you actually need to use it unlike 99.89% of all rear view mirrors in video games. Hey, perhaps I should start a new blog about rear view mirrors in games? Also like the movie, which spawned a million average or worse video games, you have to collect gems for points.

Dinosauriness: There's a single dinosaur in this game. There's no cash prizes for guessing which one and in the blurb for the game it is actually speciated it is our old buddy Tyrannosaurus rex. 

Scientific Accuracy: Since Henry Fairfield Osborn first described Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905, amazing discoveries of related dinosaurs, revolutions in the technology available to palaeontologists striving to unravel the mysteries of the rock record and paradigm shifts in the understanding of dinosaur anatomy and physiology have painted a vivid picture of how Tyrannosaurus rex may have lived, moved and how it would have looked. Unfortunately, a great deal of this knowledge has been overlooked by practically everybody who ever made a video game with a dinosaur in it.

Buzz Bonus: Scraping the barrel for a buzz bonus today but Silent Bay Studios seem to specialise in games about things going forward. Not just land rovers; rally cars, horses, bikes, spy cars, snow cars and even soccer mum wagons. Check 'em all out here.

Where are the Dinosaur Video Games?

We all know what makes video games such a special and powerful medium and that is the fact that they have the potential to feature dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in them. Who can look at this cold hard scientific fact and be sad? Nobody that's who.

So where are all the games? It seems that whilst the consoles sort their next generations out dinosaurs (and other prehistoric creatures) are off the cards for a while. Recently the modding community gave us hope in the form of Dino D-Day and there was a gleam of hope for the two confusing Orion games, Orion Beatdown and Orion Prelude. Primal Carnage was also in the mix. Dino D-Day has some of the best dinosaurs in games but the gameplay didn't quite set hearts alight, whichever one of the Orion games was so-so, the other Orion game still hasn't come out, despite being the first one of the two to be announced and Primal Carnage is shaping up to look like some good but shallow fun. 

Don't get me wrong, the above paragraph looks like I might be taking dinosaurs (AOPC) in games for granted. I'm not but it's the wide rainbow of dinosaurs (etc.) in games of different genres that stokes the fires of passion in our heart. Dare I say it, too many dinosaur shootan' games may damage the whole dinosaurs (&&&) in games movement.

In the meantime I stumbled upon this ol' article from IGN the (ahem) the complete history of dinosaur video games.Deary me. At least they acknowledge it isn't the be all and end all of dinosaurs in video games.

Also whilst excavating new of upcoming exciting digital dinosaurs (kipple) I found this paper about...drum roll please... dinosaurs in video games in the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (the article is on page 82)! . Looks like I'm not alone in the Universe.