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Reviewing The Classics: we play Dino Crisis (1999)

Stand by for retro reviews done right, folks. Reviewing The Classics is a series where Gearburn staff play some of their most loved retro games from bygone consoles and PCs with floppy drives. This week, Graham has a look at Dino Crisis, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s twisted dinosaur devastation game.

It’s difficult to rate older games by today’s standards. With the advancements in technology, we’re spoiled by improved graphics, control methods, and storytelling techniques. Not to mention the temptation to wear nostalgia goggles when reviewing older games. All I can do is try, right?

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The survival horror genre has been around for a few decades. It first started with the likes of Haunted House on the Atari 2600, and later the adaptations of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its popularity grew with Infograms’ Alone in the Dark, and entered the mainstream market with Capcom’s Biohazard/Resident Evil series.

Resident Evil took its own inspiration from a previous Capcom game, Sweet Home, and the George Romero Dead movie franchise. While zombie movies of the era focussed on character’s struggles for survival, Resident Evil’s story revolved around the outbreak itself and the force behind it. This is a trend that would continue throughout the series.

Released between Resident Evil 2 and 3, Dino Crisis utilises similar gameplay mechanics to the zombie-laden series it’s spun off of. When I say spun off, I mean it’s a survival horror game with a few shared gameplay elements, but that’s as far as the similarities really go. Besides some fan service here and there neither game series has any direct ties.

Video courtesy of lucianoRX

The Dino Crisis story and setting takes a more science fiction approach than that of Resident Evil — even more so than Umbrella Corporation’s experiments. You play as Regina, member of a special tactics team sent to Ibis Island. Your mission is to locate a Dr. Kirk — a leading expert in energy research — who apparently died three years prior. Upon arrival, one of the team members is devoured by a tyrannosaurus rex.

The team starts to uncover the truth around the island and Dr. Kirk. Yes, a guy named Dr. Kirk does sound as fascinating as a bag of potatoes.

Dino Crisis was created by the same development team behind Resident Evil, which included the zombie series’ creator, Shinji Mikami. So you could think of Dino Crisis as Resident Evil with velociraptors, which is a pretty interesting concept. It does share the same cheesy script and dialogue.

The game runs on the same graphics engine as Resident Evil, but a few modifications. The most noticeable difference is that of the camera and environments. While Resident Evil utilised a static cinematic camera, the character models were 3D on 2D backgrounds. This allowed for much greater environmental detail.

So you could think of Dino Crisis as Resident Evil with velociraptors

Dino Crisis swaps 2D background for 3D ones. The trade-off means far less detail in the background, often resulting in cold environments, but it works for a military lab with dinosaurs all about the place. At times, the camera is locked to a static position, but more often than not if follows Regina from cinematic angles.

Regina controls the same way a tank would, but this does add to the overall tension in the game. Some may find the combat frustrating with controls like this, but we have to remember the age of Dino Crisis and when it was released — freedom of movement wasn’t exactly top priority.

Video courtesy of lucianoRX

Other than movement, the game’s appreciation of human physiology is admirable. Besides taking normal damage, Regina can bleed as well. This will eventually slow her down. You’ll need to find all manner of ammo and medicines around Ibis Island to stay alive. The game allows you to mix certain items to create far more powerful versions, such as medicine. And like modern RPGs, there’s is a limit to how many items can be carried at a time. You’ll spend a while sorting through special storage boxes to kit out your character.

All of the puzzles are similar to that of Resident Evil. A random body will have the finger printers required for a key card, but the only way to know that is to read through all of the documentation and play with a few objects. Overall you can blow through Dino Crisis in around six to seven hours on your first playthrough.

Dino Crisis later spawned three sequels. I never had the chance to play Dino Crisis 3 or Gun Survivor, but can vouch for Dino Crisis 2. It went back to the days of static 2D backgrounds but ramped up the action. Dino Crisis and 2 are vastly different entries into the series, but fantastic in their own right.

Verdict: Dino Crisis is easily the best dinosaur-based survival horror game. Sure, it doesn’t have much competition, but it still outshines the rest. Its controls may be clunky and puzzles easy by today’s standards, but it’s a fun playthrough. Is it worth picking up again? Yes. Yes it is. Now if only Jurassic World was this exciting.

Score: 8/10

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