Game of the Month: October 2016
Dino Crisis - PS1 / Dreamcast / PC
There’s an old saying that goes something like this… “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ Wise words for many of us to live by for sure but also another of the things that applies to historical events of the gaming industry. Far too often things that work perfectly have been tinkered with and apparently refined, only for the final result to be a complete and total mess.
Whilst the human race itself must always strive to get better, do better, be better, some of the things we create can easily be left alone forever after the first attempt. There’s also the fact that in the videogame world following up a huge commercial and critical success with another is absolutely one of the hardest things to accomplish. When you try and do it in the same exact genre, a genre you helped establish, then that task of replicating success hits massively new heights. For the month of October in the year of 2016 RGG wants to take a look at the time when Capcom didn’t just attempt to make lightning strike twice… It made Thor’s hammer look like a kids party magic trick. Come one, come all to the wonderful world of Dino Crisis!
After firmly cementing the Resident Evil franchise as ‘The’ premier survival horror game, which in itself was a huge deal, the masters over at Capcom decided to see what else they could achieve using this now insanely popular genre of videogame. A genre that many people today still credit them inventing, although they were very late to the party in that respect. Resident Evil was such a perfect fusion of new interactive gaming technology meeting film concepts that took the entire world by storm. The game impacted so much that it not only helped drive the playstation sales through the roof but it made an existing videogame genre look completely new and original (people seemed to forget Alone In The Dark and Clock Tower after picking up the PS1 pad).
Never resting on existing laurels Capcom were approaching the end of the millennium in full stride so it was very interesting when a new game based on the existing genre and engine was released in Japan in July 1999. A new survival horror game was here, however the safely established ‘Zombie’ element had now been completely thrown to one side in favour of another subject matter that had proven to be incredibly popular. That subject matter… Dinosaurs!
Capcom obviously knew that every single child in the developed / developing world had both a knowledge and a massive fascination with the beasts that used to roam the Earth before Humankind evolved into the dominant species. There are just some things that unite everybody because of the ‘cool’ nature of what they stand for/represent. Chocolate is one, Ninja’s another, Zombies are something everyone is fascinated with and thanks to comic books, museums, TV shows and above all else films, Dinosaurs make everyone sit up and take notice with huge smiles on their faces.
Whilst the Jurassic Park mania that had gripped the early parts of the 1990’s so tight had long since faded the actual subject matter of the Dinosaurs themselves had not gone away. A survival horror game by this point had to get across a story and events that absolutely triggered both fear and moments of severe tension so how better to follow up a Zombie outbreak than the rebirth of natures finest predators.
Thanks to several years passing by since the first release of Resident Evil, Capcom had clearly developed new techniques and game engines with which to work with so although Dino Crisis looks at first glance to be a clone, it’s really not, it’s so much more. Whilst the lead character looks and indeed moves the same as Chris and Jill once did in that scary mansion it’s the backgrounds and backdrops that now looked and operated completely differently. Pre-rendered background scenery was thrown out in favour of generated 3D environments from the games engine. This alone created a game that once you see past the ‘cover’ allowed for a faster paced and more intense experience. The Zombies and undead creatures used in Dino Crisis’s clear influence title ‘Resident Evil’ moved slowly so although the horror aspect was there, it was at a pace that allowed you time to think and form strategy.
By making Dinosaurs the game’s bad guys the pace and associated tension was infinitely more intense. A door in Resident Evil was your best friend, however Dino Crisis operated from the perspective that the dinosaurs were hunters and so would work around such things. The term ‘panic horror’ was coined to best describe the experience however the game absolutely falls under survival horror as it’s primary genre because of the need to actually survive first and foremost and also because of the gore levels to illustrate the horror aspect.
The story of Dino Crisis tells the tale of the lead protagonist ‘Regina’ who along with three colleagues is dispatched to a remote Island in order to investigate a missing agent who was first sent to look into the rumours of a presumed dead scientist being alive and well and working on something at that location. After parachuting onto the remote location under cover of night one of the team is blown of course instantly beginning the series of events where everything either goes wrong for you or quick reactions and logical thinking will determine your survival. Soon after discovering bodies of dead scientists you learn that this island is now completely swarming with Dinosaurs. Cut off from communicating this news to your superiors you set about finding and survivors and working out how best to summon help and escape this now extremely dangerous location.
Your enemy is large in both numbers and in a few cases actual size, natural predators with a taste for human flesh and extremely persistent and intelligent. The Dinosaurs which are all superbly animated because the developers based the movements on real life animals, never stop pursuing you. With limited supplies, ammo and actual people to help you out this becomes a race against huge odds to get off the island and at the same time get to the bottom of just exactly how these long since extinct creatures came to be here. Controlling very much like Resident Evil but with faster moving and more intelligent enemies everything is very nerve racking making for a seriously intense gaming experience. You will panic because that’s what the game makers want you to do. Vents, glass windows, doors and even barricades will not stop the dangerous situations meaning that you must gain control of the bases laser barriers in order to allow you to work through the numerous puzzles to complete your objectives.
Dino Crisis launched in all territories to very positive reviews with critics both praising it’s subject matter and pace whilst also criticizing the speed at which you move and the sometimes incredibly frustrating puzzles. The animation of the Dinosaurs was for the time simply incredible and people used to slow moving zombies were suddenly taken completely out of their comfort circle. Seen at the time and even more so as the years has passed as Resident Evil with Dinosaurs it’s absolutely more deep than that. Put simply it feels and often even looks the same but one game gives you time and one raises your heartbeat constantly because you are never truly safe.
Selling over 2.4 million copies on 3 formats, the Playstation, the Sega Dreamcast and Windows PC was an exceptional performance based on how badly the Dreamcast sold and just how many gamers were already turning attention to the soon to be released PS2 console. Dino Crisis would then go on to spawn two survival horror game sequels called Dino Crisis 2 and Dino Crisis 3. One being exclusive to the PS1 and the other being a complete and total travesty for the Microsoft Xbox console. A spin-off game released on the PS2 was an on-rails shooting game that was part of the ‘Gun Survivor ‘series that absolutely nobody seems to remember.
The original Dino Crisis is the moment when Capcom took a look at that old saying of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and completely threw it out the window to prove that sometimes you can absolutely refine or remake something to not create a game better or worse than it’s inspiration but a videogame so completely fresh and new that it goes on to stand on it’s own. A franchise spawned off of the foundations of an existing one, nice!
Considering how Capcom have several world famous beat ‘em up games that all very much feel like they all owe Street Fighter a drink down the pub, was Dino Crisis being fantastic ever in doubt? Only Capcom can be this bold and brilliant, familiar and new all at the same time. One wonders exactly when they stopped being this incredible but Dino Crisis and the games around it are perfect points in time when everything they did was just pure gold.
If you look around the internet you will see people writing them off as ‘extinct’ as a developer and publisher, a Dinosaur themselves. The thing is, when you think a creature is dead because it’s lying still on the floor, is often when it’s most preparing to strike. Capcom brought the Dinosaurs back from the dead once, don’t be surprised if they rock your world once more in the not too distant future. Anything’s possible. I’ve seen a T-Rex, burst through glass on my TV in my living room after all…