Game Description: Guide Regina as she explores and fights her way through 3D environments in an effort to save Dr. Edward Kirk. With some help from her communications officer, Rick, and a few weapons pistols, shotguns, grenades, and poison darts she can do battle with the raptors, pteradons, and t-rexes that inhabit Ibis Island. Only by using both brain and brawn will you be able to survive the dangers in Dino Crisis.
As you already know, a low-budget film entitled The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters this summer and became one of the surprise hits of the year. There was a whole lot of talk about the film's low budget and unique marketing, but what really mattered and what moviegoers ultimately proved to be more enticing was their dying need to scared. The creators of the Blair Witch got back to the basics and showed that we are better at scaring ourselves than any special effects guru was; they played on moviegoers' fears and instincts with great success and fans showed their appreciation by going back for more. It is in this 'frightening' regard that I compare it to Capcom's latest in the 'survival-horror' genre, Dino Crisis. While it was spawned from the phenomenally popular Resident Evil franchise, Dino Crisis tries to offer enough to separate itself from Resident Evil as well as the myriad of clones Resident Evil sequels that have saturated the market. Capcom has dumped the pretty (and expensive) pre-rendered background graphics and shock tactics that Resident Evil used and instead have opted for real-time 3D backgrounds, packs of carnivorous dinosaurs, and real-time action. It's a big break from the norm, but it shapes up to be a successful one.
This time around I play Regina, a female member of a rescue team sent to an island to rescue a scientific genius named Professor Kirk; who is publicly alleged to be working on a new fuel source, but those in the know believe he is working on something far more sinister. Regina and her comrades must work together to rescue the Professor as well as simply surviving. Anyone looking at Dino Crisis will make an immediate connection to Jurassic Park (Dino Crisis and Resident Evil creator, Shinji Mikami, admitted later that Jurassic Park was indeed an influence as he developed the game), but the move from zombies to dinosaurs was genius. It completely changed the pace of the genre. In Resident Evil, if a bunch of zombies came after me, I could get away easily by outrunning them or walking around them. This is not the case in Dino Crisis. Capcom went to work creating realistic dinosaurs that would relentlessly chase and hunt down my character throughout the game. The dinosaurs are incredibly strong and as fast as I am (and in some cases, even faster), so any battle with them could very well be my last. It made every potential confrontation all the more urgent.
Resident Evil fans took quickly to the slick CG full-motion video (FMV) movies and pre-rendered backgrounds of Resident Evil as soon as it was released. But with each sequel, the flashy graphics were becoming more and more of a hindrance to gameplay. In Resident Evil, it always felt like I was sliding across nicely rendered wallpaper and not moving through the background, which kept me very much removed from the game and this is why I love the real-time graphics in Dino Crisis. It was refreshing to be able to actually walk around things in the game and walk into and out of the background without getting lost due to flawed depth perception. As for the FMV, Dino Crisis has its share of it in the game intro and endings (there are 3 unique endings), but leaves the FMVs during the actual game to be done in real-time. This doesn't interfere with the action and gives the game a consistent look throughout.
In a solid effort not to disappoint horror fans, Capcom went to work pushing the PlayStation to its limits. They not only included excellent real-time graphics, but also managed to pile on some of the best real-time light-sourcing I've seen on this system. Regina now walks into and out of lit areas with light hitting her body with the utmost of realism. Shinji Mikami and his team of developers have always showed an instinct for using the most appropriate music and sound effects to heighten the ambience. Not that there is a lot of music, mind you. Most of the game is filled with deafening silence, which is only broken by the occasional dinosaur squeal or roar echoing throughout the island. But when the action really heats up, though, the heart-pounding music kicks in and takes things to a new level. All of this could easily have been missed, but I'm glad I didn't and I think Capcom should be commended for it.
However, of course, the game is not quite perfect. In my opinion, Capcom didn't veer far enough away from the Resident Evil series. The door-opening-so-you-know-the-CD-ROM-is-loading screens are still here. Whether I was trying to escape an attack through an air duct in the ceiling or just strolling through a door, having this screen pop up would totally take me out of the action and remind me that I was just playing a game. Capcom tries to distract me with gratuitous shots of Regina's butt, but that only makes matters worse. I think it's a cardinal sin to force a player to have to sit back and watch any kind of blatant load screen like this in the middle of the action. Also of note is the menu system. Sure Regina can now carry her gun at all times without having to always access the menu screen to equip it, but this became a real pain in the butt when I wanted to use an air duct or flip a simple switch. These are relatively minor negatives, but changing them would surely improve the game.
It was a bitter pill that the horror industry swallowed to see a movie like The Blair Witch Project have so much more success than much more expensive and over-hyped endeavors like The Haunting. After the industry-induced push towards more grand effects on the big screen, it's nice to see them take notice of one of the 'tiny' movies. I only hope that the video game industry is watching. These days, every developer is so keen on releasing the next Resident Evil, by offering more zombies and more blood, that they neglect to add anything worthwhile to the genre. In Dino Crisis, we have a game that is more concerned with pulling you into it and letting your mind work itself into a frenzy. It uses basic gameplay and ingenuitive pacing to put players on edge and accomplishes the rare feat of letting gamers scare themselves. Case in point is my partner here at GameCritics.com, Chi. Although a wily Resident Evil veteran, Chi was constantly jumping out of his pants while playing and that was pretty concrete evidence to me that Capcom had gotten things right.
In my mind, the Resident Evil series is one of the most overrated video game series in the late 90s (let's not forget Tomb Raider either). I have always found the voice-acting bad beyond belief (who could forget that "master of picking locks" line), puzzles to be ridiculously contrived (what kind of police station uses magic stones in its security system?), and the control interface limited to running around with stagnate shooting. Those oh-so distracting 'door entrance' load-times didn't win me over either. But don't get me wrong; I didn't loath Resident Evil. I enjoyed playing the original and the sequel which both managed to rattled my nerves pretty well (though nowhere near as much as Kenji Eno's underrated D did). I just couldn't understand how a game with so many obvious flaws could be considered a masterpiece!
So when it came time to review Resident Evil's perennial follow-up, Dino Crisis, I was fairly skeptical. To my surprise, Dino Crisis was much better than I expected and held up pretty well under my scrutiny. Laughable voice-acting (marginally better than Resident Evil's) and the old 'door entrance' load-times are still present, but there's an effort to fix or improve on all other problems that have consistently plagued the series. Bad camera angles obscuring enemies and objects are less apparent since the use of real-time rather than prerendered environments allows the perspective to pan around when necessary. Targeting enemies in the distance no longer requires guesswork because an automatic lock-on feature has been added. Like Dale mentioned, raptors are far more interesting adversaries than brain-dead zombies. Lastly, most of the overly contrived puzzles have been ditched for more realistic ones thanks to the whole Jurassic Park situation.
For my money's worth, Dino Crisis represents the first 'survival-horror' entry in the genre actually done right. It may have taken Capcom three tries (usually the charm) to get there, but they finally did and I'm happy to recommend it. I still feel the locked-down camera angles and limited control scheme characteristic of this genre hamper it from reaching the pinnacle of gaming bliss. But in spite of its flaws, Dino Crisis, like its predecessor Resident Evil, remains fun to play. Just don't expect me to proclaim it 'Game of the Year.'
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood & Gore, Animated Violence
Parents should be weary on two fronts. Dino Crisis is filled with blood and gore, but there are also plenty of scares here as well and the latter compounded with the blood it may be too much for youngsters.
Resident Evil fans rejoice because you have yet another survival horror game to check out. There are loads of scares and menu-based action as well as a healthy dose of bad voice-acting (the kind you've come to love with Resident Evil).
Non-Resident Evil fans should check it out anyway just because it is an excellent action-adventure game.
By the way, Nintendo loyalists, you don't have long to wait to get your Resident Evil fix, a customized version of Resident Evil 2 should be in stores come Halloween.