They warned us. They told us it would terrorise our very souls and slowly erode our will to live, but did we listen? Did we heed the plaintive, reasoned cry of those who know better? Did we hell. We ripped off the cellophane impatiently, pausing only to inhale the heady aroma of fresh videogame before placing the virgin DVD in the hungry disc tray. What could possibly go wrong?
I don't know how long it took. Maybe half an hour, maybe more, but there was simply no going back; something had to give. Something inanimate. The bounce of a joypad as it met the floor and flew haplessly into the air expressed that moment of perfect, undiluted rage. No one hurt, nothing broken, tension dissipated, but my faith in Capcom's Dino Crisis franchise was ripped to shreds in the same instant it took to die at the jaws of a respawning Velociraptor on that spaceship. On a spaceship? Which bright spark thought that one up?
The amazing respawning dinosaurs from hell
Yes, fair readers, it's the year 2548 and the Ozymandias spaceship is hurtling to Earth. Not only that, it's been missing for over 300 years and is mysteriously populated by magically respawning and electricity emitting dinosaurs. Not that the S.O.A.R (Special Operations and Reconnaissance) team knew this when they attempted to board, but they soon know something's badly wrong when their rescue shuttle comes under attack and is blown up upon approach. Somehow Patrick, Jacob and Sonya manage to board the stricken vessel, but things get even worse when the evil magically respawning and electricity emitting dinosaurs rear their ugly lizard heads. Worse still, all manner of doors are locked, and all the key cards are scattered all over the ship. God damn their generic survival horror design template asses.
Stripped to its basics, the well established/worn survival horror formula that Capcom has peddled so relentlessly over the last seven years has been heartily sprinkled over DC3. Think diary logs, boss monsters, the search for keys, assorted items, health worries, limited ammo, save points, progressively more powerful weapons, and - of course - dodgy voice overs. If you can suspend your disbelief over the somewhat ridiculous storyline, this isn't a massive departure to any great degree. For the many fans of horror adventures, the idea of a spaceship-based take on events actually has a certain appeal - however bizarre the practicalities of massive dinosaurs on a cramped spaceship are. This time you're equipped with a jet pack, and that means lots of hovering, jumping and, oddly, platforming as you work your way from deck to deck.
But, in simple terms, Capcom has made massive, catastrophic errors of design that render an above average game almost impossible to enjoy. The fundamental flaw is without doubt the camera system. For reasons best known to the designers, a dynamic viewpoint system has been implemented which attempts to swoop dramatically across the shiny hangers, rather than, say, let the player take control. This would be fine if it was ever remotely sympathetic, but it seems to actively work against your efforts - for example switching to an opposing viewpoint just as you're attempting a crucial platform jump or - most irritatingly- when a giant salivating lizard is bearing down on you and you've got a tiny sliver of health left. In most situations it's practically impossible to see where your enemies are, and unless it's absolutely necessary you best bet is simply to get the hell out of the room as quickly as possible as just four hits is enough to kill you.
And they can electrocute you too. Yes.
Often, though, the game arbitrarily decides to lock the doors and forces you to do battle with said magically respawning and electricity emitting dinosaurs and won't let you out until you've killed a set number of these slimy fiends. Even on the very easiest settling, dispatching 15 or so of these cretins is just about the most arduous task we've been beset with this year, and required a mixture of luck and taking advantage of some genuinely bottom of the barrel piss poor AI before we could move on. In fact, if it wasn't for the first person mode and some tricky platform negotiation, we wouldn't have had a prayer.
In the general room to room negotiation, the game literally creates enemies out of thin air, not even justifying the presence of these magical creatures unless you're hard-nosed enough to stick with the game's slowly unravelling storyline. Whatever the spurious explanation, we frankly don't care for games that endlessly and unfairly create enemies just for the sake of it. Walking out of a cleared room, only to return and find the exact same posse of spawning, writhing creatures does not a good gaming experience make. It's lazy, irritating, and frankly unnecessary, and the fact you can just jet pack past most of them just underlines their pointlessness.
The game structure itself hardly aids this by consistently forcing the player to backtrack through previously visited locations to grab some previously inaccessible object or access a console that will change the very layout of the spaceship. Although you could say the same thing about the Resident Evil and Onimusha titles, the constant need to go backwards and forwards is even more of a chore in DC3 because it's so hard to get a handle of the layout. Part of this is down to the shiny sameness of the environment; part of it is the ever-changing camera angles which completely throws your sense of direction, while a further layer of confusion is thrown into the mix once you're forced into changing the layout of the ship to access new areas. As a result, getting anywhere in DC3 requires almost constant checking of the map to make sure you're heading the right way, and after a few hours of this you'll doubtlessly be losing the will to live, never mind carry on.
Let's see what we can pinch
In true Capcom style, some ideas have been liberally pinched from its other franchises, and DC3 is no exception, robbing the door-opening mechanic straight from Onimusha. Not only do your 'Wasp' weapons deal a homing smart bomb on your adversaries, but also act as a means of accessing other sections of the ship (how convenient!) by filling a series of square holes in certain doors. It's all very contrived; as you'd expect, but once you accept the 'rules' of the game you just get on with scouring every room for loot.
Another oddly contrived mechanic within the game is its currency system, which involves collecting the numerous glowing tokens that bizarrely litter the ship for no justifiable reason. When you finally find a save point, you can also purchase upgrades to everything from the size of your inventory to your energy bar and ammo capacity - again somewhat similar to the experience system employed within the likes of Onimusha and latterly Devil May Cry.
Visually, you'd perhaps expect better things from an Xbox-exclusive title. The ship's rendered with a shiny metallic aplomb and some of the coloured lighting effects that ripple beneath Perspex flooring are genuinely delightful. The character models, meanwhile, are merely functional, with no effort made to employ the kind of atmospheric lighting that we all know the Xbox can handle easily (see the rudimentary 'blob' of a shadow underneath the player for a start) - and however well designed the dinosaurs are, they just look ridiculous charging around these oddly cavernous environments.
We've heard of Pigs in Space, but dinosaurs?
It's evident that this very talented team had little intention of pushing the Xbox, and in fact, it's feasible that the game was originally designed with the PS2 in mind. Even Capcom's famously ambitious FMV seems absent, lacking the spark of so many of its titles, and marred by some truly atrocious scripting and wooden voiceovers failing to engage at any stage. Even the music seems limp and uninspired, in keeping with the distinctly below average feel of Capcom's latest.
Even the truly committed Capcom adventure fan (such as your correspondent, for one) would have trouble enjoying DC3. Even performing the most mundane tasks in the game takes an age, and you'll probably be bored, or just plain annoyed, within literally minutes of picking up the pad. Its adherence to the well worn formula isn’t really the issue here (although it doesn't necessarily help), and some of the diehard fans of survival horror games will be quite happy with the prospect of its 'more of the same' approach. The real issue is the crushingly bad camera system - and what makes it all the more frustrating is the knowledge that Capcom actually made a conscious decision to remove the manual camera control - the very thing that would have resolved most of the issues we've raised. Opting for this 'we know best' approach has completely killed any chance of the player enjoying it. Unforgivable.
But this isn't just about the camera. The pointlessly respawning (and stubborn) enemies quickly become a tedious pain in the arse, the combat mechanics feel redundant, limited and stuck in the past, and the whole locked door/find key/backtrack game design feels utterly stale too. If there's one positive thing that will come out of DC3's release, it's that Capcom will finally wake up to this critical backlash, and make amends for what is a serious dent to its reputation. Without doubt, this is among the worst games Capcom has ever made, and should never have been released in this state. Avoid at all costs.