Dino Side Story
Unlike Dino Crisis 2, which is definitely its own game, the original Dino Crisis is more like a side story to Resident Evil, borrowing so much that at the time many used "Resident Evil on speed" and other amusing one-liners to describe it. And indeed, if you go through Resident Evil and replace the zombies with Tyrannosaurs, Raptors and other assorted prehistoric nasties, you do end up with a resoundingly similar picture. Dino Crisis though, puts you in control of a lass called Regina, rather than a lass called Jill, and Regina is a member of a secret government organisation sent to bring an a nasty situation under control at a remote location in the middle of nowhere… Oh shut up. Anyway, the remote spot just so happens to be an island, controlled by the elusive Dr. Kirk, who has been conducting some rather unusual experiments involving prehistoric creatures. Dinosaurs, no less, which in due course break loose and run wild all over the place. Controlling Regina and regularly interacting with other operatives on the island, you must evacuate survivors and try and locate Kirk himself, if he is still alive. Basically it's survival horror by numbers. You have to find keys, push buttons and shoot things to get your way. Thankfully, the shooting and moving sides of things have been speeded up noticeably, so running Regina around is no problem, and the freedom of movement makes dealing with dinos a lot easier than otherwise.
The Science Bit
The sense of freedom in Dino Crisis is also greater. There are multiple paths that can be taken, and your choices can directly affect later stages of the game. Sometimes you end up covering the ground you missed during the course of the game, sometimes you don't. A slightly unfortunate side effect of this is that at times missing out a room can call for some tedious backtracking once the rest of the level is dispensed with. In keeping with the branching plot are the multiple endings. There are three in total, uncovered simply by taking different courses throughout the game. If you do particularly well, you are also rewarded with extra costumes for Regina, who looks splendiferous bedecked in her new gear. It would be grossly inaccurate to say that the extra costumes encourage replay, but the extra endings certainly do - and with the chief attraction here being a suspenseful single player game, branching levels help to keep things fresh with each subsequent turn. Although rather clichéd, the story definitely suits the setting. After all, if you were conducting deadly experiments, you would no doubt use an abandoned island as the setting. And although the experiment did go wrong, unlike other games which often dispense with such pleasantries as the whys and wherefores, Dino Crisis actually lets you in on the secret, albeit gradually, as the game wears on. This is mostly thanks to some spectacular FMV, which advances the story nicely at regular intervals. They also leave lots of unanswered questions that help to keep everyone tense.
The Other Half
It's about now that we start to pick up on the negative points. Dino Crisis is a great game, and very enjoyable, but regrettably, Capcom didn't see fit to do much to help spice up the Dreamcast port. The original PlayStation version was released eons ago and like all PSX games suffered from some rather poor graphics and low-poly models. The background and general setting has been smoothed over quite effectively here, but the low-poly models remain, and they really do take some of the bite away from the game. The level design, sound effects and such are all identical too, which is somewhat annoying, especially in light of the rather brilliant Resident Evil 3: Nemesis Dreamcast update that we took a look at last week. Visually it's unremarkable, and a missed opportunity. The only area that has seen an appropriate level of attention we'd say is the control system. It was perfectly acceptable to begin with of course, but now it mimics Resident Evil: Code Veronica in its styling, with additions like the ability to swivel on the spot to take on multiple attackers. Also, in the original incarnation of Dino Crisis, the camera angles sometimes made it hard to guess which direction you pressed to make Regina go forward - not so now.
Speaking of camera angles, another big point of tension is the way these are put to use. Although their positioning is quite restrictive, to the point of becoming frustrating at times, they definitely build up tension by obscuring certain points of entry for enemies. If you suspect a dino is lurking just off screen, you are right 90% of the time, and although this makes the action rather predictable, it doesn't half add to the tension. Other good points are the moody soundtrack, which thankfully remains untouched, and also the AI of the dinos, which although rather limited is very effective. Raptors sail through the air toward you and Tyrannosaurs stomp dramatically - I didn't notice at any one point a dino getting caught on a wall or anything else like that. Quite an achievement. But ultimately, you have to ask, is Dino Crisis as scary a year on? Having not really played it since the original PlayStation release, I certainly thought so. A lot has happened to survival horror since then, but the effect is still quite startling. The only criticisms to be levelled at this game are that it doesn't take advantage of the Dreamcast's technical improvements, and that unlike other Capcom ports, it doesn't offer anything new to old-hands.
Capcom have released a lot of games on the Dreamcast lately, including quite a few ports from old PlayStation games, and unfortunately, Dino Crisis is not the best of them, not even the best of the survival horror games. Still, if you're new to the genre, it's one of the tidiest efforts, even if it's starting to show its age, and if you own the sequel, this demands to be played for the sake of completion. If only they had taken some time to refine it for the DC audience though. Ah well.