When you stop to think about it, dinosaurs are intimidating and fearsome creatures. They were ancient giants with large claws and huge teeth, but the fascination and childlike wonder with which we view them has helped make dinosaurs a bit more approachable and entertaining, with Barney perhaps being the extreme of how far they’ve been declawed in our perception. Jurassic Park, despite being mostly responsible for the cementing of dinosaurs in the public conscious, has not shied away from including their more terrifying traits, but Dino Crisis decided to take things a step further and make the dinosaurs a source of legitimate video game horror.
A brilliant scientist named Dr. Kirk has resurfaced on a strange island after having been thought dead for years, and suspicion is immediately cast on his work there possibly relating to top secret weapon development. As Regina, you join a team of special agents sent in to investigate this unusual occurrence and recover Kirk before anything dangerous can be developed, but in very short order the island’s research facility reveals its unusual nature as deadly dinosaurs begin to appear. Dinosaurs like Velociraptors, Pteranodons, and of course a Tyrannosaurus rex all make appearances and all seem dead-set on killing any humans they happen to come across, and while Regina is armed, the enemy’s numbers are too great and her ammo is limited. You can spend your time taking down a raptor that is blocking the hallway, but it can eat through a whole clip of your ammo to do so, and you have hardly any inventory space to carry ammo on top of limited chances to find it in the environment. There is an emergency box system where plugs you can find can open interconnected safe boxes with goodies inside and storage you can access from different parts of the facility, but you’ll never have the ammo you need to engage every creature you come across. They’re sturdy, they hit hard, and most of the time, it’s better to try and squeeze through while dodging their strikes on the way to your next destination.
Dino Crisis instills a sense of incredible vulnerability, its creatures competent and easily able to take a dawdling player down. You have to pick your battles wisely or else you might be out of ammo when you truly need it, but there are some ways to ease off on the sense of complete helplessness. Tranquilizer darts come sparingly as well as the deadly poison darts, and later in the game more powerful guns enter your repertoire that, while better for killing when they have to, still need to be watched closely or you will burn through your reserves just as quickly. Sneaking by, baiting enemies, or firing shots that stun a target briefly will allow you to move about without an overwhelming sense of danger, but the creatures do have a few tricks. Almost every creature you encounter will be a raptor or some variation thereof, but that means they all get to draw on the deadly skill of being able to navigate the same halls as you, and going through a door to escape them isn’t foolproof, as they can burst through and continue their chase. If encountered in a group of even two, you’re likely not to walk away unscathed unless you act intelligently, and if you do die, you might notice something strange.
Despite being a game that lets you save in certain special rooms as often as you please, Dino Crisis has a limited number of continues. This doesn’t mean a limited amount of times you can load a save, it just means the game has given the player some free equivalents of its revival method, the Resuscitation Pack. If you have a Resuscitation Pack in your inventory and you die, you’ll be set back only a slight bit and asked to try again, with the Continues only coming into play if you run out of Resuscitation Packs. You can of course reload a save file if you’re paranoid about losing a continue, but a smarter way of staying safe is just devoting some inventory space to the incredibly helpful item. Of course, enemies in this game can kill pretty easily, meaning the sound of them in an area already adds a layer of tension to entry before you even see the threatening creatures. With many dinosaurs quick to close space and having attacks that can knock you about if they land, your outmaneuvering can still be tense once you’ve gotten used to doing it, but there is an area I feel they overstep being credible threats and become a bit cheap when they start using instant kill attacks. One way this might crop up is with some DANGER moments, those being scripted scenes where a dinosaur gets the drop on you and might kill you if you don’t frantically press every button to escape. These are easy enough to account for, but the boss Tyrannosaurus can land instant kills during regular battle. It does make sense that being caught in a T-Rex’s jaws can immediately kill you, but the attacks are quick and most of the time you are in danger of this death method, it’s during a close range fight that can be over in an instant if you didn’t meet the exact right attack timing to get it not to bite you. The only time I did reload a file instead of relying on the revival items was a section where the T-Rex got in a few too many instant kills for my taste, but discounting that, it seems like Resuscitation Packs are paced well enough to keep you from feeling invincible but giving you the revivals necessary so that you don’t need to count on continues. The Easy difficult does play quite different and seems to give the player more resources in general to make things more palatable at the cost of some of the fear of such competent foes, starting them off with the better weapons earlier to make it a cleaner ride for those not looking to buy too hard into the horror.
No matter the difficulty you chose though, Dino Crisis has a few problems tied to the era it came out in. People familiar with the original Resident Evil release can easily identify elements carried over into Dino Crisis, and while Capcom got better at visual and level design for this title, some bugbears still remain. Dino Crisis has what are called tank controls, where to move around in the 3D space, you use the control stick to rotate in place and press forward when you want to move in the direction you’re facing. Pressing up to move upward or left to walk to the left is the more natural inclination developers found in time, but this experimental section of gaming history after a new dimension was added to the movement did mean some games control a bit worse than they deserve. While this may seem like a poor situation to be in considering how much evading dinosaurs is emphasized, you can acclimate a bit to the movement controls before your life is ever on the line, and since aiming usually automatically points at any dinosaur your facing to make firing on them easier, you don’t have to worry too much about that aspect. The game does struggle when there are multiple dinosaurs to fire at or ones moving oddly, but it mostly gets it right when it counts. Essentially, the game feels somewhat stiff, but that doesn’t totally harm the content.
Besides shooting and fleeing from dinosaurs though, Dino Crisis has quite a lot of puzzles and exploration, each with again small caveats that hold them back from being as good as they could be. The big one for navigation is the need to move about the same areas repeatedly, something that exhausts simple environments but does come with the added benefit of making dinosaurs more threatening. A raptor isn’t a threat you have to squeeze by just one time, you have to pass through the thoroughfare and risk injury over and over, and here is where you have to make the choice of what to kill, as a killed creature will disappear if dealt with and make movement safer and calmer. The puzzles have a much clearer split between what works and what doesn’t rather than their presence augmenting the horror in any meaningful way. Dino Crisis really wants the player to remember a bunch of codes and information, and this is a game you’ll need to take notes to play effectively as some of these can go an hour or more between learning them and using them. A bunch of keys, ID cards, and odd devices crop up to complicate it a bit, but there are some puzzles that aren’t just tests of and having the right codes or right items. Some doors ask the player to decrypt a password, others ask the player to arrange things properly, and when Dino Crisis isn’t relying on you to just reproduce information you found earlier, it can put some decent tasks in your path to figure out. It clearly favors remembering numbers found on notes though, which doesn’t make for meaningful gate keeping as it’s pretty clear where the numbers need to be entered and are less puzzles than “find the right detail”. Perhaps this also plays into the backtracking to get you to encounter dinosaurs more often, but it feels more artificial than a building having to adhere to its layout and having new areas open up over the course of the game.
There is a minor touch to Dino Crisis that makes for an interesting sense of control over the affair despite so often being vulnerable during it. At certain points in the story, Regina is asked to pick between two options for how to progress the plot. One is often a challenge that tests the mind more and the other is about avoiding a high number of dinosaurs, and here a player can choose the approach they prefer. Sometimes failure might lead them back to the other path and sometimes the outcomes aren’t too different, but they do give the player an option of which kind of gameplay to engage and ultimately you can receive multiple end battles and story outcomes with the final choice of the game and how you follow up on it after making it. This helps augment the rather typical unfolding of a mystery around what’s happening on the island and allows it to have a few extra moments of character interaction and potentially different outcomes, aiding the story in being a more interesting adventure.
THE VERDICT: Dino Crisis’s stiff movement controls and overreliance on holding onto number codes for its puzzles can’t be ignored, but it manages to succeed enough elsewhere that these problems can’t weigh it down completely. The dinosaurs in the game are credible, dangerous threats that make each encounter a tense decision about whether you can afford to stand and fight or if you can outmaneuver them safely to keep on the path to the next area. You are not helpless, but you need to act intelligently to succeed, and making progress is made all the sweeter for what you must overcome to acquire it. It’s refreshing to face dinosaurs so fearsome in a video game, especially one that isn’t afraid to challenge the player by making them competent threats, and the puzzles that do work ensure there’s something to engage with even when you’re mostly on the run from your foes.
And so, I give Dino Crisis for the Playstation…
A GOOD rating. I fully believe this game would be much better if it got remade like its sister Resident Evil has been a few times already. Many of its small issues could be easily adjusted, with the controls made to match the way we understand 3D movement should operate now and a system in the game to hold onto important codes and notes for reference later being just some small ways it could overcome its faults in design. A horror game that can nail making its threats intimidating is always a good thing to find, and Dino Crisis quite wisely doesn’t make you a complete pushover in a fight so that it’s not just a frustrating sequence of outrunning dinosaurs. With an Easy mode to please people looking for some more action, Dino Crisis even allows in some people not as willing to buy into the threat of low reserves. The flaws may shine more brightly without the tension and danger being so strong, but it still wouldn’t become totally unenjoyable since the dinosaurs would not be reduced to complete jokes by the drop in challenge.
Dino Crisis’s horror is built on the power of the deadly dinosaurs and the threat they pose, a primal fear that even our earliest ancestors could relate to as they lived more closely to nature. They didn’t have to outrun dinosaurs and weren’t packing heat like players of Dino Crisis are, but it still can effectively tap into that tense feeling of being unsafe, making the moments you do overcome those threats all the more satisfying.