Dino Crisis (PlayStation) review
"Regina slumped against the medical room door. Relief that the horrors were locked out, at least for a moment, settled upon her with the same slow weight as the aqua neon glare. Dragging herself across the room, she was only now becoming aware of the pain from her wound as the adrenaline ebbed. Crimson splashes fell steadily onto the gleaming white tiles as she moved from the door to the bed. "
Regina slumped against the medical room door. Relief that the horrors were locked out, at least for a moment, settled upon her with the same slow weight as the aqua neon glare. Dragging herself across the room, she was only now becoming aware of the pain from her wound as the adrenaline ebbed. Crimson splashes fell steadily onto the gleaming white tiles as she moved from the door to the bed.
Forget the rumours. The magnificent Dino Crisis is NO middling take on Resident Evil. Dino Crisis is a razor-edged survival horror experience in its own right which pushed everything in the genre forward - physics, combat, puzzles, character drama and gore. The coppery taste of mortality left in your mouth after each game is testimony to some potent and surprisingly well-developed horror themes which contrast the highest technology against soft flesh and blood.
The context: Capcom's last move was Resident Evil 2. Other developers had beaten Capcom to the punch in taking their own genre and developing it with subject matter other than zombies. For instance, ASCII's point-and-click Clock Tower embroiled players in a serial killer mystery in Norway. Konami's shattering Silent Hill (before which I abase myself 666 times) turned the search for our missing daughter into a journey through incomprehensible nightmares. In 1999 Capcom broke off from the undead themselves and returned to the frey they had created with some suspicious-looking reptile eggs bundled in their arms...
If Jurassic Park had been a straight-ahead horror film for adults instead of stopping to cuddle around with cute kids, comic sidekicks and talky overtures as it did, the result might have been something like Dino Crisis - though probably still not half as sharp.
A covert military operation to 'repatriate' a rogue scientist from a secluded island complex turns nasty when the trio of operatives who survive the helicopter drop find everyone on the base torn to shreds. To their shock and disbelief, the murderous third party turns out to be... dinosaurs. Dinosaurs which are now roaming the island and the complex as if they've lived there forever. Personal dynamics explode in conflict when team leader Gail vows to complete the mission no matter what (I think his name is shooting for irony since he is a very hardcore marine type), tech-boy Rick just wants to get the hell out of there, and Regina - the flippest survival horror heroine we've ever played - does most of the hard work while looking out for both her partners.
In Dino Crisis I feel the creators went out of their way to explore alternatives for this genre in almost every area - even just for the sake of it in some cases - but always to fascinating or thrilling effect.
- The visual presentation became roving 3D as opposed to the gorgeous but static Resident Evil backdrops.
- The emphases of combat have been shifted all over the place to create the very alien and yet 'realistic' experience of fighting with (and evading) dinosaurs. Even the weakest dinosaur can take tremendous punishment from a regular weapon, and in any close encounter you are almost guaranteed to come out wounded. Yet there is a lot more space in this game to vary your encounter strategies. I am also won over by the imagination and research which has brought the dinosaurs to frightening onscreen life.
- Ammo is sparse at one moment but drowning you in the next, thanks to the complex colour-coded emergency supply box system.
- There is an extensive and modular system for mixing items. It's daunting at first but very rewarding as you learn by your own research how, for instance, anaesthetic might be used either to enhance a medikit or to make a sleeping dart.
- Puzzles are far more numerous, varied and abstract than in the Resident Evils prior to this game. Dino Crisis is content to make you sit down with pen and paper to solve alphanumerical twisters, to play concentration and memory style games or to manipulate 3D puzzle elements in quick succession. It's the puzzle queen of the genre. It also stars some of the most affectingly grisly puzzles in the genre. Imagine trying to identify the one dead research assistant whose fingerprints you need from amongst a base-full of disemboweled corpses.
- The inter-character drama here is strong, since your team-mates Gail and Rick constantly disagree on the best course of action for the mission. The conflict is crystallised in moments where you must choose whose plan to go along with, changing the path of the game. Choose the idea you believe in it says - which I really like, as it makes an attempt to rally your personal moral and behavioural traits the first time you play!
- For me, the most inspired touch was removing any kind of health meter (though for some players, this totally freaks them out). You must observe Regina's physical movements and bleeding onscreen to gauge how she's faring. Bleeding is a separate issue from flesh wounds and requires different medical treatment. And BOY does Regina bleed, thanks to the tasty (or sick-inducing for some) new 'blood engine' specific to Dino Crisis. If you do die, you can be saved by Resuscitation items (extra lives in effect) and a supply of arcade-style Continues, quite different to Resident Evil's truly final 'GAME OVER's. Not to mention a lot more friendly to newcomers to this kind of game.
It's impossible to imagine Dino Crisis with anyone other than Regina as its central figure. The images of her shockingly jagged blood-coloured hair, exotic can't-place-them features and that curious grey spysuit are indelibly stamped upon this game. Her personality is also a shot for the genre: strident and engaging with a delight for assertive sarcasm. This is all a far cry from the cardboard heroine syndrome that caught up with Jill Valentine for Resident Evil 3. Regina's vocal performance by Stephanie Morgenstern is great fun too.
'This is no joke you idiot! We were just attacked by a big-ass lizard!'
... remains my favourite Regina quote, though a lot of players prefer her ridiculously unfazed 'That's disgusting,' at the moment Gail first shows her an eviscerated corpse.
Regina has all the core moves of the survival horror heroine at her disposal which she pulls off with great fluidity. She was also the first woman lucky enough to add the 'quick 180 degree turn' to her arsenal, and the first to start flicking her head around for more dramatic glances in the direction she's moving (What a claim to fame!). Dino Crisis also introduced the ability to select different ammo types for all of your weapons - the pistol, shotgun and grenade launcher - a system whose next interpretation would be Resident Evil 3's mixable gunpowders.
I've seen Regina jokingly called 'that fat-butted chick', but she also seems to be the dark horse of desirable heroines in these games. Curious eyes, shock hair, wide derriere... her bizarre allure sneaks up on you! Japan continues to provide us Westerners with its enigmatic perspective on women, and I continue to be spellbound whilst circling the elusive meanings in my imagination. Frankly I doubt that either Japan or myself will ever fully understand what is going on here.
There is no doubt that Shinji Mikami is a masterful director of these games. His visual and emotional ideas are always potent and most importantly of all, he understands the dynamics of horror. The newly-untethered roving camera system mobilised for Dino Crisis offers a style and feel considerably different to Resident Evil and far more in league with Silent Hill. The camera floats along behind Regina for the majority of the game with the cold precision of a Kubrick film. Long sequences in which we simply run - through glowingly-lit science facility tunnels with doors opening automatically before us, or along a nighttime rooftop, or through a cavernous underground passage beneath Ibis Island - are beautiful and hypnotic, and can erode a player's sense of time. Regina stays onscreen for the 'door opening' loading screens too, a nice move which increases our empathy with her (since she never goes out of sight) as well as extinguishing most of our impatience at the smallest breaks in our game.
Musically, Dino Crisis is again trying something new for the genre with beautiful and threatening results. The expected 'warm' musical reactions to particular onscreen moments are slashed back. Dino Crisis uses cold synth patterns which follow their agendas almost in spite of what is happening onscreen, let alone in any other elements of the music, with bassy drones and searing moments of brass roaring around beneath. What didn't change is that they composed something very poignant for the 'save game room' theme. Where else would I find that fear-tinged inwardly-looking music but in survival horror?
Like Steven Seagal, dinosaurs are Hard To Kill, and fending off the carnivores for the length of the adventure is the tense focus of Dino Crisis. It's fun, challenging, scary and gory in rapid succession. Combat physics have the distinct smell of the real about them, especially when it comes to depicting the damage visited upon the human body.
The game provocatively sets you up for a mauling from the start. The fact is that shooting dinosaurs with your puny 9mm Parabelum rounds (which is all you've got in the beginning) will barely make them flinch. Raptors will charge you in response, leap on you and crush you to the floor, knock you across a room with their tail, flip you overhead, and best of all, rip into you with their teeth. When a dinosaur fixes onto Regina's arm and starts tearing, the effect is scarily dehumanising as you watch her mauled and shaken like a ragdoll before she's spat away bleeding. All the while the game's camera cranes back and forth to follow the blood-letting with cold disinterest.
When you do escape, you're left with wounds which won't stop bleeding! Blood spits and drips from Regina's ripped flesh, leaving a messy trail on the floor wherever you walk and draining your life away until you can find a hemostat. Dino Crisis' gleeful and splashy new bleeding factor increases the game's power in so many ways. It stirs very primal and queasy feelings which make you feel like your life is really on the line. Bleeding to death as you limp about looking for health can certainly make for an end which feels genuinely tragic. Or funny, once you've reached that goofy mood that only end-to-end videogame deaths can induce ('Oh yay! I got torn apart again.')
You can come back for revenge on your tormentors later with better weapons. Once you've modified your Glock 34 to become a Glock 35 and slapped in the 40S&W ammo, you start producing critical hits and squirts of blood. The shotgun and grenade launcher will send the beasts flying into walls and furniture amongst great welters of the red stuff. If you've mixed up anaesthetic darts you can put dinos to sleep, or slay them outright if you're clever enough to mix up a poison dart.
Then it's the dinos' turn to come back with 'better weapons'. Larger purple-scaled velociraptors will tag-team you. Flying pteradons swoop upon you whenever you expose yourself on the complex's rooftops, tearing at your abdomen and bowling you across the screen. Such assaults can even send your weapon flying from your hand and you'll need to run and grab it. The most dread dinosaur is a kind I'd never heard of before I played Dino Crisis, but one which I doubt I will now forget. The Therezino. A hulking, plodding dark lizard with elephantine limbs which it uses to absolutely maul you in the way a grizzly bear would. The whole screen and soundtrack reverberates with the pounding of these monsters. I think these guys even outdo the impressive but obligatory T-Rex who makes repeated passes at Regina in this game. Everyone wants and expects a T-Rex in any entertainment featuring dinosaurs these days. But 'Therezinos'?
The inclusion of the red laser grids throughout the complex which can be toggled from either side - to grant or prevent access to any living thing - is a masterstroke. Not just for strategic fun. This single feature elicits an incredible range of emotions if you just stand there and watch a lone dinosaur's reaction at being sealed off from you. At first: Relief! You're safe. Now amusement. The stupid dinosaur keeps hurling itself into the lasers trying to break through. Doesn't it learn? Twice, three times, four times. It's no longer funny, it's frustrating. There's an awful scream from the dino every time it gets burned, but moments later it rolls to its feet, maybe stalks about a bit, reconsiders the situation (it's the same) and launches itself anew. Finally all you are able to feel is fear, as it's quite apparent that the only instinctive thought alive behind those reptilian eyes is of killing you.
By the same token, dinos will often chase you between rooms, smashing through doors to get at you or leaping through windows and vents at the worst possible moment.
Given that videogames often struggle to make even the animals we are familiar with behave realistically, the dinosaurs here are stunningly 'alive'. They nose about rooms, sway and hiss and rear up, stroll, walk and dash, and can be found sleeping at times. They seem entirely dynamic from moment to moment, not obeying any reassuring patterns, and this is what gives your encounters with them such a knife-edge quality. Combined with the seemingly endless ways Regina can get torn apart or thrown about by these animals, the dinosaur experience is perfection. When I had only heard about this game, I never conceived that it would feel as electrifying and real (for extinct animals!) as it does.
Puzzles and Technology
Amidst the violence, you will knuckle down for a lot of puzzling. You'll fiddle with onscreen locks and codes, reconfigure computer systems, open cryptically sealed doors, shove crates around a warehouse to clear your path, and reassemble hi-tech machine components. Best of all, a high quotient of these puzzles are %100 replayable in the sense that it's always fun to figure them out on the spot.
The 'non-replayable' puzzles are also a considerable advance on what we've seen before. I love the Digital Disc Key password systems where you have to keep using new cyphers to break the codes which keep doors locked by writing it all out on paper. In other areas, the expanding scope for lateral thinking is really impressive. I was surprised upon more than one occasion when a long shot I thought might work did work. For instance, thinking to collect someone's fingerprints in advance off an object I knew they had touched, rather than chasing the person up in the flesh later on. Certain puzzles with a technological bent, such as repairing and restarting a whopping generator, can be distressingly deep. The corresponding satisfaction in completing such tasks is HUGE.
Blood and Technology
The disquieting mixture of steel sterility, technology and gore which makes most people afraid of the dentist and hospitals is tackled on a grand scale in Dino Crisis. This is the major horror theme saturating the story and the atmosphere - our highest technology versus our flesh and blood, and the interwoven vulnerability of both.
The idea is visited again and again throughout the game. A researcher carrying a vital computer chip gets dismembered by a T-Rex and for one horrible moment it looks like you might have to retrieve the chip from the dinosaur's stomach. A detail which seems insignificant at the time - turning on a researcher's pager from his personal telephone whilst fiddling around at his desk - later acquires a wicked significance when you hear a mysterious beeping in a hallway full of nameless corpses. Technological means of identifying people, and finding ways to cheat these, are an obsession of Dino Crisis. You can't help but feel a chill as people's identities are reduced to a pattern you can extract with a fingerprint collecting device from a bloody handprint they left on something in their final moments. Yet there's no way to avoid trekking about the complex collecting and exploiting identities like a ghoul. You need them to beat the hi-tech security and power systems which thwart your progress or escape at every turn.
The scientists in this game were working under Dr. Kirk on an experiment to transcend reality itself, using the planet's highest technology. But their end was the opposite of transcendent... they got torn about by dinosaurs. And when we see Regina's blood vividly spitting onto the floor because an animal tore a hole in her, our mortal frailty in the face of all we've overcome through technology thuds home with sickening speed. This is the deeper bite of Dino Crisis.
With a familiar-but-unfamiliar spin on almost every element of the genre, Dino Crisis is definitely its own survival horror game and one of the best. The contrasts are amazing. The atmosphere is powerfully grim in spite of this being the most brightly lit survival horror adventure to date. There's more blood dripping from the screen than ever, but the ghostly camerawork and musical score display unflinching disinterest even as they deliver the gore to your face. You've got the flippest heroine to date with the striking Regina, whose mediations with toughie Gail and techie Rick are always engaging. And there's room in here to have fun by playing in lots of different ways. You can try to kill all the dinos, dodge all the dinos, or 'sleep' all the dinos with darts. You can search for improved solutions to the puzzles and you can also try siding with Rick or Gail at each decision point to see what different things happen in the story. Unlockable extra costumes for Regina (which aren't silly and have a good joke amongst them), and a tough bonus mission for the combat-thirsty are just the final icing on the cake.
Dino Crisis is an incredibly rich long-term gaming and horror experience. Cheekier, scarier, bloodier. HAIL REGINA!
-- Dino Crisis -- 10/10 --
Community review by bloomer (March 07, 2004)
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