Release Date: July 1, 1999
Director: Shinji Mikami
Dinosaurs have landed on PlayStation.
The mission is simple: Find and recover Dr. Kirk from a remote base facility on an island. A high quality FMV plays showing your crew jump out of a chopper. Three of the four crew members land together. The fourth person lands elsewhere and, unbeknownst to the rest of the team, gets eaten by a T. Rex. And that is how the mission starts.
What’s around the corner? Behind that door? Being outside the facility is exceedingly tense given its darkness and the outdoor chain fencing. It really does feel like something is waiting for you. Moving from different static camera shots in a given area creates another type of transitional space, which adds to the sense of darkness in the world. Every part of the screen space is important and the HUD is absent as a result. Later on it becomes clear that your character has their own line-of-sight (or visual knowledge) where they can lock-on to target off-screen enemies that the player themselves cannot visually determine. There is a serious element in the controls, one of a rigid ‘tankish’ nature complete with stand-in-place shooting.
The beginning of the game is pretty brutal. I shot the first velociraptor that appeared to death leaving me with the measly amount of 3 bullets left in my pistol. Indoors the feeling wasn’t much better as I realized how how ill-equipped I was for the next potential confrontation.
The first major psychological challenge is presented to the player in the form of a sleeping raptor. I remember standing still and staring at this raptor for some time. The way forward is running past the sleeping raptor. And that’s just the first trial: The next challenge, which I failed, is not shooting a raptor that attacks you in that upstairs room that draws extra attention to your location, which I did and led to two (!) raptors blocking the only door of escape in the room.
In other games enemies would just chase you forever unless you completed the level or something. In Dino Crisis, raptors can “let you go”. Then when you don’t expect it there’s a raptor in the room and a mad scramble or brutal confrontation begins. One of the best fake outs is how in one particular room a raptor will bang on the outside door but not enter. This happened to me like five times. Then it entered on the sixth time. You can play cheekily at the access points since raptors don’t immediately attack you when appearing in rooms but you will eventually have to venture into the room and hope you aren’t followed; additionally, you’ll have to beware of the above mentioned chain reactions a confrontation can cause.
Running straight then veering around a sharp 90° turn in this one room to make it towards the door away from two raptors was exhilaratingly frightening. The joy of immediately cutting through a room with a guided path. Moving like the wind with a camera that allows players to see all around them, which allows them to properly see an enemy chasing them. A lot of moments take place where the character barely makes it through to an opening before being stopped. Running, whisking up vents to disappearing away from threats below has stealth-lite quality to it.
The raptors are smart, although their unrelenting nature leads them to pursue the player who’s behind laser-activated force fields. If they could press the button too just as they are able to somehow open doors, that would have been incredibly unnerving to experience as a seldomly used surprise mechanic, but not one logically consistent with how dinosaurs act and creating differentiation from the player’s actions. I think it’s an important limitation that the raptor maintains resembling that of a shadow than a clone. Ultimately, it makes for more fun that the dinosaur cannot copy your actions in such a direct manner.
These carnivorous dinosaurs are very capable of dishing out critical damage. While you eventually run from most of them, this fact makes messed up maneuvering costly. Secondly, I never bothered seeing what the composagnathus dinos could do to the player, which is interesting that these dinosaurs get dispatched the most given the state of resource desperation you’d need to be in to use the pistol. Shooting from a distance means hitting enemies ‘off-screen’, which is fairly scary. Some enemies even wait for you off-screen only identifiable beforehand by their ‘ambient’ noises.
Later on the appearance of enemies escalates where almost every other time I entered a room there would be something ready to burst in. Remember how team member no.4 got eaten by a T. Rex in the very beginning? Well, this brings up an interesting phenomena in the game’s cutscenes where the player is presented with knowledge that their game character is not. The game has a way of subtly involving the two pairs of eyes, such as the aforementioned in-game character’s eyesight privy to seeing and targeting threats you cannot see on-screen.
Dino Crisis has transcended virtual horror as we know it. The ending I received has been on my mind for several days. Bewildered, I am stuck thinking about what ‘GAME OVER’ truly means. And this isn’t a game you play through once . . .
GAME COMPARISON LIST
Resident Evil, Clock Tower, Altered Space, Metroid, Super BattleTank, Body Harvest