If you've ever thought to yourself "gee, the old Resident Evil games sure do sound cool, but what it really needed was dinosaurs!" then you may be in luck. Directed and Produced by Resident Evil's very own Shinji Mikami, Dino Crisis is cut from the same virus-infested cloth, switching out the brainhungry undead for bloodthirsty lizards*. Compared to its cousin, Dino Crisis feels eerily similar in control, interface, and progression... to a serious fault at times.
I mean, the game has the same exact jump scare in a windowed hallway early on!
I initially thought that the fossilized beasts would be used in ways unique to their biology but they roughly act as speedy zombie surrogates most of the time. Despite the exorbitant amount of parallels between the two games there are a couple of minor variations here and there. A larger amount of items are available to mix together and anesthetics play an important role, allowing you to put down a raptor momentarily instead of wasting precious ammo on them (which, if you play on Easy like me, doesn't become much of a problem). Rather than giving you a bottomless crate to store goodies in every save room, you get keys to open up either ammo or medical boxes, forcing you to choose both where your storehouses are and what equipment you'll receive. This makes your inventory a bit more cluttered as you can go long stretches without bumping into any of the boxes you can use, forcing more components to be mixed together until you're sitting on top of L++ medical supplies. Photorealistic backgrounds have been removed in place of smooth rendering, letting the camera move around freely as you're running down corridors, akin to Silent Hill. These are admittedly small touches but I think they're kinda neat.
The tank controls don't gel as well in this game as compared to Resident Evil. The zombie thriller was more about lumbering enemies ambling towards you, but dinosaurs (as you'd expect) are significantly quicker—pterodactyls are nigh-impossible to snipe out of the sky and it's difficult to out-maneuver a velociraptor. You're better off pumping the anachronistic carnivores full of lead when you see them (unless you know where you're going), as kiting them is a suboptimal solution (especially in later areas where two of them can stand shoulder to shoulder to block your progress). I'm a little bummed there's not more variety (there's basically one boss and five enemy types), but the journey is relatively short so the enemies don't overstay their welcome either.
The story may be a mixed bag for some people; one of the most important aspects for a B-themed medium to capture is possessing a self-serious tone despite the poor presentation, and here Dino Crisis doesn't falter. From the overly long computer introduction to the internal drama between teammates to some of the eye-roll worthy one liners, the game certainly has a quirky charm to it. Perhaps the biggest disappointment throughout Regina's journey is that every time the mighty king of the dinosaurs shows up, he's used in pretty poor gameplay segments—he can kill the player so easily (instantly!) that he becomes more frustrating than terrifying. Otherwise the plot is a predictable, yet mindlessly entertaining affair.
Dino Crisis is novel only in conception, taking far too many notes from the Resident Evil series to do anything on its own. Yet there's plenty of creative tweaks within these systems; a peculiar kind of fun can be found from blasting anesthetic darts from shotgun at a raptor. These are short diversions from the issue at hand, but if the dearly departed classic design of Resident Evil is still something that tickles your fancy (especially since the tank control scheme has gone extinct), Dino Crisis is a wonderfully droll substitute.
*dinosaurs are not actually lizards
Images obtained from: capcom.co.jp, fullgameshub.com, relyonhorror.com, retrogamer.net