In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
Many of you probably know Shinji Mikami by name. Having created Resident Evil and (more or less) pioneering what's now seen as the modern historical basis of survival horror, he's something of a household name for many gamers. Aside from Resident Evil, you may know Mikami's other works (P.N. 03, God Hand, and Vanquish among them) more by title than by association with the game designer himself, but most games Mikami has worked on, whether as a producer, director, or something in between, have been noteworthy in one way or another.
So, why is it that people always seem to forget about Dino Crisis, Capcom's prehistoric cousin to Resident Evil? In the wake Resident Evil 3, with its eponymous, borderline-unstoppable bioweapon relentlessly hunting Jill Valentine through the scarred ruins of Raccoon City, most recollections of 1999 in the game industry have all but buried Mikami's vision of dino-flavored horror (even Capcom has now more or less swept the series under the rug, having jumped the shark so badly with the sci-fi themed DC3).
That's a shame. Mikami's duties as producer on Nemesis were obviously vital, and when the game hit, Resident Evil was nearing the zenith of its design capabilities for its time—at least until RE4 came along and completely changed the series' core paradigms. But Mikami actually directed Dino Crisis, which is not something that can be said about many of the other twenty-plus games he's worked on over the past fifteen years. By virtue of frequency alone, then, that should be a tip-off that to Mikami, Dino Crisis was something special.
Rightly so. Maybe this just stems from childhood memories (not mention some help from Crichton and Spielberg), but combining the tenets and atmosphere of survival horror with dinosaurs seemed like a great idea to my 14-year old brain when the game was released during the summer of 1999. And for my money, it still is.
That doesn't change the fact that when you're approaching any old survival horror game it's still necessary to take some things with a grain of salt. With the current rise of a more action-horror style taking the genre in different directions, the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and other classic horror titles suffer from comparatively rudimentary design and mechanics. On top of that, the scripts are usually bad and riddled with godawful, utterly atrocious voice acting. In that regard, Dino Crisis is no different.
Yet even today the game offers a unique experience compared to its contemporaries (I would almost argue even than any of the more recent horror titles, despite its creaky gameplay). The way velociraptors leap over fences and break through gratings is reminiscent of the pop-out scares Isaac so often faces from the necromorphs in Dead Space, and Dino Crisis also emphasized, perhaps a little more than Mikami's other horror series, flight over fight. The skin on the various dinosaurs in the game was thicker than the rotting flesh of the Raccoon City's shambling undead, making it all but impossible to kill everything in the militarized compound that served as the game's setting, keeping things uncomfortable. And while the game's audio design and scripting have been far eclipsed almost twelve years later, the suspense in hearing the far off cries of a pterodactyl or the low growls of a raptor while not knowing exactly when or from where they might attack—not to mention the startling effect the lizards' screaming had just before pouncing on you from off-camera—was, for its time, pretty harrowing.