A look back at Capcom’s beloved franchise.
The late 90’s was a great time for survival horror games. Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, and several other franchises were all knocking it out of the park with the very capable new-fangled 32-bit systems and massive amounts of space available on compact discs. Few genres benefited from the new levels of space and power available to game developers as survival horror did. Shinji Mikami, fresh off the wild success of Resident Evil, was moving right along into many new projects to round out the 20th century and welcome the new millennium. One of which was 1999’s Dino Crisis. At first, calling Dino Crisis “Resident Evil with Dinosaurs” seems like a fitting elevator pitch, and in many ways it is. But once you got a few hours into it you would notice several areas where the Resident Evil formula was being liberally tinkered with. For instance, the inventory system was more convenient, and gone were the pre-rendered backgrounds of years ago.
Now, much like Silent Hill, the entire environment was rendered in real-time, making the characters feel like more of a part of their world instead of just existing on top of it. Also gone are the days of standing still while aiming your weapon, as Dino Crisis let you walk around while aiming which was a welcome tweak to the formula, and made combat feel a lot less stiff than Resident Evil’s. Obviously the biggest thing setting this game apart from others in the genre is the fact that dinosaurs were the primary antagonists, and that really resonated with fans and made the game easy to create marketing for. That aspect alone would go on to be the reason for tons of copies of the first game to be sold, and it would eventually become one of Capcom’s most successful games. Despite the success that Dino Crisis managed to carve out for itself, and the legions of old-school fans who still take to the internet to ask for a new one, we are now sitting at well over ten years since the last main installment. Why is that? What the hell happened to Dino Crisis?
Logically a sequel wasn’t far behind the first game, but unlike most survival horror sequels that tend to make it a point to stick to what worked and just make modest improvements, Dino Crisis 2 completely threw everything out the window in terms of style and tone and rebuilt the franchise as a very arcade-y action experience with lots of weapons, ammo, and much more linear level design. Ultimately it was still received well, although for very different reasons than the first. Dino Crisis 2 set the series in a new direction that would continue to favor action and style over substance, and for the most part, reviewers and gamers were fine with that. Soon after Dino Crisis 2 was released, we got the next generation of consoles, and with that, Dino Stalker was released by Capcom exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and was a spin-off, light gun game.
As a light gun game it wasn’t bad, but reviewers and subsequent sales figures weren’t so kind to Dino Stalker, major outlets were giving it mediocre to less than mediocre scores. Many complaints were leveled, but one of the common denominators was the overly-sensitive aiming cursor. If you were going to play it without an actual light gun, you were in for a hard time. The fact that it just wasn’t a great light gun game or a good Dino Crisis game, so it was hard to determine just where this game fit with its audience. If you had a PlayStation 2, then you already had access to better light gun games, and better Dino Crisis games via the PS1 games. This, coupled with the fact that the second Dino Crisis game had so little in common with the first, kind of threw the identity of this relatively new franchise completely up in the air. To say you were a Dino Crisis fan didn’t really tell much, as it could mean you were a fan of the survival horror original, the action adventure sequel, or the light gun spin off game.
It would be a couple of more years before Capcom would release Dino Crisis 3 exclusively for the Xbox, which was in and of itself an odd move for Capcom as the majority of the franchise’ fan-base were PlayStation or Dreamcast owners, and it didn’t help that Dino Crisis 3 just wasn’t a very good game. Much like the first sequel, Dino Crisis 3 seemed to ignore what little of the tone was left intact at this point and essentially went the Jason X route by throwing the story comically far into the future, and square in the middle of a nonsensical space story that came off as ridiculous from the get go, and despite some relatively well-designed dinos, the game really didn’t have much going for it and performed relatively poorly in almost every way.
This was sad to see for the franchise, and probably served as the final straw for a franchise that was always a cool idea, but never quite found its footing with a consistent tone to establish a core audience. I can understand how it would make sense to retire Dino Crisis at this point. If you have over 3 games in a franchise and still haven’t established what the franchise is even supposed to be, then why would you continue to allocate resources and talent to that franchise when Capcom has so many more excellent games to make that do have an identity and do have a clear path to success? Frankly, given the track record of the series, I would be more surprised if they kept coming.
What would a new Dino Crisis be? Another action game? Sci-fi? or would it return to its survival horror roots? Or maybe some combination of these elements? It’s hard to say, but with all of the interest in the new Jurassic World and Godzilla movies, I’m sure there’s at least one person within the walls of Capcom that’s thinking about it. Maybe the time is right for them to take another stab at it, maybe it’s not, but one thing is for sure, with all the time that has passed and the ambiguous nature in which the franchise has been left, whatever studio would be tasked with making the new Dino Crisis would surely have their work cut out for them.
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