Platform: Playstation 1 [Reviewed] | PC
You already know that I think the PS1 era was magical. Game development was still simple, and teams could turnover a game in less than a year, with the PS1 being a relatively easy platform to develop for, and budgets being a lot more modest than compared to today's standards, which meant more risks could be taken. One such risk was Dino Crisis 2, and while the risk wasn't so obvious at first glance, it was a gamble considering the first game had acquired such a following of fans that were expecting a survival horror sequel.
Whereas the first game established the survival horror and tension that followed the same style as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the second title of the Dino Crisis series decided to opt for action horror instead. This entry took away most of the tension and slow building horror moments, in lieu of 'boo' moments and escalating danger. By 'boo' moments, I mean the scares come in the form of a dinosaur jumping at you from off screen or behind an object, instead of the slow, tense horror build up of the first with sound effects and lack of a visual on the enemy. The game will throw you in intense situations that keep you on the edge of your seat; for instance, when T-Rex chases you, its animations and obstacles are timed and measured in such a way that you need to be running away at full speed, and the enemy will be right on your tail the whole way through. Because of careful placement and planning of events such as chase scenes and danger zones [falling platforms | boss type battles], the game is turned up to 11 at these moments, and leaves you hanging onto the edge of your seat, as the dinosaurs lunge inches away from your character throughout.
This is where the switch up between action and horror is applauded, because if survival wants to do tension, it does horror. If it wants to be intense, it does action. There's obviously cross over points between both, but for the most part, DC2 sticks with these high action moments to create mostly high intensity moments. The story throws Regina [main character from the first game], with Dylan; her partner on the mission. They both explore an island, and start unravelling the mystery that surrounds it, one that revolves around Dylan somewhat. After being ambushed by mysterious people wearing strange helmets, things start to take a more questionable tone. Who are these people attacking them? Why are they on the island? What do they want?
After fighting your way through the island, navigating around various types of dinosaurs and encounters, the story eventually climaxes in a mix of sci-fi time travel, and a well hidden twist. The ending comes abruptly, with little relevant build up. A boss battle in a missile silo, is all that really proceeds a very differently toned ending. The abruptness might come as a price to pay, since the ending rolls in along with a 'time is critical' moment where the clock is quite literally ticking, and there's no real way of showing that without playing the story through with haste, but the whole story feels short lived beyond the halfway point. Most stories build up at an almost constant rate throughout. The first half of the game is spent however, in a kind of inquisitive stillness, where mystery and investigation is what dominates. The second is met with a quick escalation towards changing the tone of the game from inquisition into high octane action. That abrupt change of direction is maybe what made the first half drag on slightly, and the second half not feel complete enough in terms of pacing. Nitpicking aside, the narrative is enjoyable, and feels that it's tied off very nicely with its conclusion [if somewhat a little fantastical and unusual].
So where else does action take over in this second instalment? Well the introduction of points and a high score are the most obvious addition, along with the shop you can spend these points in for new weapons, gadgets, and ammunition. For the more advanced players however, there's a point very early on in the game [first 20% or so] where you find methods of boosting your income [legitimately], and points don't become an issue anymore. Whereas my first playthrough of this game at a younger age made me consider my purchases and take note of how much ammunition I had left alongside what new weapons I could use, I was now playing with more experience and skill, which is rewarded in the game when you don't take any damage through an area with bonus points. So take into account you can finish an area having taken no damage, your score boosted by other means, you start to rack up points quickly, with nothing in the store being too expensive to buy. This experience differs entirely on your skill level, but if you indulge in the run and gun style of this compared to the first, you're going to build up momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill, reaching a point where you're unstoppable and accrue a large pile of points to spend making you even stronger.
Your gameplay experience will play out the same if you adopt that philosophy into your playing style. The first game rewarded you for taking small steps, and using tactics to slowly advance through the environment. Here however, you're far better rewarded by running and gunning the entire time. If the tension isn't lost enough for you with the run and gun experience yet, there's one secondary weapon that removes all of the tension completely; the fire wall gun. By shooting this weapon, you take a step backwards, and shoot a semi-circle of fire in front of you, that stays for a few seconds, shielding you from danger entirely. A jumping raptor, a flying pterodactyl attack, and even an encroaching T-Rex will be stopped by the wall of fire placed before you. Any amount of danger and tension that game had left, can be alleviated with this device instantly. The only mechanic that offsets this somewhat, is the fact that equipping this secondary weapon means only small weapons can be equipped into your main slot such as a pistol, or shotgun. The bigger weapons such as a Heavy Machine Gun, Dual SMGs, and Rocket Launcher, need both slots to occupy. The flame-thrower achieves a similar effect, where you can keep walking forward, shooting fire constantly in front of you [you can just upgrade the ammo count cap to help this effect last longer], and this stuns and makes enemies flinch as you move towards them, whilst simultaneously causing damage. Fire damage in general will cause dinosaurs to flinch and remain motionless while they take damage, providing an obvious and exploitable weakness for 99% of the enemies in the game.
Thankfully though as I said, the game isn't concentrated on horror/survival this time around, and is more focused on points and an arcade action style of approach. Taking out multiple dinosaurs with a heavy machine gun is satisfying, and each weapon has a distinct amount of recoil and damage, which gives great texture when playing. Health kits are plentiful, so taking risks and playing aggressively is further rewarded here as well. Larger dinosaurs require more firepower, which isn't scarce to find either, so long as you invest in the shop early. Each type of dinosaur requires different tactics, whereas a slow armoured dinosaur needs to be flipped over onto its back to attack its belly via shooting mines along the floor, a smaller nimbler dinosaur will need a higher rate of firepower from machine guns. A pterodactyl needs a heavy hitting weapon to stop them completely in their flight path downwards towards you when they attack. You can always just find the most powerful weapon that suits you, and upgrade its ammo count to maximum, but the experience quickly becomes dull, and you begin to challenge yourself by equipping more balanced weapons. The game can easily be beaten with flamethrowers and rocket launchers set to max ammo capacity, but it becomes boring quickly, and will be avoided on the most part [unless blasting dinos with rockets and burning them to a crisp is your thing?].
Beating the game unlocks a dino arena, where you stand off against waves of dinosaurs as different characters [you can even unlock a tank to play with], which adds a little novelty after finishing the game, but you're more likely to want to go back and play a second time instead. Other areas of the game show a bit of variety, with turret sections being the stages of the game that take the spotlight, but with a few puzzle sections showing an appreciation for the Resi roots of the franchise. This is where I believe DC2 excuses itself as well however, because if you truly wanted a more survival horror based experience, there's other titles such as Silent Hill to get that experience from, and from Capcom themselves there is of course the Resident Evil series. The audience that chose Dino Crisis over Resident Evil, obviously favoured action a little more than Resi fans, and DC2 simply pursues that avenue more than the first. Zombies are slow and scary, dinosaurs are fast and strong.
It's a lot more fun having dinosaurs in an action setting. The first game was unique for portraying them towards a horror style of game and not action, but DC2 reminds us why keeping dinosaurs extinct is fun. There's mechanics in play that still resonate in modern games, with the shop system being the key culprit here. It's aged amazingly, and the graphical presentation and style still holds up nicely. Well worth replaying [or playing for the first time] if you love dinosaurs, and enjoy resi-tank style control games. However, If you loved DC1 because of it being scary and filled with tension, most of that is missing here. There's even less of it in DC3, which is the series slowly progressing towards pure action, and a complete removal of any horror from the game at all. Before the abyssal point of no return with DC3 however, DC2 manages to keep most of what made the original intact, and then add its own flavour on top. The fact it kept 'most' might not be enough to keep survival horror fans around though, especially when Resi keeps calling out to you.
From Capcom's perspective, they were already utilising fear mechanics in their Resident Evil games, so why would they create another clone when they can try the action approach instead for variety in their software catalogue?