Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dino Crisis 3

A feeling of solid.
Review By Daveinjapan

Dino Crisis 3 is Capcom's first original Dino Crisis game to make an appearance on a console other than the PlayStation, and the first Capcom game since Tekki (Steel Battalion) to make it's way onto the Xbox. Dino Crisis 3 is much more action oriented than traditional games in the Survival Horror genre, but the save system, careful rationing of ammo and items, camera angles, and horror aspects of the story still allow it to be categorized as such. Combining the best aspects of other games in the Capcom stable - a control scheme and power up system similar to Devil May Cry, doors that can be passed only with weapon upgrades that recall Onimusha, background designs and weapons reminiscent of the underrated P.N.03, and of course the obvious similarities to the revered Biohazard games - this game takes the series into the far flung future and the remote blackness of outer space.

The packaging (of the Japanese version - which is the version being reviewed) lists 3 bullet points that make the game special: ''A feeling of speed,'' ''A feeling of scale,'' and ''A feeling of solid.'' The speed aspect should be obvious as soon as you start the game as the characters are fitted with jetpacks that allow dashing, jumping, and hovering. The scale is in reference to the enormous size of the ship on which the story unfolds (the biggest environment ever in a Dino Crisis game). At first glance, the ''solid'' comment may seem odd, but after having invested considerable time with the game, I think that its an excellent way to describe it. All aspects of Dino Crisis 3 - the control, the graphics, the sound, the environment - are nothing if not solid.

STORY: The story borrows heavily from the Alien movies. There is a supercomputer called ''Mother,'' a whiny character who says things like ''What're we gonna do now, man? We're all gonna die,'' and a small crew of stranded soldiers awaiting rescue in a hostile environment crawling with unfriendly life forms. Instead of a colonized planet overrun with Aliens, however, the stage for this sci-fi drama is the Ozymandias - a gigantic emigrant craft that left Earth bound for Alpha 2 with a shipload of eager settlers some 300 years ago. When it's discovered just outside Jupiter's orbit in 2548, the S.O.A.R. (Special Operations And Reconnaissance) team is sent to investigate. It seems that the ship's navigation system has the vessel pointed steadily at Earth. What happened to those aboard? Why are the navigation and weapon systems still operational? I won't spoil anything here, but rest assured that there are very good reasons why there are ''two-headed zombie dinosaurs in space'' (a frequent complaint of detractors of this game). The story is well thought out and solid.

GAMEPLAY: Although the packaging lists the genre as ''Adventure Action,'' and there are no ''zombie-jumping-out-of-the-closet/bathtub'' scenes to make you spit your beverage all over yourself, I still consider this game to be of the Survival Horror genre. A very action oriented Survival Horror game to be sure, but Survival Horror nonetheless. The traditional trappings of this genre are present and accounted for: solving minor puzzles that allow for progression to unexplored parts of the map, the conservation of ammo (though the standard ammunition is mercifully unlimited) and health restoring items, the feeling of relief upon finding a save room after a long bout of exploration and battle, and the general feeling of unease when entering a new area after having not saved in a while. Saving, by the way, is handled through Support Terminals. Saves are not limited, though continues - which allow you continue the game from the room in which you died - are (at least in Normal and Hard difficulty settings).

These Support Terminals also offer files to download which provide clues to puzzles and background information on the story, and an items shop where ammunition (wide shots and lasers) for your rifle, wasps (which behave like ''options'' in traditional shmups; they stay near your character while dishing out damage to nearby enemies), and healing items. The item shops also offer upgrades to your carrying capacity and statistics like the length of your life bar, power (hovering) bar, or tactical bar. The tactical bar fills up as you destroy enemies. Chain combos fill the gauge even faster. When you make your way to a Support Terminal, the points stowed in the tactical bar are tallied into a bonus to be added to any tactical points you may have found as items (glowing red spheres). These tactical points are what is used as currency to purchase things in the item shops. The battle scenes are random, fast, and oftentimes difficult. To escape a battle unscathed, one needs to master dashing and wasp usage.

The wasps are a welcome original element which - like the dashing ability - are very useful in battle and make the game unlike a traditional Survival Horror game. Other unique attributes include the numerous zero gravity scenes, and the ship's ever changing configuration. At multiple points in the game, the player must initiate a ''Formation Change'' that alters the physical makeup of the Ozymandias, allowing passage to previously unaccessable areas and often times changing the orientation of individual rooms to such a degree as to render them unrecognizable. There is a massive vertical shaft area in the center of the craft that rotates to become horizontal later in the game. Touches like this are what preserves a feeling of freshness and discovery in what could otherwise have been a repetitive, claustrophobic environment.

CONTROLS: Those who take issue with the Biohazard style controls so common in this genre can take heart - Dino Crisis 3 utilizes a Devil May Cry style control scheme. The speed of the action and the sheer scale of the battle scenes demand it. The character is maneuvered with the left analog stick. The A button is used to examine/open doors/push buttons, etc. The B button is used to jump. The main weapon is fired with the X button and can be charged by holding the button down, though this is rarely practical during battle. The Y button dispatches wasps. You can strafe with the L trigger, though the auto aiming feature more or less renders that function unnecessary. Hovering is controlled with the R trigger. Holding the trigger while pushing in a direction allows for some high speed dashing.

Holding it while airborne from a jump initiates a hovering maneuver which slows the character's descent. Items and ledges that appear too high to jump to can often be reached by first hovering off the edge of a platform with a dash, then jumping in mid-air. When maneuvering your character through zero gravity areas, the B button is used to move upward and the R trigger descends. The Start button is used to bring up the options menu at any time. The Black button opens the the map screen, and the White or Back buttons are used to go to the Status screen to use items, read files, or equip weapons. Overall, the control system is solid and very intuitive, though it may take a little getting used to using the B button to jump (The options menu offers only three control schemes. Two of them map the jump button to B. The other maps it to the L trigger).

GRAPHICS: Aside from Otogi and Panzer Dragoon Orta, few Xbox games have impressed me in the graphics department as much as Dino Crisis 3. All backgrounds are fully polygonal and the ship's various chambers and holds are insanely vast and densely layered. Nearly every surface is reflective. The character models of both the player characters and enemies are quite detailed. The frame rate is steady. Despite the size and level of detail of the areas, loading time between rooms is kept at a quite tolerable level. To be sure, there are minor issues that might bother some more than they bothered me. The reflection effects are faked inasmuch as the characters and actual background elements are not reflected - only an approximation of surrounding elements - still a nice effect and quite pleasant to the eyes. Also, Capcom has decided to forgo the Xbox's built in shadow rendering capabilities in favor of a good old fashioned generic circle shadow under the character. Additionally, the explosions that occur when destroying parts of the background are less than impressive.

These minor oversights don't do much to detract from the overall graphical package however. Everything still looks quite impressive and solid. Additionally, I predict many gamers will take issue with the camera system which is in the Biohazard/DMC vein: fixed angles that sometimes obscure enemies and items from view. There are many reasons why this system doesn't bother me. First of all, games in this genre are rarely played from a behind-the-character perspective. This is deliberate as it makes for a much more dramatic and cinematic experience. Likewise, offering the player camera control - with the right analog stick, let's say - is impossible as without a ''center'' (the player) to focus on, a controllable camera would have no practical axis on which to rotate. Secondly, the character automatically aims at the nearest enemy in battle scenes whether the player sees it or not.

These battle scenes are so fast paced and reliant on rapid dashing, jumping, shooting, and special weapon maneuvers, that manipulating the camera would be much more of a hindrance than an asset. Thirdly, the backgrounds are often quite intricate and generally contain numerous elements (stacks of crates, coolant pipes, light fixtures) that a would more than likely result in even more obscure angles and perhaps even some bugs if a controllable camera were implemented. Finally, the game features a first person mode which allows the player to explore the environment unhindered by any default angles they may find inconvenient. In this mode, movement is not allowed, but the standard gun and charge shots can be fired with ease.

SOUND: Featuring a cinematic orchestral soundtrack that is atmospheric and heavy on the bass, along with excellent sound effects, Dino Crisis 3 takes full advantage of the Xbox's 5.1 Surround Sound capabilities. The English voice acting is - as expected - a little on the hokey side, but the dialogue is generally kept to a minimum so it never becomes a big issue. Overall, I'm quite impressed by the solid sound package offered in this game.

OVERALL: Considering that Dino Crisis is - in the grand scheme of things - one of Capcom's minor franchises and that the Xbox hasn't exactly proven to be a cash cow for Capcom, Xbox owners should consider themselves very lucky that such time and care were taken to produce such a solid high quality title. Though it's far from the longest game in the world (it took me just under 8 hours to finish the first time through which seems to have become a sort of industry standard these days), but there are extras to unlock and the game is fun enough to warrant another play through regardless. Hopefully, the camera system and the concept of dinosaurs in space won't turn off too many gamers and prevent them from giving a chance to what I feel is one of the best Xbox games available.




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