If Capcom does choose to revive its survival-horror series, it needs to emphasize the scary side of it over anything else.
Above: Dino Stalker screenshot courtesy of Capcom.
It's been 18 years since the original Dino Crisis came out, and 14 since the last entry in the series, the mobile title Dino Crisis: Dungeon in Chaos, emerged. Gone, then. Forgotten. And yet, in a recent interview with British newspaper the Daily Star, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard producer Masachika Kawata teased fans of Capcom's series with comments on a comeback.
"If you were to create Dino Crisis with modern gaming technology, it would be a really exciting prospect," Kawata told interviewer James Wright. Kawata was on the team for all three main Dino Crisis installments, and he added that he had "a hope in my heart" for its return. Capcom, however, are saying nothing, as the producer relayed: "there's not currently any conversations happening, that I'm aware of."
But why the hell not? With Resident Evil rebooted to great acclaim, why not look to breathe new life into another of Capcom's survival-horror franchises? As Kawata says, a new Dino Crisis could be phenomenal, if done right.
The 1999 PlayStation original was a curious beast, an offshoot of Resident Evil that replaced the hordes of living dead with dinosaurs. No shuffling zombies here—in their place, aggressive, intelligent raptors. There was no Nemesis to worry about, tracking your footsteps—but the head of a seven-ton Tyrannosaurus Rex was an equally terrifying substitute. To stand up to these threats, Dino Crisis protagonist Regina could both move and aim, something that the heroes of Raccoon City could only dream about at the time.
The following year, and also released for PlayStation, Dino Crisis 2 was very much Aliens to its predecessor's Alien—a lot more focused on action, with the once-terrifying dinosaurs now little more than cannon fodder in several sequences. It was followed by 2002's first-person shooter Dino Stalker for the PlayStation 2, and the future-set Dino Crisis 3 for the Xbox in 2003, which featured mutated dinosaurs rampaging across a derelict spaceship.
With action coming to the forefront of all Dino Crisis series entries since the first game, it'd be understandable for any hypothetical return to, or reboot of, the franchise to follow a familiar path. Dinosaurs versus a shitload of guns and ammo, basically. To which I say: please, no.
Dinosaurs are the closest things to Actual Shit-Yourself No Seriously Look At That Thing Monsters that Earth has ever seen. That a bipedal lizard capable of swallowing a man whole once walked this same dirt only elevates their potential for terror. They're the ideal horror game antagonists.
For many of people of my age, dinosaurs stepped most spectacularly into our lives with Jurassic Park. Now, it's disingenuous to refer to Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster as a horror movie, but it can't be denied that its greatest scenes owe much to the genre.
The tension builds slowly but beautifully in the lead up to the island's power outage, culminating in the T.Rex's escape. From then on, the humans have no significant defense against their prehistoric assailants, mostly reduced to running and hiding. After the prologue, before the park welcomes Alan Grant et al, there's one gun in the whole film, and the guy who's got it doesn't manage a single kill before he's munched on by Velociraptors. Clever girls, indeed.
Above: Yep, Muldoon was indeed an idiot.
Resident Evil 7 might take a few cues from the original Resident Evil—the small, contained location, limited emphasis on hideous t-Virus mutants, and sparse quantities of ammo. But in and of itself, it's also a terrific blueprint for where a new Dino Crisis could go. And that'd have to be a reboot, realistically—the games have been out of the public eye for too long to come swinging back in with a game that connects to the old ones, as Resident Evil 7 does to its existing series. Equally, a reboot gives Capcom the chance to go back to the first game's setting, Ibis Island, juxtaposing a sterile research base against surrounding, tropical wilderness.
Here, interior sections could play host to smaller foes of tooth and claw—some with bigger, more sickle-like claws than others. In the jungle, their bigger cousins, including a true Tyrant Lizard, unbeatable and capable of spawning right on the player's butt, if they're unlucky. Think Jack in Resident Evil 7, an indomitable stalker who can be held off but never truly beaten during that game's earlier stages, only fucking enormous and with teeth as long as your forearm.
In 1999's Dino Crisis, the T.Rex only showed itself at scripted moments, bursting through a window or making mechanical mincemeat out of a helicopter. But imagine a game where the monster could show up any time, any place, albeit within established confines. It'd make the deadly bug of Alien: Isolation look like a frustrating fly caught in your net curtains. The tension as you set out to cross an exposed section of the game would be palpable in the extreme—and then comes the rumble, ripples on the puddles in pure Jurassic Park style, the rustle of foliage. The roar breaks the silence. Do you run? Hide? Fight?
Hint: don't fight.
Not that the facility buildings would offer much respite. Assuming Velociraptors would be designed more like the real, hip-height creatures, not the larger models seen in Jurassic Park, they'd be able to burst out of vents and cavity ceilings, overwhelming with numbers. Think about the cat-and-mouse of the movie's kitchen scene, played out over several sections, with limited means of defending yourself should a gang of toothy terrors descend on you.
The irony of my Jurassic Park comparison is not lost on me, given that that series completely jumped the mosasaur with Jurassic World, abandoning the tension of the earlier movies in favor of motorcycle raptor bros and CGI dinosaur battles straight out of a nine year old's fever dream. But I choose to take this as vindication that dinosaurs' strengths lie with terror, not as generic enemies for muscle-bound action stereotypes to slaughter.
Keeping a new Dino Crisis within the horror genre also ensures that we appreciate the dinosaurs for what they'd be in real life: completely lethal. A Tyrannosaur would kill you instantly if it got within distance of a stamp or bite. Insta-fail situations wouldn't be much fun if overused, though, so obviously there'd have to be a window of opportunity for player reaction—back to that run or hide decision, the emphasis on survival.
The worst situation would be to have a massive alpha predator simply knock a little health off the player when they attack—I can't think of anything more immersion breaking than the bite of a T.Rex leaving the player with the equivalent of a few scratches. These dinosaurs should fuck you up, and a proper survival horror title would enable them to do just that.
Come on then, Capcom. The Bellusaurus is in your court (and it's making an awful mess, so, go see to that). I'm with Kawata on this one—it would be great to see a new Dino Crisis. And keeping it firmly in the horror genre is the way to go.