There was a time when Capcom was the undisputed king of the cool survival horror video game experience. The Resident Evil series was releasing hit after hit, Onimusha let players fight demons and undead as samurai warriors, and Dino Crisis said “What about Resident Evil but with dinosaurs?”. Even their closest competitor, Konami‘s Silent Hill series, was a different enough animal that it wasn’t the same as the action horror experiences offered by Capcom.
However, as the 90s turned into the 2000s, Capcom started to struggle a little. Resident Evil – Code: Veronica began to show the cracks in the Resident Evil formula (something it wouldn’t fix until Resident Evil 4), Onimusha began to get bogged down in spin-offs as it awaited a third entry, and Dino Crisis had gone silent for a couple of years. But, as 2003 rolled around, Dino Crisis 3 set out to change things and put its name on the map. But did it succeed?
The first two games in the series, released on the original Playstation, put players in control of the hero Regina, a soldier in a special military unit who, in the first game, investigates a mysterious research facility on a remote island that recently lost contact with the outside world. The team discover the island overrun with deadly dinosaurs, and the majority of the staff dead. They would learn that experiments with time travel had opened a portal on the island, and released the creatures into the modern day. The second game would see an entire city vanish into the past when another time portal opened up, with Regina part of a team sent in to try and rescue civilians.
Both of these games were something of a success, with the first game receiving mostly positive reviews for being ‘Resident Evil meets Jurassic Park‘, and would sell more than 2.4 million copies worldwide. Whilst the second game in the series would sell fewer titles, around 1.9 million, it was still praised for taking the series forward and introducing new elements, and was compared favourably for this to the Resident Evil series, which some reviewers had said had begun to stagnate at this point.
The development for the third game in the series began mid 2000, the same year as the release of the second game, and was directed by Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who had worked as a programmer on the first Dino Crisis and Resident Evil games, and was a producer on Dino Crisis 2. Shinji Mikami, who directed the first games in both the Dino Crisis and Resident Evil series, acted as producer. The first version of Dino Crisis 3 was set to be a character-led story set in a city under siege from time-displaced dinosaurs, following a similar theme to the previous entries in the series. New additions would include AI controlled partners who could accompany you on missions, and a branching story in which player choices could alter the narrative. However, the team scrapped these plans following the September 11th attacks on New York as they felt a destroyed city setting would bring them criticism from American audiences.
With their game essentially scrapped due to this decision to shift things away from an urban setting, the team had to come up with a new direction to take. And thus a huge departure from the rest of the series was chosen. Rather than having the game set in the modern era, as the previous titles were, it moved forward in time to 2548, and left Earth far behind to be set on the mysterious spaceship Ozymandias. Taking a leaf from Event Horizon‘s book, the story begins as the long missing colony ship Ozymandias suddenly reappears in the solar system around Jupiter. A special team of search and rescue soldiers are sent out to investigate.
As the team heads towards the ship they come under fire, and their shuttle is destroyed, leaving a handful of the group scattered outside the ship. Two of the group, Patrick and Sonya, manage to get inside to try to find answers. Unfortunately, the answer to “What’s going on?” appears to be space dinosaurs, as the ship is overrun with weird, mutated dinosaurs that roam the halls of the ship, killing anyone they find. As Patrick investigates the ship he learns that whilst the crew died out centuries ago, the ship’s AI, MTHR, has been creating dinosaur monsters to replace the crew from DNA in the ships vaults. Odd choice there MTHR.
The story is a big departure from what came before, with the far future setting meaning that Regina does not make a return, and the lack of time portals and the choice of cloning monsters for the dinosaurs’ origins makes Dino Crisis 3 feel more like a completely different franchise than a sequel. It’s not just the setting, however, as many of the game-play elements were either changed drastically or thrown out altogether. Instead of having multiple weapons, players have only a single gun, though one that uses different ammunition types to deal different damage. The points system from the last game is back, but thanks to a cap on the maximum number players can carry, it forces a lot of backtracking to the shop to spend them in order to get more.
Perhaps the biggest change to the game is the movement. Instead of walking and running around the environment as in previous games, players have access to a jet-pack that allows them to fly and hover around the ship at speed. Whilst fun on paper, this new system highlighted a massive flaw in the game: its static cameras. Much like the older Resident Evil games, Dino Crisis 3 uses static camera angles, and invisible walls that shift the camera to a different point. Whilst this works well in slower paced games, and games with slower enemies, it becomes almost impossible to navigate in Dino Crisis 3. Thanks to the speed of the jet-pack, players are often thrown around the screen as they hit different camera angles that shift the axis of movement, causing them to end up going the wrong way and messing up their plans. Luckily, players have access to a target lock shooting system, so they can at least still fire on pursing enemies whilst the camera is being thrown around, though they will spend more time shooting things off screen than actually getting to see their enemies.
The camera proved to be a big issue, and it led to one review naming it the worst camera ever. Even if this was the only issue it would not have been great for the game, but it was far from it. They game employed few enemy types; the designs of the dinosaurs were often weird; the shifting environments of the ship were a cool concept, but lacked much variety and failed to feature locations that would make the ship feel realistic. The lack of gun variety was also pointed out as a downside for the game. And the developers’ insistence on putting a scantily clad young woman in the game that had special attention given to her animation to give her extra boob jiggle physics, didn’t help in any way either.
Dino Crisis 3 was met with poor reviews, and sales reflected this, with a big drop on the previous entries in the series. Dino Crisis 3 would prove to be the final game in the franchise, with no plans to continue it on in any form having been announced. Fans have called for a remake of the first game, which would likely be well received, but it appears that taking the series into space may have been the final nail in the coffin for this unusual survival horror franchise.
Dino Crisis 3 was released on the Xbox in the UK on 7th November 2003.