Dino Stalker Preview
Read all about Capcom's upcoming Dino Crisis offshoot light-gun game.
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The Gun Survivor series hasn't exactly been a fan favorite, but it's safe to say that each subsequent installment refines the series just a little bit. Dino Stalker is the third game in the line, and just as its predecessors were set in the Resident Evil universe, it takes place in a lizard-laden world highly reminiscent of what we saw in the Dino Crisis series. Also like its predecessors, it blends the cinematic pacing of Capcom's survival horror series with a fairly liberating take on the light-gun game. You're able to move about freely as you would in a first-person shooter, but a scripted camera wholly dictates your field of vision. Instead of moving the camera around, you actually move your targeting reticle around the screen, which allows you to aim anywhere in your current field of vision. The game supports Namco's GunCon 2 peripheral, and when you use it to play, you can control both your character and your targeting reticle through it entirely. The D pad built into the peripheral's thumb area lets you move your character, and you aim by moving the gun itself. All auxiliary functions are mapped to the appropriate spots on the GunCon 2 as well, including weapon switching and sidestepping. Alternately, you can play the game with a standard PlayStation 2 controller, though with a bit less precision.
Dino Stalker is quite an interesting mix in terms of how its game mechanics work. Though you can roam its environments freely, you're still under a timer, albeit a very generous one. While you're given a generous amount of time to go through each level to begin with, you'll find crystals scattered around the world that, upon contact with your body or one of your rounds of ammunition, will net you a few seconds of playtime. Because these are placed frequently along the game's "trails," you'll find that you'll seldom want for time. You're encouraged to explore, and the game's levels seem designed for just that. The quickest paths from the beginning to the end of each level are pretty solidly marked--you'll see an actual trail, or you can simply follow the arrows on your in-game radar--but there are often a good number of diversions to be found. A few levels are "on rails," but there's always an in-game justification for it. An early stage, for instance, has you as a passenger on a barge, whose course leads from the mouth of a rock river into a set of tunnels. Your path is pretty much set throughout this sequence and those like it, but given the fact that those preceding and following it are free roaming, it feels more like an exciting distraction than a glaring abstraction of movement.
The stages we've seen thus far are nicely detailed and excitingly paced. Though your initial forays into its world are fairly Paleolithic, you'll find that things take a turn for the frighteningly modern as you progress through the game. Traces of modern technology start to appear gradually, first manifesting as ominous, ambiguous images--like a Statue of Liberty buried in a postnuclear desert--then as settings more bizarre and solemnly concrete. The game's story was conceived by Flagship, the script house responsible for writing the Resident Evil series' storylines, so, without providing too much of a spoiler, you should expect something along those lines.
If we had to pick one thing that's the most abstract about Dino Stalker, it would be the weapon set. Almost every video game firearm cliché is present, and all their effects are as off-the-wall as they've ever been. You'll have access to tons of regular firearms, aside from your default combination sniper/assault rifle, including shotguns, chainguns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, repeating bolt-throwers, and the like. There are some space-age weapons too, such as laser rifles of the light, heavy, and automatic sort, as well as some with crazy effects. One, for instance, causes any creature hit with its beam to simply cease to exist, vanishing from the world like a blip of light from a photon tube. Another one has a chain-lighting-type effect, which can effectively disintegrate whole packs of raptors if they're close enough together. In any event, although you can carry only one weapon at a time, on top of your regular gun, you'll find replacement weapons in no short supply. They're scattered all over the maps, as are health packs and first aid kits, so you can expect to be able to swap weapons five times in the span of a few minutes if you're so inclined. In regard to health items and the like, you're able to carry as many of them as you pick up, and they're automatically used when you're injured enough.
Graphically, Dino Stalker is definitely a cut above its predecessors in about every conceivable way. Foremost, the scaled denizens of the world are modeled quite impressively, and their animation routines are varied, intricate, and smooth. The environments range from ultradetailed to fairly barren, though the level of detail is never out of place; for example, in the aforementioned river-run stage, parts of the surrounding cliffs will constantly explode, water will splash, and the like, while in the desert stage, everything will be eerily monochromatic and still. Weapon effects are suitably explosive in most cases, though some of them are a tad understated, especially the lasers. With respect to performance, everything is pretty solid, with high-clocking frame rates being the consistent norm, for all intents and purposes. If we had to levy a single complaint at this point, it would be the low-poly nature of some of the environmental geometry, though in reality, it's a bit of a nitpick. There's also a slight bit of shimmer in some of the environments when they're viewed from a distance, but it's hardly something that jumps out at you.
Fans of Capcom's survival horror games will be thrilled to know that the game features large sets of prerendered CG cinemas bookending its levels, all of which boast Resident Evil-level productions. And given the batty nature of the game's story, you can bet that they get kind of amusing. In any event, if your GunCon 2 has been lonely from lack of use these days, Dino Stalker might just be the thing it's been in want of. Look here for a full review once the game has been finished and localized, which, according to Capcom, should happen sometime in September.