Lightgun adventures: Dino Stalker (PS2)

American WW2 pilot ends up in a timewarp, fighting off dinosaurs while a mysterious (read: quiet) voice in a wristwatch tells the pilot what to do and where to go while feeding him guns and ammo… and that’s just the set up for Dino Stalker, aka Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis. So the game has some indirect ties to Resident Evil via the Gun Survivor series. Name aside, the only thing that betrays Dino Stalker’s RE roots is an utterly absurd story – that takes itself completely seriously.

dino stalker boxart

Best boxart ever? Dino Stalker is one of those rare examples where the boxart alone sells the game. Phwoar! I could do a whole post on this game’s boxart alone, and how everything about it pops. The garish colours, the ridiculous overuse of explosions in the foreground and background… it shouldn’t work frankly, but somehow it does.

“DECIMATE PREHISTORY”, the back cover promises. We’ll get to that. The first and most important thing to explain with Dino Stalker is that about two thirds of the levels in the game give you full, FPS-style control over the character. Look, Mum, no rails! The other third of the levels are on-rails and feature your character riding shotgun in vehicles such as a boat, a plane, and a jeep. During these segments, you still have to turn 360 degrees a la Panzer Dragoon. Thankfully, the game gives you a radar and a single button press will make your character will automatically turn to face the closest enemy – both are big helps.

The decision to give the player full control as opposed to placing you on-rails for most of the game has some significant consequences for the controls. Full 3D movement (strafe, turn, forwards-backwards), shooting with a lightgun, switching between the different weapons you get… a monkey could really excel here but for humans it’s a lot to ask of just two hands. Dino Stalker offers three control setups: the G-Con 2 on its own, using its built-in D-pad and buttons to turn, move, change guns and shoot; the Dualshock controller on its own, which has all the buttons but none of the lightgun goodness; and finally a combination of original G-Con45 and the Dualshock.

dino stalker ps2 5

Flying crocodile no make me smile

These options present some immediate issues. The G-Con 2 is goofy and awkward to use on its own, and using the Dualshock alone defeats the point. The best option in my opinion is the combination of G-Con and controller, which works pretty well, but the game doesn’t let you do this unless you have a G-Con45. That’s messed up. One nice thing about this setup though, if you have the right lightgun for it, is that it effectively lets you play the game co-op with a second player. Even with this mode the fact that you can’t customise the Dualshock controls in any meaningful way is an annoyance. That’s bad because the game maps every movement/action to just one half of the controller since it expects you to play one-handed. Great for playing by yourself – and the control setup works fairly well for this – but a puzzling oversight nonetheless…

…or not, since Capcom made the totally baffling decision to make co-op friendly controls aka “co-op mode” an unlockable! Inexplicably, you have to beat the game on normal difficulty to unlock these! With these you can use the G-Con 2 and Dualshock in combination, with the Dualshock controls tailored for two hands. Seriously, what the hell? This is some bizarre, tedious BS to play, let alone explain. Before I get too riled about this and dedicate another four paragraphs to Dino Stalker’s controls (does it say more about me or the game?) I probably should talk about the gameplay.

dino stalker ps2 4

EAT MAH BULLETS

The gameplay is good. The lack of rails for most of the game means this game is generally a lot less frantic and manic than your average lightgun game. The feel of the game is closer to an FPS than Time Crisis 2 or Sin and Punishment, for example. You could see this as a negative point, and mileage may vary, but the free roaming levels give this game a unique identity and I respect it at least. I can forgive the times when the world feels a bit too sparse, the controls a bit too stilted. In these moments Dino Stalker feels more like a prototype or an experiment than a really fleshed out game. And, in a funny sort of way, the game is like a prototype of Wii FPSes with pointer controls.

And just as I did with Wii games like Eledees (aka Elebits), one person on the Wiimote and the other on the nunchuck, I played co-op Dino Stalker. It’s not the most exciting co-op experience ever but it’s fun nevertheless – once you’ve fought over who gets to use the gun. It takes me back to co-op experiences as a youngster when I’d use the two controller control scheme in Goldeneye to fumble through a singleplayer mission together with a friend, or PC FPSes where I’d take the keyboard and someone else the mouse and we’d blast AI bots in Unreal Tournament. But enough reminiscing! Where was I… oh yes, gameplay.

Despite being a bit rough and ready in places, the meat of the game – blasting dinos in the face – is extremely satisfying. Weapons are varied and fun to use: as well as the Tomb Raider patented “unlimited pistol”, there are flamethrowers, laser beams and rocket launchers plus more lying around the place to use. The bosses are exciting and challenging if a bit repetitive, the environments varied and mostly fun. My favourite level involves a jeep ride through a burned out modern city while being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The levels are all a decent length, most just short of being overly long. In fact the overall game is surprisingly long compared with other lightgun games I’ve played – a full playthrough will take about an hour.

dino stalker ps2 3

These assholes love to show up on a regular basis.

Dino Stalker got a bit of a meh critical reception when it came out, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate… it’s actually a very competent and fun game. It won’t work for everyone (the controls guarantee that), but Dino Stalker is worth a shot. Geddit?

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5 comments

  1. Sir Gaulian

    The Gun Survivor series is one of my secret and shameful loves – although I have only played the Resident Evil entries. That said i can kind of understand why Capcom wanted to distance this from Dino Crisis given how poorly received those games were! Shame i missed out on this one, and now I’m have no CRT in the house, it’ll sadly have to stay that way. I do love a good light gun game though.

    Interesting thing about tone and all of those games, i know that we look back at Resident Evil and Dinosaur crisis as if they were self aware of their kitsch-esque feel, but I’m not 100 per cent sure they were.

    • veryverygaming

      I haven’t tried any of the previous games, but there’s also a follow-up to this game called RE: Dead Aim, I think it’s the last of the Gun Survivor games. It’s even less conventional than Dino Stalker, it switches between third and first person views depending on whether you’re shooting or not?! Very intriguing.

      As for the CRT, I’m probably in a small minority at this point who still use a CRT exclusively. When I bought the G-Con 2 recently at a shop the guys at the counter were questioning whether I had a CRT, and they seemed genuinely surprised when I told them yes. It can’t be uncommon at all for people to get hold of lightguns only to be disappointed to find they’re not compatible with newer TVs. It’s a real shame though because some of these games are bona fide classics, and even some of the more mindless affairs are still heaps of fun.

      Do these games take themselves seriously? That’s a big question that I don’t feel qualified to answer, although my suspicion is that yes, they do. That exact question was once put to the CEO of a large Japanese game developer who gave a fascinating and revealing response, there’s amazing video footage of his response:

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game or heard of the Gun Survivor Series. It seems strange that a game with such an absurd storyline is so serious. How does a T-Rex get to a modern city if the pilot was sent back in time? The gameplay sounds odd, with the character being able to roam freely while the player uses a light gun, sounds like a first person shooter on the Wii, but more difficult. Actually, some aspects of the game (being able to change guns and the length of the game) make it sound like it was intended to be a usual first person shooter, but it was decided to be used with a light gun later. It is strange that the game makes the Co-op Mode unlockable considering that the games cover clearly shows two characters and two people could play the game together. It is also interesting to know you used the two player controls for Goldeneye Single Player Mode, I have not known anyone to use them, except to use the Domino cheat. Could you play the game?

    • veryverygaming

      That’s a good theory. There are a lot of questions you could ask about the development of this game. It’s fascinating that it turned out like a Wii FPS given this came out in 2003. I wonder if the Red Steel developers played this?

      As to your question about the modern city… oh boy. The story is incredibly bizarre and convoluted, but basically the reason the dinos are in this city is because the WW2 pilot is technically not in the past… he’s in some weird time warp or something where the future and past co-exist. There is an explanation for all of this that makes no sense (spoilers alert!): the whole situation is the result of a plan hatched by people far in the future to go back in time and prevent the destruction of the human race in the past (this makes no sense at all I realise) by transporting dinosaurs far into the future, doing something to them there, then sending them back to their own time. But the operation went wrong and nearly everyone got killed except for one guy, and the dinos are in this weird limbo. This one guy who’s still alive is then somehow able to pluck the main character out of 1941 using his computer and so gets him to beat the dinos and salvage the operation.

      You can play Goldeneye singleplayer with two players, yes! I experimented with it quite a bit, it’s fine if a bit slow at times. Realistically you’d probably only want to play on the lowest difficulty setting. We’d set it up so that one person would handle the movement (forward-backward-strafing) and opening doors while the other person would turn, aim and shoot. As long as both players are decent at games it can be good fun! The best game for this though was Eledees on the Wii, it’s first person too but because it’s not an action game there’s less pressure to be precise/quick.

      • moresleepneeded

        OK, that story sounds very complicated and in depth. Actually I remembered I have tried to play Single Player Goldeneye with two controllers. A friend and me tried to play it like that because they had not played the game before, but it was too difficult and needed a lot of coordination to play properly so we gave up. I remembered when I mentioned Wii first-person shooters I meant games like Red Steel, Quantum of Solace and the re-make of Goldeneye.

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