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.
“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.
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.
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 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?