Genre : Action
Developer : Scarab
Publisher : Metro 3D
Release Date : March, 2004
Pre-order 'DINOSAUR HUNTING': Xbox
Dinosaurs are to video games what love is to pop music. They're a sine qua non, one of the essential themes that holds the medium together. Sure, they aren't ninjas, zombies, intergalactic warfare, or hovering irregularly placed platforms situated above a bottomless pit, but they're still an essential part of gaming history.
Dinosaur Hunting, in turn, is an excellent idea. Most games let you fight dinosaurs, usually with comically overpowered weaponry. This is a more cerebral experience, more like a paleontology expedition than an actual hunt.
In 1910, Norton Klast, a geologist who'd gone missing, was found in the Amazon interior. He only told one person, his patron Lord Andrew, about what he'd discovered there: a surviving colony of dinosaurs, cut off from the rest of the world by a convenient earthquake, and surrounded by towering cliffs.
However, the dinosaurs are now endangered by volcanic activity in the area. Lord Andrew quietly puts together an organization he calls the Ark Foundation, made up of scientists and hunters from the United States, Canada, Britain, and France. The hunters' job is to go into the dinosaurs' territory and sedate them, so they can be rescued via the Foundation's steampunk megazeppelin.
The American team is made up of Malone, who has a reputation as the world's best hunter, and his faithful dog Algo. In the field, he's provided with information and assistance via radio by his assistant Katie. In each stage, your mission is to track down a single large dinosaur and sedate it for transport, while surviving alone in the natural habitat of some of the most dangerous predators to ever walk the face of the planet.
Even better, the Ark Foundation has set the expedition up as a contest with very high stakes and handsome financial rewards. Some of the other hunters have come to test themselves against Malone, and against the dinosaurs, but others are there for the money. Some of those people want the money badly enough that they might be willing to kill for it.
The dinosaurs are still your most dangerous opponent, though, and are made all the more so by the game's limited arsenal. You're equipped with a revolver, shotgun, flash grenades, and scoped hunting rifle (note the lack of the words "rocket launcher" in this sentence), each of which are loaded with nonlethal "stun shells." Dinosaur Hunting is not a game about ultraviolent explosions of gore; when you drop a dinosaur, it falls to the ground with cartoonish "Z"s rising rhythmically from its head.
That being said, a lack of blood doesn't necessarily correlate to a lack of intensity. You are, of course, still going head-to-head against something fifty times your size that thinks you look like a snack. The moment an allosaurus roars and charges, shaking the ground as it tramples everything between it and you, you won't notice the lack of gore. You might even be slightly grateful for it, as you will probably get stepped on once or twice.
Without high-powered antitank weapons -- it is 1910, after all; the radio headset and miniskirts are already enough of a stretch - it's down to stealth, intelligence, and the utilization of your environment. You need to remain undetected, or to hit hard and first, if you want to live through this safari.
The one edge Malone has is that his rifle is rigged to fire specially-designed tranquilizer darts. Each time you take down a dinosaur, you can "harvest" chemical elements from its body, varying depending upon the dinosaur's diet, habitat, and species. Malone can then recombine those elements into hard-hitting, custom-made darts, which, if he's gotten the specific mix of elements right, will take down even the largest dinosaur in one hit.
Of course, some dinosaurs have thick coats of natural armor, so in order to get that one perfect shot off, you'll have to know where you're shooting, and you'll have to set the dinosaur up. Katie will usually know where a dinosaur's weak point is, even if you don't, and Algo - who is the bravest dog in video game history, seriously; the crazy mutt tried to chase an apatosaurus up a damn tree - but that still leaves you doing something vaguely like a chase scene with an angry stegosaurus.
Into the bargain, you don't automatically have the formula for a specific dinosaur's specific tranquilizer. Sometimes, you can get the information you need by simply emptying a shotgun into its face and searching its slightly battered body, but that isn't always gonna work. Most often, you'll have to get your detective hat on, using a dinosaur's tracks, diet, habitat, droppings (yes, ew, I know), and the corpses of its prey in order to deduce exactly how best to put it under.
Adding to the difficulty, ammo is something of a scarce commodity in Dinosaur Hunting. You begin with fairly full bandoliers, and you can find some extra ammo lying around, but the special stun shells the Ark Foundation has designed are ridiculously expensive. A single handgun bullet will set you back five hundred dollars, while a shotgun shell goes for ten times that much. You can earn some pretty serious bank by taking down a herd of large dinosaurs, and it's not unusual to end a stage with a hundred thousand dollars in your pocket, but here, as in very few other games, every shot really does count.
What mitigates the latter point to some extent, though, is the fact that your custom-made tranquilizer darts don't use up your preexisting ammunition. If for no other reason than simple ammo economy, you'll definitely want to research and manufacture your own bullets, the better to take down dinosaurs quickly, cleanly, and decisively.
For those reasons, Dinosaur Hunting turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I'd been expecting a boring, standard-issue monster hunt, and it's actually a game that's set up to reward patience, forethought, caution, and observational skills.
It's also one of those titles that comes along so often where many of its drawbacks can be perceived as advantages, depending upon the player; I was getting ready to complain about the expense of ammo, but then I realized that I was just playing the game wrong. You're not supposed to load up on shotgun shells and go postmodern on everything.
This is an interesting take on the third-person shooter medium, and seems poised to draw in both twitch gamers and adventure fans. It's not without its quirks, such as occasionally questionable controls (Malone's handy evasion roll is keyed to pushing down the left thumbstick, which is… odd), but nevertheless, Dinosaur Hunting is shaping up to be a quality title.
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