HORROR GAME VAULT: DINO CRISIS

By Nick Durham

I often feel like Capcom’s Dino Crisis franchise is often forgotten, which is a damn shame considering this survival horror game was a pretty big hit when originally released for the original Playstation in 1999. Created by the same crew behind the original Resident Evil games, Dino Crisis was for all intents and purposes, a Resident Evil game with motherfucking dinosaurs instead of zombies and monsters. This alone made the game more than worth checking out, even if at its heart the game is little more than a beat by beat clone of Resident Evil 2 in terms of overall gameplay elements. 

The story of Dino Crisis follows secret agent Regina, who is sent along with her team to investigate a secluded island. You end up discovering that the research facility on the island is home to blood thirsty raptors which will hunt you down, and a murderous T-rex that you will have a few memorable encounters with as well. In the midst of navigating the facility and taking on the dinos, you’ll do the typical survival horror stuff like solve puzzles and conserve your resources, etc. Unlike the Resident Evil games of this era though, the game’s environments are done in real-time 3D instead of the pre-rendered areas the old Resident Evil games were famous for. One thing the old Resident Evil games were infamous for were the horrendous tank controls, which are utilized here in Dino Crisis, but seem to be implemented much better here, which is a big plus.

The major department that Dino Crisis delivers though is in the scare department. There are some very, very solidly done jump scares and frights to be found here. There’s a very well done sense of dread permeating throughout the game, and you truly feel the sensation of not knowing what’s waiting around the corner for you. The only real drawbacks to Dino Crisis is that the game’s environments and enemies have little to no variety. This may be more because of system limitations than lack of imagination, but it doesn’t help you from losing interest in the long run. There are different possible endings to get based on the choices you make in the game, so there is a little bit of replayability here.

Dino Crisis ended up being somewhat of a surprise hit critically and commercially when it was released. It would receive ports to the Sega Dreamcast and the PC the following year, and a version was even being developed for the Game Boy Color but ended up getting cancelled. Sequels would follow, with Dino Crisis 2 released only for the Playstation in 2000, a spin-off light gun game called Dino Stalker for the Playstation 2 in 2002, and Dino Crisis 3 for the original Xbox in 2003. Dino Crisis 3 would be the last installment of the franchise, which found the dinosaurs in space (yes, you read that right). I’ll be going through the whole series in the next few installments of Horror Game Vault, so strap yourselves in. 

If you’ve never played the original Dino Crisis, I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out. It can usually be found fairly cheap and still holds up well today surprisingly enough. I honestly thought this would be one of those games that my memories would hold in higher regard than what it actually was, but this game is still a fun blast. Give it a look if you can.

HORROR GAME VAULT: ALIEN: RESURRECTION

By Nick Durham

 Alien: Resurrection is the fourth installment in the beloved Alien franchise, and often becomes the subject of debate with fans whether it’s the worst installment of the series. Released in 1997, the film manages to have its share of fans, despite the fact that it’s an awful mess. Alien: Resurrection the video game, released in 2000 after being stuck in video game development hell for three years, more or less follows the formula of the film: it’s an absolute mess, but has its share of fans regardless. 

Like Alien Trilogy before it, Alien: Resurrection is a first person shooter with some minor survival horror elements thrown in. A majority of the game takes place on the USM Augria which is overrun with Xenomorphs, and you play as Ripley once again (albeit a cloned Ripley with some very minor implementations of Xeno-powers). There are times in the gameplay when you’ll get to play as other characters such as Call (Winona Ryder’s character in the film), Christie, or DiStephano; and there’s an assortment of different weapons and equipment at your disposal. You’ll face off against the usual assortment of Xenomorph warriors, as well as facehuggers (that can actually implant you and give you a limited amount of time to find a device to remove the embryo before it births and kills you) and even enemy human soldiers as well. 

While the game’s concepts and gameplay sound good on paper, actually playing it is a mess. Alien: Resurrection looked like shit back in 2000, and it doesn’t look much better these days. 32-bit 3D graphics never tend to age well, and the game looks like a flat out muddy and blocky mess. Despite that though there manages to be some pretty good atmosphere, and the ship’s stages are fairly well designed. It should also be noted that many consider this game to be the first to properly utilize analog sticks for console first person shooters. The left and right sticks are used exclusively for movement, which in the years since has become the standard control scheme for every single console FPS. That alone really helps Alien: Resurrection preserve a legacy on its own, but it doesn’t make it any better of a game in my eyes at least.

What’s really most interesting about Alien: Resurrection is that the game spent practically three years stuck in video game development hell. The game was originally fashioned to be a third-person survival horror game in the realm of the original Resident Evil; featuring multiple playable characters and more standard survival horror-esque gameplay. Originally planned to be released on the Playstation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64; developer Argonaut Games scrapped what they’d been working on after the film was released in theaters, and started over from the ground up, eventually creating this FPS. In October of 2000, the game was finally released on the Playstation to negative reviews and sales, which led to ports on the Sega Dreamcast and PC being cancelled. Despite its negative feedback, the game managed to find an audience and still has fans to this day surprisingly.

All in all, Alien: Resurrection is a disappointing game in the sea of Alien-centric games, though for its control innovations of the time, it deserves some kind of praise. If you’ve never played it before, I suggest playing the previous Alien Trilogy first before diving into this. Despite its flaws though, there’s still some stuff here to admire that makes it worth checking out if you’ve never played it before though, so at least there’s that.

HORROR GAME VAULT: ALIEN TRILOGY

By Nick Durham

Besides a whole film franchise, the Alien series has spawned a whole multimedia brand that includes numerous comic books, toys, and naturally video games as well. All together, there are a fuck-ton of Alien-themed video games, ranging from side-scrolling action/platformers, stealth-based adventures, arcade beat ’em ups, and first person shooters as well. There’s good games and bad games alike, but I want to take a look at one of my personal favorite games that the franchise birthed. Published by Acclaim Entertainment (who released a slew of licensed video games in the 90s) and developed by Probe, the game was released in 1996 for the original Playstation, Sega Saturn, and even DOS (yes, fucking DOS). Alien Trilogy is a first person shooter that despite not aging all that well over the decades, is still a lot of fun, and manages to do a number of things quite well that do justice to the franchise. 

Even though the title implies Alien Trilogy encompasses the events of the first three films, what it really does is feature is the locations based on the films instead. The story of the game is more like the universe of Alien in an alternate reality almost, as you play as Ellen Ripley (who is somehow a Colonial Marine here) and travel to LV426 to find out why contact was lost with the colony there. This leads you through the infested colony, prison facilities, and eventually the actual crashed Space-Jockey ship as well (I don’t care if they’re called Engineers now, they’ll always be Space-Jockey’s to me). There are about 30 levels that feature the usual assortment of facehuggers, chestbursters, Xenomorph warriors, dog Xenomorphs, and a handful of Queens thrown in as well that serve as the game’s bosses. 

Gameplay-wise, Alien Trilogy appears to be a basic mid-90s Doom clone. It features all of the usual FPS elements of the time such as strafing and a multitude of weapons at your disposal, including the Pulse Rifle from Aliens and a flamethrower. There’s even a shoulder lamp and motion tracker to use as well, so the game actually manages to utilize these elements well. The game’s environments are creepy and almost claustrophobic, and the various monstrous enemies you’ll encounter are well designed and animated for their time. There’s CGI cut scenes peppered throughout the game, which are kind of funny to watch here because the characters almost look kind of like marionettes in motion.

The graphics during gameplay can be fairly blurry, but that’s mostly because playing this game on an HD TV today isn’t exactly ideal. Not to mention the fact that for being a console FPS game from the mid-90s, the controls haven’t aged well either. Modern console FPS gamers don’t know how lucky they are to be able to play first person shooters with controllers that have two analog sticks. Back in 1996 when this was released, we had a D-pad and face buttons, and had to make the most out of them in terms of moving around smoothly (Jesus fucking Christ I sound old). The game boasts some super eerie sound effects and has a pretty good atmosphere as well, so it still delivers the goods in terms of action and fright elements.

All in all, if you can find Alien Trilogy for cheap (which is more than likely, the PS1 version is fairly common), it’s definitely worth picking up. For a mid-90s Doom clone, it does things pretty well and captures enough elements of the Alien films to make fans happy. If you remember playing this 20 years ago and enjoyed it, I’d recommend going back to it if possible. If you never got to experience it back then, I say check it out. You can do a lot worse with first person shooters based on the Alien franchise, such as the next game we’ll focus on in the next installment of the Horror Game Vault…Alien: Resurrection.

HORROR GAME VAULT: CASTLEVANIA: BLOODLINES

By Nick Durham

I have a lot of love for Konami’s Castlevania franchise, and have since I was about six years old or so. At that age I had discovered the original trilogy of Castlevania games for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (aka, the NES) and immediately fell in love with them, despite the fact that they’re incredibly difficult games. The gothic atmosphere, endless hordes of monsters to slay, and the incredible satisfaction felt by obliterating them with your whip and various sub-weapons made me a Castlevania fan for life. By the time the 16-bit generation was upon us, I had no luck in getting a Super Nintendo console, so I sadly missed out on the glorious Super Castlevania IV until much later. What I did manage to land was a Sega Genesis, and in 1994 the console was graced with the exclusive Castlevania: Bloodlines.

Unlike previous games in the series, Castlevania: Bloodlines doesn’t have you playing as a member of the Belmont clan. Instead you choose to play as either John Morris (son of Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel) who wields the Vampire Killer whip, or Eric Lecarde who wields a big-ass spear. The game’s storyline revolves around Dracula’s niece Elizabeth Bartley, who orchestrates World War I as part of a plot to resurrect her deceased uncle. John and Eric travel to Europe to confront her and her hordes of undead minions, concluding (of course) with a final battle against the resurrected Dracula. 

The first Castlevania game to not fully take place in Dracula’s castle (instead you travel throughout various parts in Europe), Castlevania: Bloodlines is mostly typical side-scrolling Castlevania fare. After Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES a few years prior allowed you to control firing your whip in any direction, this game returns you to the standard one-way whip attack, although there are a few times when you can switch up what direction you’re firing. The Item Crash feature from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood returns here as well, although it isn’t quite implemented as well here as it was there. Where this game really excels however is in its graphics and especially the music. The Sega Genesis wasn’t as powerful as its competitor the Super NES, but Konami really put their all into making this game look and sound wonderful. It’s still one of the best looking and sounding games to ever hit the Genesis, and remains one of the best games to ever grace the console. There’s interesting graphical effects including water reflections and multi-jointed/animated bosses. 

Like the previous games in the Castlevania franchise, Castlevania: Bloodlines is challenging as hell and will push you to your limits, but it’s still a massively fun and entertaining title. As I said, it’s one of the best games in the Genesis library, and one of my personal favorites in the Castlevania franchise. If you’re a retro gamer looking to pick this up, be prepared to drop a good amount of cash for a complete copy.