And what a great time, it was.
The 90s and early 2000s were once full of a genre almost non existent today: dinosaur games. Since then we’ve run across beaches and landscapes of World War II, shot a bunch of aliens in space, blown away more zombies than people on this planet, and are still fighting on what seems to be a never-ending carousel of modern warfare.
There was nobody who loved a good dinosaur game more than myself. I’m probably the biggest Jurassic Park fan. I could name you every character, location, and dinosaur on both Isla Sorna and Isla Nublar before I was ten years old. Between 1997’s The Lost World Jurassic Park, 2001’s Jurassic Park III, the merchandising opportunities that came with it, and games that were both part of the franchise and ones that happened to include dinosaurs, I didn’t stand a chance of falling in love with anything else. It certainly seemed like with dinosaur movies came dinosaur games. For myself, it was a renaissance.
The Jurassic Park franchise had many games come out in the 90s. While many were less than stellar, there were definitely some gems in there. Both Sega and Nintendo released numerous console titles, but none really stood out. Arcades gave us many light-gun shooters including one of my favorites, Sega’s The Lost World Jurassic Park, complete with sitting “vehicle.”
1998 also brought Jurassic Park: Trespasser, still touted to this day as one of the worst PC games of all time. The game was an open world first person shooter with awful controls and an engine that virtually no PC in 1998 could run well. It was one of the first games to completely render trees outside in an open world…in 1998. You get the idea. This resulted in pretty much the worst frame rate of all time, and bad ratings.
Years later my heart would be broken in 2002 when Jurassic Park Survival was cancelled. Planned to be a PS2 Resident Evil-style survival horror game, you played as a security technician who is trapped on a secret third island. For probably two years I followed the production of the game and the handful of screenshots that leaked out from it. Finally, it was canned.
Finally in 2003, Konami threw me a bone and released a good Jurassic Park game. Jurassic Park Operation Genesis was a park builder where you built John Hammond’s intention, a functional Jurassic Park. Released for the Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC, it’s still praised by many today and is considered a cult hit. It also goes for a pretty penny on the trading circuits, but I don’t know why you’d get rid of it! I spent hours making my park a five star legendary experience. There was nothing more satisfying than making sure your T-Rex area had the proper electric fences to contain it, and to keep smaller carnivores out of the same area. There was of course the joy of saving the game, then getting rid of all fences, safe areas, and exits, watching guests run around in complete fear as velociraptors chased them down. Operation Genesis even had several mini-games including flying a helicopter to shoot dinosaurs full of medicine/bullets or a Pokemon Snap-esque game where you took stylish photos of the dinosaurs. It was incredible.
Leaving the Jurassic Park plane and moving to other things, we can’t forget Tomb Raider throwing in a few dinosaurs. Turok, while never really that great, sure had you hunting dinosaurs. A lesser known game that has apparently been revived as a mobile title, Carnivores, was basically your standard Cabela’s hunting game but with dinosaurs. It was poorly made and I usually was mauled to death by a velociraptor, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t boot it up all the time.
It wasn’t until July 1st, 1999, however, that dinosaur games got actually down to business. Capcom, who at the time was very successful due to Resident Evil, published another survival horror game: Dino Crisis. Shinji Mikami, a Capcom legend who was behind Resident Evil (including 4), Devil May Cry, and now (albeit not with Capcom) The Evil Within, directed Dino Crisis as well. While Dino Crisis was more or less copying Jurassic Park and was pretty much just Resident Evil with dinosaurs, it had everything you’d want in a survival horror title. Dino Crisis had you play as a woman named Regina who is part of SORT (Secret Operation Raid Team, original) as you parachute to a research facility that has gone dark. Once there, you find mutilated bodies everywhere and have to fight off dinosaurs that have taken over. It also had everything I wanted in a dinosaur game. Being trapped in an area full of big bad dinos, separated from your group, just trying to find a little bit more ammo to get to the next area.
In November 2000, Capcom released a sequel to it, Dino Crisis 2. This time you played from the perspective of two different characters trapped on an island after accidentally opening a time warp. While still survival horror themed, it focused more on arcade run-and-gun action, even introducing a points system. It also introuced a ton more dinos attacking you. There were more raptors than I could count, and was very challenging. It even had multiple endings. At the end of the day, it was what people wanted. Metacritic even has it at an 86.
Somewhere down the line in 2003, Capcom decided it was a good idea to put out a third Dino Crisis, which I was very excited for, until I found out it took place….in space. The game was a colossal disaster, ultimately killing the franchise and crushing my dreams.
And that was that.
Roaring back into the mainstream
It’s 2014 and while there’s been a handful of attempts to revive dinosaur games, they haven’t been the greatest. Jurassic Park has a pay-to-win park builder on Facebook. TellTale Games made a Jurassic Park title that took place on Isla Nublar following the events of the first film, but this was pre-Walking Dead. The gameplay mechanics were more or less not great and even as a hardcore JP fan, I turned it off pretty quick. Reverb Publishing and Lukewarm Media released a multiplayer title, Primal Carnage, a few years back. While it was very hyped up at trade shows, it was populated at launch, and then just sort of dropped off. A prequel has been put on hold indefinitely as of September 2014.
So what’s the issue? Clearly the desire is there. Fans have long dreamed of mods for open world games such as Just Cause 2 and Far Cry 3. Can you imagine a giant open world FPS with dinosaurs?! Imagine a State of Decay but with a bunch of people who’s plane crashes on an island full of big bad dinos. I’d put a group of velociraptors bolting it in your direction as a lot more terrifying than any zombie game. I shook in fear playing the Dino Crisis series knowing every time I went to an outside area I would have to book it as fast as I can from a T-Rex. So seriously, what’s the issue?! In my opinion, publishers just don’t want to take a chance unless a big name is attached to the project, and there hasn’t been one.
What do I think will change this? Call it my blind love for the franchise, but none other than a new Jurassic Park movie. Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the series, finally will release in 2015 with a pretty great cast and premise. I’ve waited fourteen years for this movie and after digging nonstop through the internet for any images or anything else I can get my hands on, I’m confident it’s going to be great. Starring Chris Pratt of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, Jurassic World will take us back to Isla Nublar, the island not seen since the first film. For fans such as myself, you might understand just how exciting that is.
We get to visit a place that moviegoers have not seen since 1993. John Hammond’s original dream has been realized and a fully functional park is up and running as a hot destination, compared to Disney World. Fully printed park maps from the movie have been leaked online and reveal a lot of pretty damn exciting things. (Shown here and here, spoilers obviously) Naturally, things go horribly wrong. With this can come a lot of very creative people, who are also very powerful, going to see it and start thinking about some very creative ideas. The last time a Jurassic Park movie came out, dinosaur games were out in droves. It was also 2001.
The Lost World and its merchandise, in my opinion, skyrocketed dinosaur games into the wild. They were pumping out as many as they could, and while most featured the franchise, we got two amazing games out of Dino Crisis as well. With current-gen consoles pumping some serious power, this could be a golden opportunity with open world games starting to dominate.
Dinosaurs (not Dino-Bots, Mr. Bay) being in the media again could really spark some conversations. If The Evil Within is a hit, who knows what Shinji Mikami will do next? What if he rebooted Dino Crisis and turned it into a Resident Evil 4-style game? Imagine the lush environments offered by modern computers mixed with terrifying creatures that want nothing more than you as a snack.
Tomb Raider was a smash hit and surprisingly, one of the best games of 2013. With Rise of the Tomb Raider hitting Holiday 2015 and sure to be a stellar sequel, people are starting to chug the rumor mill that maybe dinosaurs will be back. Imagine a Naughty Dog The Last of Us-style Jurassic Park/dinosaur game where you’re trapped on the island. If you’ve played The Last of Us, don’t tell me the (SPOILERS) boss battle with David in the restaurant not make you for at least a second think of this scene in the first Jurassic Park film. But what needs to happen? What will move us away from zombies stumbling over every game franchise and letting dinosaurs rule the Earth again?
Do I just need to say the magic word?