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Dinosaur Hunting
Platform:  X-Box
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Scarab
Publisher:  Metro 3D
Features:  Toothy Creatures Great and Small
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  Xbox HD
Ask anyone to name something with dinosaurs and The Lost World in the title, and you’d probably get the Michael Crichton book or more likely Stephen Spielberg’s second Jurassic Park movie as the first guess before you finished closing your mouth. More literate folks will perk up and name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 book and the 1925 movie which were in a way the major inspirations for that more familiar book/movie/merchandising bonanza combo. The average gamer will probably go on about the not-so-hot video games based off the films, and no doubt comment on how much he or she enjoyed Capcom’s Dino Crisis series (well, except for part 3). Still, there really hasn’t been a console game that puts you eye to eye (or torso to tooth) with a wide variety of dinos like Metro 3D’s great Dinosaur Hunting. Usually a game coming from a small company gets labeled as a “sleeper”, but this one is a first rate game all the way and definitely deserves to be in your Xbox collection.

Developed for Microsoft Japan by a company called Scarab, the game re-imagines events and ideas from the Doyle book without being a dry, straightforward translation. Dinosaur Hunting has 5 playable characters, a cool alternate retro-futuristic past, and… a digital ton of dinosaur poop to probe for research purposes. Really. The game also has what has to be the most accurate title in years, so you won’t have to ask that game shop clerk “Um, so…what’s it about?” It’s no big secret, and you won’t need to spend days clogging up message boards asking about it. You play a dinosaur hunter (well, a couple of them). You hunt dinosaurs (well, quite a few of them). Not to kill, mind you- this isn’t Cabela’s Dinosaur Big Game Hunting Extreme. The whole purpose of the game is to tranquilize and capture the huge beasts in order to save them from extinction. It’s a great, welcome change of pace from the usual action games out there, and you actually get a load of interesting dinosaur facts to feed your brain as well.

What makes Dinosaur Hunting work so well is the sense of immersion you feel as you explore the huge Guiana jungles, plains, and cliffs the developers have created. As each stage begins, you get a specific dino to capture which earns you a huge amount of cash. You can also feel free to take on any number of sub-target dinos for extra loot, should you feel confident enough with your ammo use and tracking skills. There’s a definite sense of tension here, thanks not only to the dinosaurs, but also the fact that you have a limited supply of bullets for each mission. You can’t go all out and tranquilize every dino you see as you have to pay for each shot fired, and at $500 for a normal shell and a few thousand for rifle and shotgun shells, you’d think that the bullets were custom made out of platinum and gold. This adds strategy to the proceedings, and you’ll have to often find ways to sneak or run like hell past your share of cold-blooded, toothy hazards as quickly as possible. Dinos you take down can be searched for formulas to create special bullets, and this is where your brain gets more of a workout. Do you create shells for the hordes of smaller predators or that big money sub-target dino, or do you save most of your ammo for the main target and go after the extra scratch later? You can also search old bones, partial corpses, huge dino eggs, and yes, digital dino doo (complete with buzzing flies, and big ones at that). It’s not as funny as you would expect, as the game handles these sequences very matter of fact manner. You will get a laugh the first few times, and a bigger one when someone comes along and asks “what the hell is that?” as your guy or gal bends over to inspect some fresh “traces” as they’re called in the game. Each stage also has a time limit, but unless you really get lost or caught up in a load of needless ammo wasting battles (remember, this isn't a survival horror game, folks) you really don’t need to worry too much about the clock ticking out.

On the way to your main objective there's a high probability that you’ll be attacked by smaller and/or larger dinos, so you’ll have to do a good deal of that sneaking and running like hell mentioned above when the need arises. There’s a rather frisky dog, Algo, who has a tendency to sniff out hidden dinos and clues a bit more that he gets you discovered by running up to even the fiercest beast and getting it riled up to chase you. Bad Algo! Fortunately, the dinosaurs in the game don’t seem to like spotted canine, but many do have a craving for two legged mammals with tranquilizer guns. Speaking of guns, the control is well implemented for the most part, although it can be tough to press three buttons on the controller to fire a sniper shot or shotgun. Movement is responsive and you can roll out of harm’s way or lie flat to remain relatively unseen and silent. You can’t move while prone, but I suppose crawling on your belly away from a T-Rex or Raptor wouldn’t be very productive at all.

Graphically, Scarab has created quite a beautiful game here. From dense jungle to dusty path, each area is alive and teeming with little environmental touches including some mighty fine plant life and great water and reflection effects. As there are quite a lot of dino and other animal related scares to be had if you try and run everywhere, please take the time to slow down and enjoy the environments when you find a nice quiet spot. The character models are solid and well animated, but the real stars here are the amazing dinosaurs, some real, some created specifically for the game. Scarab went through all the major periods and picked out the most well known (and a few lesser known) dinos, mammals, and a few other surprises for your hunting pleasure. Each one has a well-written entry about it that becomes available once you capture them, and the kids and adults into dinos will eat this part up and come back for seconds. There’s a bit of annoying clipping once in a while as a dino head or tail pops through a boulder or tree and swipes you for damage, but its the only real issue I had with the visuals. The sound effects and music are great for the most part, although whenever your character(s) discover a clue or item, they repeat the same few phrases over and over.

Well, the period is just about over, class; let’s go over the results of these particular traces. You’re in your favorite game shop and you see Dinosaur Hunting on the shelf. Having studied this review, you know just what you’re getting for your forty bones: a solid, excellently crafted action/adventure that’s fun to play and also teaches you a thing or two you may not have known about dinosaurs. Do you shell out for this fresh egg, or do you spend your hard earned shekels on some old fossil that you played part two or three of last year? 4 out of 5 paleontologists say only a caveman would pass up a game as good as Dinosaur Hunting, and I say don’t miss this one at all. Highly Recommended.


Greg Wilcox

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