I recently found myself compelled to try installing the PC version of Dino Crisis 2 on my Vista PC, and was pleasantly surprised to find it working nicely (I had less luck with Crimson Skies). It feels strange to admit it, but I've realised that I have a real soft spot for this game.
Dino Crisis 2 is perhaps best remembered as an evolutionary link in Capcom's survival horror games. The first Dino Crisis was notoriously just Resident Evil with velociraptors instead of zombies, and sparsely detailed three-dimensional backdrops instead of rich two-dimensional ones.
With the second game, however, things changed substantially – with a much stronger emphasis on arcade-style action. Suddenly series heroine Regina is running around with a machine pistol in each hand, slaughtering dinosaurs by the dozen and racking up combo multipliers for points that can be spent on weapons, ammo and upgrades. It's clearly a step beyond the later Resident Evil 4, and a step beyond anything that could be considered true horror. A step, in fact, into the realms of unrestrained action and (dare I say it) fun.
And that's part of the reason I like it.
One of the things that quickly becomes apparent about Dino Crisis 2 is that a fair bit of it has been lost in translation. The scrap of information above is a perfect example. It's supposed to convey the simple fact that our heroes and their ill-fated rescue party have arrived much too late. They're hoping to save survivors from a city that was accidentally catapulted through time into a jungle full of dinosaurs, but when time-travelling millions of years, a little inaccuracy can amount to a long period in human terms. This long-dead doctor was living alongside dinosaurs for at least ten years before they finally ate him.
Even given a proper translation, though, I think the story here would probably still be confused. I can believe that there was some coherent thinking behind the final plot-twist and reveal, but the basic narrative that you follow is illogical, coincidental and confusing. And bear with me, but we're starting to get at what I like about this game so much.
The setting of Dino Crisis 2 is desolate in a really singular way. In some respects, it's actually full of life: nimble dinosaurs attack you constantly from every direction, giant insects glide overhead, triceratops lumber in the background, and you're relentlessly stalked by a one-eyed Tyrannosaurus Rex. And yet the humans are all long dead, their buildings are overgrown and decayed, the thin threads of hope that they cling to in their diaries and notes are now all broken. And on top of that, they're writing in the unintentionally poetic fashion of someone who can neither translate from Japanese nor write in English with any great skill.
I've always thought that Dino Crisis 2 ends up conjuring a fantastically dream-like atmosphere (nightmarish, in some respects). The ordinary events might not make logical sense, but they feel right given the tone of the game - and the extraordinary events tie incoherently into our own oft-ignored fears about immense stretches of time and the fragility of all human existence.
Dino Crisis 2 made a really strong impressions on me with its surreal, bitter-sweet tone and bold, colourful backdrops. And it even manages to be great fun to play as well.
There's often a depressing unanimity of opinion and shortness of memory when it comes to video games. People's opinions tend towards the more recent and better known. So maybe I should start thinking of this game in the same terms as a lot of films I like. It may be a lesser-known curio, and it's probably not to everyone's taste, but it happens to be a personal favourite.