Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dino D-Day Review

Dino D-Day, developed by 800 North and published by Digital Ranch.
The Good: Twelve interesting and unique classes (including dinosaurs!) with balanced limitations that require teamwork, frantic game pace (using dinosaurs!), three game modes (with dinosaurs!), did I mention there are dinosaurs?
The Not So Good: Lacks AI bots and single player content, limited map selection, mod-quality graphics
What say you? A silly concept is a competent multiplayer shooter thanks to fair, distinctive classes…and dinosaurs: 6/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

Unknown to the Western world, Germany was developing top-secret weapons during World War II that would rival the awesome power of the atomic bomb. No, I’m not talking about stealth fighters, I’m talking about dinosaurs. Yes, Hitler developed the cloning process years before John Hammond and, obviously, decided to strap guns to them to eat Allied infantry units. It’s now up to you to take control of these ancient beasts or gun them down before they enjoy you for lunch. Does this first person shooter’s unique style make it a must-play?

Dino D-Day features graphics and sound design that looks like a user modification (because it essentially is). The game utilizes the Source engine, you most will know what to expect in terms of the graphics. The dinosaur models are good, exhibiting some detail and fluid animations, although the player models could be more distinctive. The ragdoll death physics are a bit disappointing (too much total collapse instead of playful flailing), if you are influenced by those sorts of things. The weapons look nice and are easily identifiable based on looks alone. The HUD is informative, clearly displaying health, ammunition, victory locations, special abilities, and medic packs with bright plus signs. The map variety is OK, all urban areas in generally desert-like environments. The textures are the area of the game that could use the most improvement and variety. In addition, there are graphical artifacts like floating units and things stuck in walls that you would expect in a modification but not a retail game. The sounds are typical: average weapon effects in terms of authenticity, and the dinosaur growls are less frequent than expected. However, there are some humorous (though repetitive) sound bytes automatically spoken by the human combatants (example: “I’m only shooting you because you’re a Nazi dinosaur”). Dino D-Day also features the usual wartime music selection played in each level, although there are (like the human dialogue) some funny announcements. Overall, Dino D-Day has a barely acceptable presentation.

Dino D-Day pits the Allies and the Axis against each other in their eternal struggle for battlefield dominance. The game comes with three game modes, starting with the least exciting option: team deathmatch. In king of the hill, each team must control a central waypoint for three minutes (not consecutively), which helps to concentrate the action. Finally, in the objective mode, the Allies must carry and defend six explosive satchels to blow open a door or capture two strategic points, another option that produces constant fighting. There are a number of rounds before the map switches (three to five minutes are typical for a single round). There are only two maps for deathmatch and king of the hill and three for the objective mode, so not a whole lot to choose from. Each map usually provides two or three paths between several large areas: pretty typical map design. Dino D-Day is purely a multiplayer game, as there are no bots to practice against and no single player story-based mode (yet). The game also doesn’t offer stat tracking so people can see how terrible your kill-death ratio is, but that also means that Dino D-Day doesn’t have any stupid unlocks: all of the classes and weapons are available to everyone from the start. Thank goodness.

Dino D-Day features a pleasant roster of twelve classes equally spread across the Axis and Allied forces. Each class has a distinct role to fill, which results in a greater focus on team play. For the allies, the assault class comes with an M1 Garand rifle and a special ability: three kills in a row unlocks powerful fists that allow you to punch dinosaurs (and other units) in the face for instant death, so this class is perfect for those who usually rack up a lot of kills, though the M1 is intended more for medium range combat. If you prefer the Thompson submachine gun, you also get sticky bombs that will adhere to any surface and explode a short time later and artillery strikes for area bombardment; this is a good all-around class for the typical range at which you’ll engage the enemy. Pesky dinosaurs can be eliminated with a rocket launcher, which has a disappointingly limited explosive range, but you also get a Trench gun (essentially a combat shotgun) to deal with non-reptilian adversaries at a short range. The sniper gets rabbits to place and distract velociraptors (very handy when the enemy is spamming those quick reptiles), and the medic gets the Sten gun (a British submachine gun) to accompany their health packs; while I always tend to gravitate towards the medic in any class-based shooter, it’s really only viable when your allies will be hanging out in the same area. Finally, the BAR light machine gun class also gets a flechette gun for more close-up action, a good mix for dealing with dinosaurs. So, lots of options there.

OK, Germany time. Their assault class gets two fine guns: the Mauser K98 bolt action rifle and MP40 submachine gun. The sniper class gets a suicidal, dive-bombing pterosaur that explodes on impact with its mortar. Obviously. The axis medic can use the MP44 assault rifle, which is a better option than its allied counterpart. There are also three dinosaur classes for the Germans to choose from, the first being the speedy Velociraptor that can claw and pounce on its foes (biting its neck in a canned animation). The Desmatosuchus is equipped with a 20mm artillery gun and heavy armor for long-range bombardment (which, like the rocket launcher, has a small area of effect), and the Dilophosaurus can pick up soliders or goats in its mouth and throw it at other units (or a wall): pretty cool. Again, Dino D-Day features a good selection of classes to choose from that seem to be fairly balanced. Not everyone flocks to the dinosaurs as I thought they would, which speaks to the overall class balance. The Nazis have less effective guns to offset the instant-kill nature of the dinosaur attacks, so if you enjoy gun play more than the third-person dinosaur mode, the Allies are the better option. There are some classes that are more popular than others because their abilities are more ranged: the Thompson class comes to mind specifically. Also, the Allied fists ability (triggered with three consecutive kills) cannot be countered at all, so you must prevent them from accumulating the kills in the first place. The velociraptor pouncing ability takes some practice as well. Still, it’s equally fun being and hunting the dinosaurs, and each class has something good to offer.

Dino D-Day is a fast-paced game where most units move quickly across the small maps. This produces almost constant combat between man and beast; while it’s not at all realistic, I don’t think anyone playing a first person shooter with Nazi dinosaurs is looking for ArmA-style realism. There’s no annoying cover system to slow things down, and the mix of long-range, short-range, and fast units means there are few good places to camp and a role for everyone to fill. The single objective location also concentrates the action; Dino D-Day is not a leisurely-paced game. Because of the shortcomings present in every class, Dino D-Day is meant for team players, and sticking with your teammates is always a good idea (something the concentrated map design makes easier to do). Damage is a happy medium between arcade and realistic: a couple of shots will defeat most enemies, but it’s not the instant kill madness of military sims or the drawn-out nonsense of arena shooters. In the end, Dino D-Day is not just about the dinosaurs, as the rest of the game’s mechanics and balanced roster of classes work well to provide a compelling first person shooter. With dinosaurs.

Once the novelty of being and shooting dinosaurs wears off, you’ll find an agreeable shooter because of the nice variety of classes, none of which features an overpowered ability that cannot be effectively countered using teamwork (or simply preventing the enemy from accumulating too many consecutive kills). All types will find a soldier they enjoy: the quick velociraptor, helpful medic, long-range sniper, short-range shotguns, sticky bomb mines, tank-like desmatosuchus, dinosaur-destroying rocket launcher, goat-throwing dilophosaurus, or the generic assault classes. The fast pace (unrealistic, but what do you expect in a game featuring Nazi dinosaurs?) won’t appeal to everyone, but it does make for frenzied, quick skirmishes that keep the action flowing. The three game modes are typical fare, and the game could use more maps and single player content (and bots), but the pure silly fun of Dino D-Day can’t be denied. It would be an average, solid shooter on its own, but adding dinosaurs makes it a distinctive entry in the all-too-bland World War II first person shooter world.