Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Orion: Dino Beatdown (PC)

This was a game design Beatdown of epic proportions. At first glance, Dino Beatdown (DB) looked a blast. Dinosaurs and jetpacks? Yes please. 5 player coop with friends? Awesome. But as I delved further into this Spiral Games title - which set me back about £6 on steam - I began to see what a writhing bug-fest it was.

How badly I wanted this game to be good. Maybe if it was even functional! The prospect, something which looks to fuse elements of Unreal Tournament and Halo is fascinating. Many of the promotional images, boasting chaotic scenes jam-packed full of prehistoric beasts and futuristic tech, give you a fair view of what's to come, but by no means paint the whole picture. Hordes of angry Velociraptors coming at you from every side will sprint and pounce around the vast landscapes, often making your trusty Jetpack (Assault class) the only way out. A sense of urgency is certainly present in Dino Beatdown, but any immersiveness gained from this is often ruled out by the myriad of bugs and glitches lining the walls (literally) of every level/environment.

As of release, there are three basic classes to choose from. Assault, with which you get the jetpack, the basic pistol, and some trusty grenades. The support (medic) class gives you the healing ability and allows you to shoot bright blue rays of health magic back into your companions and, as you progress, back into objects too. The healing elements of this class were clearly inspired by the medic class in Team Fortress 2. Another cool thing about this class is that, unlike the other two, you don't just start with the basic pistol, you also get a Shotgun as standard - a great help when those Raptors get too close for comfort. Finally, the Recon class gives you the 'cloak' ability which allows your character to go invisible for a period of time. This is handy, but isn't integrated particularly well and as a result I found it was no where near as fun or helpful as the Jetpack or Healing abilities respectively.

The basic idea is that you have four outposts, A, B, C and D. All of which have a generator which is linked to this outpost and must be functional for the player to upgrade weapons, character abilities or replenish ammo. The player is tasked with keeping this generator functional whilst simultaneously fending off waves of angry dinosaurs - a task made easier and more enjoyable with friends. I felt that this teamwork based, objective-heavy structure is the right idea for this kind of game, presuming you play in coop, but was almost too unbalanced in the case of Dino Beatdown in order to be  enjoyable absolutely.

Another big failure with this indie title was consistency, or lack of it. It was difficult to create or develop any kind of strategy, and the in game interface seemed to act almost erratically at times. Weapons damage didn't appear particularly consistent, and even at times when it was, the unrealistic movements of the enemies made the shooting experience irritating - which, if you were wondering, is bad for an FPS.

There is also a poor range of enemies - only 3 types to be exact (Raptors, T-Rexs and Rhams). With a world so open and vast, this lack of diversity and, in turn, atmosphere that the game generates diminishes a lot of potential replay value. But that is after all the key word and the running theme of Orion: Dino Beatdown; Potential. Potential that is unfortunately never completely fulfilled.

Both the reward system and the difficulty system in DB leave you feeling disappointed and confused. The aforementioned lack of diversity among Dino's makes it an impossible task to give the player a rising sense of difficulty. The number and species of dinosaur that spawn in each wave is seemingly random. I often found myself having more difficulty with the first wave than the last. This stagnates the natural progression of your character and felt to me like carelessness from the devs in not mapping out a more rewarding wave-to-wave difficulty structure. On the subject of rewards, this is another area of DB that ranges from weak to virtually nonexistent. There is really only one reward in the game, and that's cash - used to buy weapons, upgrades etc. My beef with this was that a cash/points reward for each kill is inherently short term. There does not appear to be any overarching goal, no rationale for this scenario you've stumbled into. This lack of long-term incentive is a surefire way to lose the vested interest of players. Something which certainly happened in my experience with Dino Beatdown.

Now, for the bugs. Oh joy. They ranged anywhere from the game completely crashing, to vehicles getting stuck in the stupidest of places. There were clipping issues, server issues, interface issues. You name it, Dino Beatdown had it. In an industry where first impressions can mean so much, having so many bugs will immediately put people off what could be an epic cooperative battle.

There is a lot said about how "bugs aren't a big deal".."bugs can just be patched", and while this true to an extent, I think we as gamers (and paying gamers at that) deserve more from a game as of release. Its all well and good rectifying bugs after the fact but if your game is as broken as Dino Beatdown was from release, it's abit of a travesty that anyone should have to pay for it! This is what beta testing is for after all, and I kind of got the sense that the first few days of this game's release were like one big - money making - beta test.
It seems unlikely, impossible even, but when you soldier on through Dino Beatdown (and believe me I soldiered) there is certainly something there. It comes back to the question of potential, if the devs could just clean up the bugs and rethink some aspects of their game design, they could have real gem on their hands. It is, to me, a fascinating concept but players just haven't - as of yet - been allowed to see that. The idea is certainly fun, but the execution is by no means refreshing.

Once my friend and I had worked around any glitches/bugs we could and got somewhat accustomed to the ambiguous and erratic gameplay, there was a lot of fun to have.
Overall Dino Beatdown implements some of the bells and whistles of this genre nicely, but fails to deliver when it comes to some basic game design principles. This is is a concept I would love to see in the hands of a more experienced developer, say, Valve perhaps. I hate to see this concept almost go to waste like it has here because, for the love of god, DINOSAURS + JETPACKS.


  1. You commented on my video so I figured I'd give your article a read. All in all it was pretty damned good, but if I were to recommend one thing it'd be to lurk in the the community forum and see what the developers plan to do with the awful release. So far there's been one patch but the game is still pretty damned glitchy. You probably should have added the developers plans for fixes and updates. The first couple of patches are going to be bug fixes but after they're going to be adding free map and dino packs, about 5 confirmed so far with about 7 more in the works. I wouldn't normally say it was important to put this, but the the developers had a specific plan for this game and it wasn't made obvious what that was in your article. Not that the plan has succeeded so far :(

  2. A lot of good points there dude, I'll definitely keep then in mind for future reference :)

    Believe me, I really hope spiral fix this game up, it has the potential to be very awesome!

    Cheers for the feedback!

  3. Jetpacks and dinosaurs and lazer rifles!?! What could be so bad about all that? oh. oh no. OMG NO!!! AHHH!!! HELP ME!!!

  4. http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2829073