This strange new PlayStation VR game lets you build your very own Wild West town in VR… and then fill it with dinosaurs.
We think everyone can agree that the most serious issue facing video games today is that almost none of them have any dinosaurs in them. The fact that Horizon Zero Dawn features robot dinosaurs does count for double points, but it just isn’t enough. Having cowboys and dinosaurs in the same game also gets a combo bonus, but it’s all for nothing if the game isn’t any good. And sadly Dino Frontier has a lot of problems.
No matter what way you look at it Dino Frontier is a weird idea. It’s essentially a city builder, somewhere between Theme Park and The Settlers, but with two major gimmicks. The first is that it’s set in a world where dinosaurs inhabit the earth side-by-side with humans, and the second is that it only works in VR. It also requires two PlayStation Move controllers and costs £30, so that’s a pretty hefty entry barrier for anyone that ignores this review telling you it’s not worth it.
As you can imagine, Dino Frontier is not exactly a serious simulation. In fact, one of its best features is its sense of humour and the amusing dialogue your hapless settlers come out with. You play as the ‘Big Mayor’, which is to say your presence in the game world is indicated by a giant pair of hands that can pick up and move buildings, people, and dinosaurs. As well as water trees with a giant watering can or cut them down with a giant knife.
City builders and god games are a good match for VR, as there’s very little to induce nausea and being able to look around at the world you create turns what is usually a fairly clinical genre into a highly immersive experience. It worked great with Tethered, which is still one of our favourite VR games, but Dino Frontier is considerably less focused – and at the same time a lot shorter.
The game works in typical city builder fashion, as you start by constructing basic accommodation, farms, and lumbermills, before moving onto more advanced concepts like a sheriff’s office and a hunting shack. The whole dinosaur angle doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the context of the Wild West, it’s just that your townsfolk are riding around on velociraptors instead of horses and hunting gallimimus instead of bison.
The only real impact the dinosaurs have on gameplay is that your settlers risk being jumped by a raptor if they venture out of town, but they could just as easily be replaced with wolves and coyotes and the difference would be the same. The same is true of training dinosaurs in special pens, although of course breaking in a horse doesn’t come with the risk that it’ll eat you if you don’t get your technique right.
Dino Frontier (PSVR) – it feels more like a demo than a full game
Dino Frontier is a game that seems like it should be a lot more fun than it actually is. A lot of thought and imagination has clearly gone into it, with lengthy campfire songs hinting at the lore behind the setting, but the actual game runs out of new ideas within just an hour or two. It may be a limitation of the hardware but you can only build one of each building, which means that as soon as you’ve got to grip with the controls you can have the majority of your town up and running in worryingly short time.
You can also only have one of each dinosaur working for your town, which is enough to automate a lot of the more boring tasks, like collecting lumber, but again seems disappointingly limiting. Marauding banditos threaten to make things more interesting, but all they really do is turn the end game into a simplistic Tower Defense clone that is insultingly easy to beat.
The real shame here is that the VR interface works great. Moving around and interacting with the game world feels very natural and relatively precise, as you zoom in and out almost like a smartphone screen. The low-fi graphics don’t impress, but otherwise this is a very convincing tech demo. What it isn’t though is something anyone should be contemplating spending £30 on.
Whether it was a lack of time, money, or inspiration that left the game in this half-finished state we don’t know, but in just three or four hours you’ll have beaten the final Bandit King and be left with nothing more to do and no incentive to replay the game again. It’s all hugely disappointing, and we can only hope this doesn’t put other companies off from making their own dinosaur games.
In Short: The VR immersion is great and the setting certainly has potential, but with no depth or challenge to the gameplay this trumped-up tech demo lacks teeth.
Pros: The controls and VR elements work great, and the novelty of cowboys and dinosaurs goes a long way. Some funny dialogue.
Cons: Extremely shallow and almost trivially easy. Very short and with no replay value. Far too expensive for such limited entertainment.
Formats: PlayStation VR
Publisher: Uber Entertainment
Developer: Uber Entertainment
Release Date: 1st August 2017
Age Rating: 12