When a brand new PC game hits the market at the bargain basement price of US$15, it’s for one of two reasons. The first reason is that the game is a cheap and cheerful indie, with a price reflective of the size and scale of development effort poured in – a fine way for a small team to find a big audience if the product is sound. The second reason is that someone has realised the polish on a certain turd is going to rub off any minute, and nobody wants to get sued. What the world has in the form of Orion: Dino Horde is a solid number two. Oh, and it’s not even close to being ‘brand new’.
From the initial reveal of Dino Horde, one can be forgiven for developing an air of excitement. It is, indeed, a game where teams of friends band together in a futuristic jetpack-ready series of environments to shoot dinosaurs with big guns. Ever since audiences first gazed with wonder at the brutal arrogance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, man has wanted to do battle with the prehistoric terrors – and here, ostensibly, was their chance. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Dino Horde is essentially a lazy remake of a 2012 flopzilla called Orion: Dino Beatdown. So little has been added to the original recipe of 11 crappy herbs and spices that formed Beatdown[i], members of the public could be forgiven for thinking they’ve paid money for the same old rope.
Upon launching the game from Steam, players will be surprised to find the full title of the game includes a multiplayer beta. While this wasn’t advertised on the retail key, it does go some way towards explaining why virtually every aspect of the title feels unfinished. Starting in windowed mode by default, the game proudly brandishes a window title of “Unreal Development Kit”, which probably should have been renamed Dino Horde or something to that effect. The menus and interface in general are quick and snappy, which is very fortunate as the player spends quite a lot of time cycling through them trying to find a server or recall a keyboard command, of which there are an unusually large number in relation to the amount of available gameplay.
When a game is eventually found – at the time of writing there were 21 US servers active, two of which were populated – the player must select from one of three classes. Medic, Assault, or Support is what it boils down to, with a special ability for each. The most interesting is the Assault class’s jetpack, which allows a brief flight of fancy from the ground onto the roof of the nearest utility shed or rocky outcrop. From this position (or any other, the difficulty is virtually non-existent), the player may begin firing away at wave upon wave of dinosaurs, including all childhood favourites such as the Stegosaurus and Triceratops.
The idea is to clear a wave of foes, upgrade weapons, tweak character augmentations such as health and firepower, and then begin clearing the next wave. It makes little difference whether the player is in a full team or playing solo; past an initial onslaught, the dinos spread out far and wide on the map, forcing a tedious hunt to be undertaken before progress to the next phase is allowed. If teammates have died during the round they need to wait this out, often causing an exodus from the server. There is very little guidance available to the player, especially around crucial gameplay elements such as the electrical generator which must be protected and repaired as the rounds go on. The player is left to their own devices far too often for a game with so little to do.
Weapons, whilst upgradable, are all cut from the pages of Encyclopedia Generica. There isn’t much to get worked up about when faced with an uninspired array of assault rifles, pistols that feel like cap guns, and gluggy shotguns with one of the most pathetic zoom functions ever created. Much the same can be said for the vehicles in the game, which serve as a way of expediting the dino-cull more readily than they offer any tactical advantage. Coupled with sound effects that appear to have been post-processed from a single loud cough and graphics that make the Unreal Engine 3 seem like a modding tool for abject beginners, the game does little to impress on virtually any front. Even the netcode – something that could have seen Orion: Dino Horde run into the hall of late-night LAN fodder fame – is shamelessly lacking in quality.
Basically, the discerning public is faced with a cut-priced upgrade for an aging game that never delivered the goods in the first place. While Orion: Dino Horde deserves to be roundly panned and ignored, there is a certain sadness in seeing such a crash and burn. The embers of a decent co-operative multiplayer romp are there, buried beneath the comically “animated” dinosaur attacks and wildly inconsistent AI. It remains a mystery how this glorified patch was released as a new title on Steam. It could have done with another year in the works to rise above university student Quake 3 mod – but that’s where we’re at.