Dino Frontier blends elements of city building, farming, and animal rearing in a pre-historic world inhabited by sharp-shooters from the Wild West. If that sounds like a curious concoction, then you may be relieved to learn that this PlayStation VR experiment from Uber Entertainment fuses its many ideas better than it has any right to do so. Unfortunately, it seems to run out of steam about midway through, and after just four or so hours of entertainment, abruptly ends.
It’s unusual for a title so imaginative to so suddenly lack inspiration, but once you’ve worked through the first hour, the game seems to slump into a routine that it can’t shake. Part of it wants to be a simulation akin to Theme Park or the various other Bullfrog favourites of yore, but you can only build one of each building, and you’ll have them all erected fairly early on. As you’d expect, each building serves a unique purpose, be it to process food to feed your settlers or enhance their combat skills.
To be fair, you can upgrade each building, but with such a limited selection it makes the whole construction aspect pretty pointless. You can place where you want each structure to sit, but it’s all unnecessary as you’ll have acres of unused land leftover once you’ve installed them all. Assuming your role as mayor, it’s nice being able to zoom in and out of the scene and observe everything that’s going on both at a ground level and overhead, but the novelty soon wears off.
In fact, it’s perhaps more appropriate to compare this game to a clicker such as AdVenture Capitalist than SimCity. Lures can be placed in a linear order that enable you to stun, capture, and tame dinosaurs that lurk just outside of your settlement. Once recruited, these creatures will work for you, either collecting up chopped wood, gathering food, or even improving the happiness of your people. Sadly, you can only have one of each type, so the whole system feels woefully underdeveloped.
The dinosaurs are there to reduce busywork, just like in a clicker, though. In the early parts of the game, you’ll need to manually pick up wood and drop it in your lumberyard – but recruiting the dinosaur dedicated to this task saves you the hassle. Within a few hours you’ll have a fully functioning settlement that only requires the lightest of tending to, so you end up somewhat surplus to requirements, twiddling your thumbs waiting for something to do.
Regular, random bandit raids do require your attention, and there’s a gardening aspect where you can grow crops to get an injection of resources. But while the game teases something more, it all feels a bit anticlimactic when you realise that you’ve seen everything it has to offer in a matter of hours, and you’re just going through the motions until you can access the title's final combat encounter. It honestly feels like a prototype for a much bigger and better game.
Which is a crying shame because the moment-to-moment interactivity is entertaining. Using a PlayStation Move wand in each hand, you’re able to pick up settlers and toss them where you want them, as well as interact with giant gardening utensils in order to get to work. The game uses PlayStation VR to convey the effect of a diorama, so employing smartphone-esque “pinch” motions to zoom in and out of the scene works well.
And the whole clash of the Wild West with The Land Before Time is well realised too, especially during the tower defence portion which resembles the title’s final gameplay pillar. Here you’re able to construct defence stations out of stone and gold, while your settlers get to work either mining or defending your depository. It’s really neat seeing bandits ride in on the back of vibrantly coloured velociraptors, but it’s all insultingly easy, and there are only 20 waves to clear.
Which frankly is the primary problem here. For all of the game’s good ideas and full-blooded wit – there are full-length campfire acoustic ditties that expand upon the world’s lore – there’s just nowhere near enough of it. The thing is it’s not hard to imagine a much larger game, where your sphere of influence increases as you tame more dinosaurs and attract more and more settlers to your city. In truth, that’s probably what was planned, but is not what’s been delivered.
Dino Frontier’s fun for the few hours you’ll wring out of it, but it could have been so much more. The game is bursting with brilliant ideas, but it never really evolves any of them, leaving an experience that expires long before the cold clutches of extinction have had an opportunity to arise. It’s a shame because with a bit more time in the saloon this could have been a classic – but you may want to wait until it's half-price before pulling the trigger on this release in its current state.