Orion: Dino Beatdown got off to a bad start. Wait, let me rephrase that. Orion: Dino Beatdown got off to the worst start. This Cretaceous shooter launched in a state that overshadows the Dead Island fiasco of last year, where unlucky Steam customers were treated to a broken debug build on alpha-like levels. That brief undead blunder, however, dissipated hours after manifesting. It's been one week since Orion's launch, but the problems keep mounting for this Jurassic mishap.
The game released broken in every aspect: key bindings not saving, Unreal Engine crashing, servers lists not refreshing, dinosaurs glitching, connections not ... connecting. The bugs go on and on. An update four days out left many consumers initiating downloads, programming fail-safes, and scouring forums in the style of military-grade hackers for the simplest solution to their multitude of troubles, myself included. Connection issues subsided post-patch (mostly), but the gameplay faults still hinder progress – the inability to buy weapons still a major handicap. Failures such as these cripple a studio, and yet Dino Beatdown contains all the childhood allure of frantic dinosaur survival.
The dinosaur inclusion in video games is often lacking. Dino Crisis concentrated on puzzle solving rather than raptor shooting, not to mention the Megalodon-size shark the third installment jumped. I avidly played Warpath: Jurassic Park growing up, a bombastically flawed PS1 fighting game that shares nothing but name with the film. Even the latest Turok received mediocre appraisal thanks to the subpar story and multiplayer. If current generation titles predict the future, this is one genre liable of going extinct, and Dino Beatdown only crumbles shouldering the burden of its reptile motif.
Who doesn't smile when being carried through the stratosphere on the wings of rocket-fueled thrusters?
Dino Beatdown delivers an absent plot – no character or location insight whatsoever. Five players select from three arbitrary classes outfitted with a jetpack, cloaking, or medic ability before squaring off against relentless reanimated fossils hellbent on cutting power to the base's generators. Why the lizards pursue a vendetta against electrical equipment I will never know. Three types of dinosaurs – raptors, tyrannosaurs, and Pteranodon-like rhams – gnaw at your armor-protected throats, though possible herbivore and carnivore expansions rely on fan feedback. With no explanation regarding the unnamed planet's deserted settlements, the goal is simple: shoot anything prehistoric.
The shooting lacks deafening punch, however, failing to reinforce players when they land a successful blow on the enemies' oddly designed hitboxes – that is, if you manage to purchase a weapon. Servers intermittently locked my team and I out of buying firearms until we dropped dead or quit the game. Counterproductive I know. Sending dinosaurs to an early grave administers credits necessary for unlocking overpowered VTOLs, laser weaponry, or class upgrades, but audio cuts in and out on a regular basis for artillery and vehicles alike. Unloading one hundred rounds of complete silence became the norm instead of the exception. It's bad enough buggying around the abandoned landscapes with no discernible music, but even worse when the terrible multikill call outs prove to be the only consistent commentary. “Killasaur!” “Bring me some pizza!” Really?
The worst kind of mosh pit.
The AI poses no threat unless attacking en masse, but jetpacking atop the tallest spire prevents any injuries incurred from pesky raptors. While they may leap the length of a football field in a single bound, their programming inhibits vertical jumps. The developers seem keen to squash the T-rex tiny brain rumor too, despite the predator's bonding to the geometry with predictable regularity. Rhams, however, prove to be the most distracting, dive bombing from the skies to snatch your character and drop him from great heights into packs of teeth and claws, resulting in certain death without the aforementioned jetpack. As it stands, every wave can be completed merely hovering out of fanged reach, diminishing any real threat flesh hungry dinosaurs should normally convey.
The sprawling vistas bare a strikingly colorful resemblance to Tribes: Ascend – a free-to-play experience I might add – yet that's all the visual praise I can muster. The four or so character animations flicker, stutter, and spasm wildly, giving the illusion of intolerably low frame rates. Every “clever girl,” tyrannosaurus, and pterodactyl wannabe boasts the same red and yellow paint scheme, much like a band of drunken fraternity brothers decorating their chests for a university sporting event. Levels exceed the description of maddeningly expansive. Driving between outposts is a chore. Leaving the match becomes all too favorable when 2,000 meters of rugged, dinosaur-populated terrain stand between your feet and safe haven. Spare the hassle and keep a mode of transport intact.
Besides the VTOL, you should steer clear of vehicles in combat. Better yet, steer clear of this game.
Orion's glitches further extinguish all hopes of enjoyment. I clocked my time spent attempting various online fixes as nearly double my actual play time. Often, the waves refused to progress despite having eradicated the required number of dinosaurs, and characters fail to respawn – regardless of whether they perished during a wave or joined mid-session – limiting the affected users to spectator mode until they disconnect. Simply refreshing the server list became impossible in several instances until Steam restarted. Dinosaurs even clip through structures, like the buildings never existed – a hilarious sight until a T-rex flosses its teeth with a teammate's corpse through four feet of solid steel.
As a child, I possessed New York state's largest toy dinosaur collection. Although you might call me an enthusiast, I tempered my excitement for Orion: Dino Beatdown. Rightfully so, because the developers dash yet another realization of many boyhood fantasies. Shortcomings drown the gameplay in a sea of potential. Studios like Creative Assembly (Total War series) and Bethesda (Elder Scrolls series) know patches tend to break more than they fix. Orion plays like a beta in every sense of the word, only the creators charge a fee for insurance. Watching the community manager try to douse the angry torches of buyers is heartbreaking, but promises that the experience will eventually work out are tough pills to swallow. Premise needs more than cool concepts to justify even a modest price. It requires execution, something Orion: Dino Beatdown, regrettably, misses in stride.
Publisher: Spiral Game Studios
Developer: Spiral Game Studios
Release Date: May 4, 2012
Number of Players: 1-5 (Cooperative)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)