Genre: FMV Developer: Capcom Publisher: Rocket Science Games Players: 1 Released: 1994
Cruising around wild, lush jungles in a vintage Cadillac, Blasting your way around Pterodons, Triceraptos, and Tyrannosaurs, as well as poachers. Fighting for your survival in a world turned upside down after a gigantic cataclysm, forcing humans to fight for survival, pairing contemporary technology against a prehistoric world – sounds like a great concept, doesn’t it? What’s not to like?
Well, we’ll see.
At first glance, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs seems like a weird concept. Weird, but nonetheless a pretty neat one. The story is based on the independent comic Xenozoic Tales, which tells the tale of humankind having nearly wiped itself out in an event called the Cataclysm. When after five hundred years the survivors emerged from their shelters, they found that their world had regressed into a prehistoric state, and dinosaurs had reclaimed the world. Inhabiting the new Earth are the Griths, a strange lizard race that seems to be in touch with this new world, yet whose origins remain a complete mystery.
The story itself mainly centers around Jack Tenrac, a mechanic who has sworn to maintain old world technology and preserve the natural state of the new world at the same time, and Hannah Dundee, an ambassador and scientist who hires the often unsociable Jack as her guide and companion in the often inhospitable world. The comic had a pulpy adventure feel to it, with a hero that at first glance seems to be the classic action stereotype but with an environmental twist to him that is actually very interesting (well, at least in the first storylines. Later on books relied a bit too much on cheesecake). It was successful enough to be adapted into a TV series, which in turn received to usual arcade treatment by Capcom, being turned into a beat-’em-up that never was ported to the home consoles. The Sega CD wasn’t completely left out of the fray, though. The little-known team of Rocket Science Games got a hold of the comic book license, and turned it into a Rail-Shooter for PC DOS and the Geneses add-on.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs stays very close to the comic book origins, right down to the cut scenes. The story is told by way of comic book panels, with additional voice-over by the characters. The artwork is very nice indeed, capturing a classic four-color comic look and conveying a nice pulp-adventure atmosphere. The voice acting is of a high quality as well, fitting both scenario and the individual characters quite well. The same can be said of the music, though it may be a bit scratchy in a few parts. As a whole, the presentation is done in a very tasteful manner, giving you the feel of playing a pretty good comic book. The only downside may be the actual sound effects, like the weak popping sounds of the gun or a lack of appropriate tire screeches or engine roars.
The good looks and music continue into the game itself. Even though the limited color palette of the platform is quite noticeable and the in-game graphics come off a bit grainy, when you ride your Cadillac through the jungle the first time around you are presented with a lush and green environment, grazing Apatosaurs – and of course your classic red Cadillac. Even here the game is very pleasing to eyes and ears. In typical rail-shooter fashion, you speed along a pre-determined path, avoiding or shooting obstacles and occasionally deciding for one of two possible branches which may or may not be easier. Your car can take a lot of damage, so bumping into the occasional minor rock isn’t that much of a deal. However, there are many obstacles that devastate your vehicle in one hit, regardless of its condition. Crashing into dinosaurs, falling into a chasm or hitting a tree pretty much guarantees losing a life. The cut scenes within the game are beautiful and often hilarious. I dare you not to laugh out loud when you first witness your car being smacked into a crown of trees by a disgruntled Apatosaurus (or Sambucks, as they are called in this universe).
By the way, for the most part shooting the dinosaurs in the game will net you nothing. While they surely will flat out destroy you if you run into them, you are not allowed (and, to be frank, are not really able to) kill them on your way. Jack Tenrac is an environmentalist action hero! That doesn’t mean that the gun is useless, far from it. Some obstacles need to be taken out with pinpoint accuracy. For example, when you need to shoot apart the shackles from a chained-up Mack (Triceraptops) to prevent it from wrecking your car.
In single-player mode you have to control both your car to avoid ramming into things and the crosshair of your gun at the same time, so taking proper aim while driving is incredibly hard to pull off, even in the easy difficulty setting (which isn’t that much different from the hard one, by the way). Therefore, it is highly recommended to play this game with a friend by your side, with one taking the wheel as Jack Tenrac and the other taking over the part of Hannah Dundee and controlling the gun. That way, the game becomes much easier (player one just needs to press left and right on the D-pad, and player two just needs D-pad and one fire button). The game doesn’t become a cakewalk even then though; it still remains a very tough cookie.
This would all still make for an excellent game, but here’s the biggest problem: The game is immensely repetitive! Sure, rail shooters in general aren’t very well known for their diversity, and with its two-player mode and the nice presentation Cadillacs and Dinosaurs starts out very promising. The problem is that most of the levels look the same. For the first six out of the nine total levels, you are driving around the exact same surroundings. While the cut scenes show you deserts, volcanoes or a poacher’s base, none of that show up during the actual gameplay. You constantly drive around the same jungle roads, only that with every level a new type of enemy or obstacle (a new dinosaur, falling boulders or poachers that shoot at you) appears. Only in the final three levels the game presents a change in scenery (a laboratory inside a giant volcano), where the graphics get somewhat reminiscent of Sewer Shark. You no longer drive the Cadillac but are now literally on rails, and both players get to shoot stuff. This change in your environment is too little, too late, and so the presentation (and with it the motivation of the player) suffers in the long run.
Overall, the game can be summed up like this: Awesome cinematics and very nice graphics, but very repetitive and relentless. A change in scenery every second level or so would have helped this game immensely. One wonders why the developers invested some much love and detail into the cut scenes and atmosphere but decided to cut corners when it came to the level design artwork. Still, if you find it cheap or are a fan of the genre, I’d recommend checking this one out. It’s one of the better rail shooters out there, and definitely the best game in the Rocket Science Games library. Oh, I almost forgot. Always remember to wear your seatbelt! I guess Jack and Hannah would survive more accidents if they heeded that advice…