Dino Frontier is a tabletop-scale VR simulation that lets players build their own Wild West city in a world infested with dinosaurs. This strange idea comes from developer Uber Entertainment, the team behind Monday Night Combat, Planetary Annihilation, and the PlayStation VR launch title, Wayward Sky.
Uber had a playable version of Dino Frontier on hand at this year’s PlayStation Experience in Anaheim, CA, and I had the chance to put the game through its paces, finding it to be remarkably simple, yet loaded with potential. After putting on the PlayStation VR headset, I was surprised to see the world has a pop-up book quality to it. It isn’t that big, but it still manages to deliver a sense of considerable scale when you see just how small the settlement and characters are within it. The player lords over this terrain like a god, similar in a way to Peter Molyneux’s Black & White and Populous titles.
Two PlayStation Move controllers are used to bring your hands into the world. When you click the trigger buttons, you see your hands make grabbing motions. There isn’t much to the gameplay outside of grabbing things, but that simplicity works well to a degree. When the game begins you see a small settlement with one person aimlessly wandering around it. The first goal is to put him to work; a task that simply asks you to pick him up and drop him into the lone building. He then becomes a woodsman who will chop down trees to gather enough resources to build another building. His efforts produce a saloon, which attracts a handful of other people to settle in the town. The next task is to keep them well fed. This means we have to hunt down dinosaurs. Placing them in the market turns them into hunters, armed with rifles. While the characters are semi-autonomous, you will have to place a waypoint on the map leading to the type of dinosaur you want them to harvest. To do this, you simply have to grab the flag from the city and place it at the nest, and the hunters will move there.
I had them hunt a pack of raptors. The battle was completely automated, but animated nicely. I lost a few soldiers, but new recruits joined the fray quickly, and the raptors were soon turned into meat. I then tamed a handful of raptors to turn them into mounts, which produces a stronger troop type. This new platoon was used to hunt a tyrannosaurs rex. Again, the battle didn’t last long, but I did get a kick out of seeing the T. Rex pick up and fling its food into the air.
Outside of grabbing things, the only interaction players have with the world at this point is zooming in and scrolling along it. These actions are easily handled by pressing two buttons on both controllers simultaneously and moving the arms outward to expand, or inward to zoom. Scrolling is handled by clicking one button and making a pulling motion to move along the terrain. The game world was so small that neither action was needed, per se, but I did use the zoom function to get a closer look at the battles.
Representatives of Uber’s development team tell me that the world will get slightly bigger as the game goes on, and there are more formidable foes than the T. Rex, such as bandits riding T.Rexes.
Dino Frontier’s concept is silly and the gameplay is amusing, but I worry about its depth and variety. It clearly shows that simulations are a good fit for VR, but I immediately wanted to have more interaction in the world. I felt a little too much like a voyeur for most of my demo. Uber doesn’t have a release date to announce yet, but did tell me that it’ll be out at some point in 2017. Here’s hoping the final build offers more simulation elements than I saw in this brief tease.