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Dino Frontier Review: Giant Cowboy Cop

I try to avoid mechanically explaining games in reviews, but Dino Frontier kind of necessitates it. This town builder from Wayward Sky developer Uber Entertainment doesn’t do a great job of instilling a sense of purpose in its early gameplay. Instead, it hastily drops you into its world and starts barking orders without giving you much reason as to why; there’s nothing to aspire to, no planned path of progression for you to obviously follow. It’s like you’ve woken up in the middle of a movie and have to catch up with what’s happening.

So let’s lay it out straight. In Dino Frontier, you’re the giant mayor of a new settlement that you’ll start building from scratch as soon as you hit go. You control the game with two Move controllers, picking up settlers and placing buildings. There aren’t any short term goals or levels; this town is the one you’ll stick with for the three or four hours of content waiting for you here. You’ll need to build new facilities, level up to expand the number of settlers you can hold, and eventually take on a bandit king that occasionally troubles your small community of friendly folks.

Oh yeah, and there are dinosaurs.

Dino Frontier earns its name by populating the small world in front of you (about the size of a pool table) with prehistoric beasts. They linger just outside your settlement, occasionally bothering any townsfolk that get too near. You’ll be able to buy lures that will bring out certain types of beasts that you then have to capture and tame. They’ll carry out jobs like fetching wood dropped by foragers, watering plants to bring them back to health, and fighting off bandits and other dinosaurs that get too close.

On paper it’s easy to love, and even in practise there’s enough charm to suggest the game might have been something special. The vibrant desert visuals are a joy to spend time in, and the Giant Cop-style thrill of picking up tiny humans is enhanced by their genuinely funny dialogue. It’s a lovely world, and I did really want to love Dino Frontier as a whole, but its jumbled progression and lack of depth stopped me from doing so.

The main game, for example, is simply far too easy. Outside of some early dashes for food, I didn’t even remotely struggle to keep my town from flourishing as workers busied themselves collecting wood and food.

There’s a missing layer of strategy here that could have made everything much deeper, and some elements suggest that that was the game Uber was originally going for. I love that individual townspeople have their own stats and leveling systems, for example, even if you can never really spot it making much of a difference. The game also allows you to build just one of every facility and train one of every dinosaur. There’s slight wiggle room for personalization in the order in which you upgrade buildings, but that’s about it.

The player doesn’t really have any agency; there’s little way to prioritize gathering a lot of food, say, when you can only build one dinosaur that gathers food dropped by foragers, and only one dinosaur that lays eggs. It makes the titular creatures largely inconsequential; often they’re just slowly doing a job you could do in seconds, only lightly reducing your juggling act. Why not strip back the natural resources and force me to deeply consider taming extra food-focused dinosaurs at the expense of more wood, for example? You’re simply following a linear path from one new building to the next.

Eventually, you’ll find your true calling; taking down the Bandit King, though even this initially seems like a side-mission at first. After building a wagon, you can take a handful of settlers on an entertaining tower-defense minigame in which you’ll have to balance mining for gold with holding off swarms of incoming bandits. The upgrades you make to weapons here are persistent, meaning you’re likely to improve every time to revisit the map to hold off the 20 waves. The pressure Dino Frontier piles on here is thrilling, even if there are a few rough spots in the map design.

Once you’ve beaten the first level you’ll unlock a similar minigame which, again, feels like a side-mission, but is actually the last mission in the entire game. As the credits rolled, I simply sat struggling to process why the game hadn’t asked more from me. It was like I was there just to watch it.

I also encountered several bugs that hadn’t been fixed by the time of publication. One saw an injured settler refuse to heal himself, making him entirely useless for the rest of the game, while towards the very end I encountered consistent game crashes that forced me to reset.

Dino Frontier has a great concept behind it and the foundations for an entertaining city-building game, but it never gets deep enough. The single town you’ll build provides very little room for personalization and the game is so easy that you’ll stroll through to its unexpected ending in no time. This feels like a concept demo for a much bigger and better experience, the one I suspect that Uber Entertainment first dreamed of when starting out. Sadly, Dino Frontier is far from being that game.

Dino Froniter is available now on PlayStation VR for $19.99. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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