Spare no expense: Orion: Dino Horde is a one-dollar bargain

The only true way to solve a paleontological argument is a fight to the death.

My money’s on the ectotherm. (But which one’s that?)

I noticed over the weekend Spiral Game Studios had slashed the price of its multiplayer FPS Orion: Dino Horde from $14.99 to a mere $0.99. That’s 93% off the cover price, a marked discount even in this age of Steam sales. I first balked at the wretched 36/100 Metacritic score before eventually taking the plunge. For just a dollar, how bad could it be?

The answer is: not nearly as bad as Metacritic would have you believe. In fact it’s quite good; easily worth double its present score. I tried it out with a friend on Sunday and we played for six hours without even meaning to. It’s the closest I’ve come to living out my boyhood Dino-Riders fantasies.

The premise is straightforward: humans; dinosaurs; fight! My friend and I played survival mode, which is co-op base defense with a few twists (occasionally you have to go on the offensive). Between rounds of dinosaur onslaught you can buy new weapons, upgrade your augmentations or scour the map for vehicles.

The whole experience is grounded by good shooting mechanics, interesting dinosaur varieties and the constant intrigue of which new gun or augmentation to try next. There are nine other modes beyond survival, which are all just icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth, and I’ve just scratched the surface.

Read on for a recap of the game’s sordid history, my suggestions how to make the most of it, and a trailer. If you’re already sold on it, the aforementioned $0.99 sale is good for another two days.

...and to carry a minigun.

I tried telling that fool Muldoon to wear his power armor…

When Orion: Dino Horde was released in 2012 under the name Orion: Dino Beatdown, critics shredded it like a pack of raptors at lunch. It was unplayably bug-ridden, limited in scope, and derivative. Two years and innumerable updates later, it’s still fairly derivative, but the execution is much improved and there are zounds more game modes, maps, and dinosaur types.

You’d never guess from forum discussions that the game had ameliorated to such an extent. The conversations tend to revolve around the infamy of Spiral Game Studios and its CEO David Prassel. Prassel has responded publicly to such questions as: why did you fire some of the Orion team after your successful 2011 Kickstarter campaign? Did you plagiarize art assets from other games? Did you change the game’s name in an attempt to dodge your poor Metacritic rating? These questions aired openly–whether justified or not, satisfactorily answered or not–turn everyone into partisans, making it awfully tough to tell whether the game itself is any good.

Good though Orion: Dino Horde is, here are some ways to make it better:

  • Play with friends. The few public games I tried made me weep for humanity. Like any other multiplayer shooter, everything depends on the people with whom you play.
  • Turn down the music. It’s way too loud by default. It’s not as though the music obscures an inspired soundscape or anything, but you do need to be able to concentrate, and ideally to conduct voice chat.
  • If you play survival mode, do yourself a favor and set the starting credits to the maximum 5,000. Maybe things get easier with more players, but my friend and I had our hands full on medium difficulty. We lost more games than we won.
  • There’s a really painful slow-mo effect that kicks in at the worst moments. I got tired of slow-motion about halfway through Max Payne, and it has no business whatsoever in a multiplayer FPS in 2014. It’s one of the poorest design elements in the game, but luckily you can toggle it off.
  • Pick the assault class if you have any sense. The jetpack is invaluable for escaping up onto the cliff faces and for surviving whenever a swooping pteranodon drops you from on high. Plus, jetpack!

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