With virtual reality, we can sometimes forget what’s important about video games: having fun. Don’t get me wrong, Sony’s PlayStation VR is a landmark piece of tech, but it often feels like the creators it attracts lean on immersion alone to carry their games instead of clever design work. Dino Frontier from Uber Entertainment (Planetary Annihilation, Monday Night Combat) definitely bucks this trend. Instead of adapting an existing genre to suit VR, it’s clearly been built from the ground up, cherry-picking a myriad of elements and blending them into something casual yet engrossing. There’s some Age of Empires in there, some Harvest Moon, some Clash of Clans, and a bit of Plants vs. Zombies too.
What you see is what you get with Dino Frontier. As mayor of a newly christened mound of dirt, you’re tasked with gathering resources, constructing buildings, and managing what will soon become a thriving town. Beyond the fringes of your frontier lies a wilderness teeming with untamed dinosaurs, but you’ll also have to deal with other threats that include bandit attacks and simply failing to monitor the needs of your settlers.
It eases players in with a steady flow of basic objectives. Those first several minutes with Dino Frontier will be spent accruing wood, meat, and berries to feed your townsfolk and give them shelter. Assigning orders is as simple as picking someone up and dropping them next to the building or object you want to interact with. With a Move controller in each hand it’s surprisingly accurate, letting you position and command workers with relative ease.
It’s something a little rudimentary, yet the way it controls is perhaps Dino Frontier’s trump card. Using both hands allows you to pan, twist, and zoom the camera in a way that feels natural, thanks to a simple combination of gestures and button presses. Placing structures, picking up settlers, and navigating menus is just as easy, though Dino Frontier is admittedly smaller and more streamlined than your typical strategy or management games.
After learning the ropes, further layers are added on top introducing new systems and objectives. For example, you’ll soon discover that each settler has stat guages for happiness, hunger, health, and tiredness. With dinosaurs and bandits lurking around the outskirts of town, Dino Frontier has you spinning more than just a couple of plates, yet never feels overwhelming.
The progression arc here is both steady and rewarding, doling out new perks and bonuses to help expand your town and even automate some of the more tedious labours. This is done by upgrading the various structures you build as well as capturing specific dinos. From start to finish, the full game spans roughly ten hours – more, depending on your approach.
While some may want to blitz through, crossing off one mission after the next, others will want to train settlers, optimise resources and mess around within the frontier. However, when I did hit the end credits, there was nothing left for me to do besides scoop up one or two miscellaneous trophies. Sure, you can start a new game, but you’d be treading the exact same path.
Although managing your settlements becomes the overriding focus, visiting the nearby Bandit King’s lair offers a welcome change in pace. Here, you’ll mine iron and gold while fending off waves of incoming enemies. The longer you survive, the bigger your haul, so there’s an incentive to think tactically, spending resources on sniper nests, turrets and decoys.
If Uber had stretched Dino Frontier just that little bit further, adding some kind of longevity beyond its ten-hour playtime, it would be a must-have for PlayStation VR. Still, there are few games using Sony’s tech that can boast the same balance of immersion and fun. Where I’ve often felt exhaustion or relief as I take the VR visor from my head, playing Dino Frontier always left me with a smile on my face.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro