“Become a Real Paleontologist,” the first sentence of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter’s Steam page audaciously claims, as though one might immediately receive the requisite qualifications and interest in the calcified remains of prehistoric life needed for such a career upon installation. If you already happen to have an interest in prehistoric life, however, you’ll likely find Dinosaur Fossil Hunter a fun but forgettable experience: an occasionally endearing but frequently mundane take on a screenwriter’s idea of paleontology.
It isn’t a matter of palaeontological realism that’s the issue here, though, but an opposite problem: the nature of the discipline has given rise to a game structure that is predisposed to becoming tedious, one which opts to explore a paleontologist’s entire life in meandering detail. The early game, for example, masquerades as an insight into our protagonist’s growing love of dinosaurs during their childhood, but ultimately proves to be little more than shallow exercises in padding out the game’s opening using simplified versions of later mechanics.
This is an issue that extends to the rest of the game in some regard, as almost every step of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter’s primary gameplay loop feels significantly slower than it needs to. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll drive to excavation sites, set up camp, scan for geological oddities, dig for fossils, clean them and then eventually send your discoveries back to a museum which you can build out and decorate. There’s some fun to be had with all this, especially if you enjoy quiet, methodical processes. If the intricacies of plastering and dusting fossils aren’t something you crave in your games, however, you assuredly won’t enjoy this.
It took a while before Dinosaur Fossil Hunter really ‘clicked’ for me in any capacity. Unfortunately this ‘click’ was a limited one, but this is indeed a game that has a solid and entertaining foundation. For the first couple of excavations, getting a hang of the mechanics makes for a novel experience. Unfortunately, it eventually reached an indeterminable point where it all started to feel rather dry and mechanical. By its very nature, the palaeontological adventures of the game seem destined to become repetitive. For all of the excavating and skeleton assembly, there aren’t enough variables in these to keep things interesting into the games later hours.
This isn’t aided by the presentation of the game, which is filled to the brim with merely serviceable models and environments in the absence of particularly creative art direction. The audio design also leaves a lot to be desired: when anything can be heard, it doesn’t do really enhance gameplay: Early on, I encountered a bug that meant alt-tabbing out of the game in any way cut the audio completely, meaning when I returned to the game after taking notes, I returned to digging in silence. There was something eerie about this that is difficult to describe. If you’re going to take the plunge with Dinosaur Fossil Hunter, I highly recommend bringing your own soundtrack.
The limitless, long-term experience that is common to simulator games is certainly present here, though packaged in what feels like a linear experience, to begin with. There’s an unfolding backstory for the titular protagonist and a loose set of objectives for perfecting your museum, but ultimately the game can extend vastly beyond this structure if you wish to find all of the available fossils. You could spend many hours digging for and plastering fossils to find them all, and that’s before you even start cleaning them in the lab.
Unfortunately, the fossil cleaning process is where Dinosaur Fossil Hunter could test the patience of even the world’s finest paint-drying observation scholars. The developers seem to be at least partially aware of this fact, as it will allow you to skip some of this process by throwing the responsibility onto an invisible ‘museum staff’ NPC. Ultimately, all this does is leave you to watch a progress bar while the NPC does the work that you (perhaps fairly) didn’t want to do, and you can’t really do anything other than more fossil cleaning while you wait, meaning the ongoing tedium of this task is something of an inevitably. This is definitively the worst part of the Dinosaur Fossil Hunter experience, and whilst it might be authentic, it certainly doesn’t make for a consistently compelling video game.
Dinosaur Fossil Hunter Review | Final Thoughts
Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is really at its best when you’re doing exactly that: hunting fossils, but I’d be lying if I said that even that doesn’t wear thin. There’s too much about the game that is simply unengaging or in some cases - not polished enough - to firmly recommend it. For every aspect of the game that flirts with the promise of being good, there are several more that hold it back from potential greatness.
There’s an extent to which we might look at Dinosaur Fossil Hunter and suggest that this game is going to be received affectionately by a very specific type of person. Based on the Steam pages, there are many eagerly awaiting the chance to dig up prehistoric bones. If you long to break rocks and assemble skeletons, there’s certainly something to enjoy here - just don’t expect to discover anything else monumental buried within.
TechRaptor reviewed Dinosaur Fossil Hunter on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Relaxing mechanical foundation
- Wide variety of fossils to collect
- Some amount of gameplay variety
- The tasks become repetitive very quickly
- Dull visual and audio presentation
- Game padded with a strange intro sequence