Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is a paleontology simulation game by Pyramid Games and PlayWay where you get to live out your dreams of being a paleontologist, searching for dinosaur fossils, excavating them, sorting, and cleaning the bones and rearranging them for display in a museum. Pyramid Games ran a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2020 which is when I played an alpha demo of the game. Now two years on, the game has released version 2.1 and I have dived back in to see how the game has progressed since those early days.
There is an introductory sequence of a connect-the-dots drawing, walking, and finding your first fossil and piecing together some model dinosaurs to set the undertones of the game. The excitement inside me built with childhood memories of learning about dinosaurs. The mechanics of these simple sequences gives you the fundamentals for the main gameplay loops later. The fully voice acted sequence explains that you found a newspaper article about a paleontological group who were advertising some work in the north of the country. You took a risk and signed up for the job and were accepted.
The prologue section of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter acts as a tutorial area. You start by driving a 4WD vehicle, navigating your way from a warehouse to a nearby dig site. This felt a little but like a clunky Mud Runner as you negotiated terrain, having to hop out to chop a fallen log with a chainsaw and removing large boulders with a pickaxe to clear the road, and using 4WD mode to get through muddy sections. Once at the dig site, you stake out your claim and begin searching on foot using a scanning device, looking for any blips below the surface. Once you find something worth searching, you use a shovel to carefully dig and expose rocks. Using another scanning device, it will mark the rocks as rubbish or ones containing a fossil.
Holding these fossilised rocks up for inspection, you confirm the presence of bones and then spray the fossil rocks in foam to ensure it stays in-tact. After collecting three fossil-containing rocks, you load them into containers and strap them to your car, then drive back to the warehouse. It is here where you enter production mode with several stations to work at. First you need to place one of the foam-covered rocks into a container, then cut off the plaster and chip the rock away from the bones. Once all bone fragments have been uncovered, they are moved to a table where they need to be meticulously and laboriously cleaned.
Back in the 2020 demo of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter, these cleaning steps took an extremely long time, more time than should be required for a video game. I completely understand that in real life, the cleaning and preparation of the fossils/bones would be an extremely delicate operation. Thankfully, feedback seems to have been taken on board and each step in the process is much quicker. It’s not so quick that the process is superfluous, but enough to understand the intricacies of the methods that real paleontologists would use.
I was also very thankful to see they have added an option to let an employee work on a foam-covered rock for you. This takes a small amount of game time, but I was pleased that it took less time for the employee to work on a section as it did for me to do the third piece in real time. Once you complete the prologue, you will then need to level up to earn some skill points and you can start hiring and specialising employees for use in the lab or in the field operating a drone.
Once you have cleaned all bone pieces within a designated segment, you can take that segment and build the skeleton of the relevant dinosaur for the task. Once the full skeleton has been built, it is added to your collection, and you can transition to the museum display area. Depending on the size of the museum and the dinosaur fossils required from the quest/task, you will be able to lay out the museum displays the way you want. You can add decorations into the display cabinet to add a bit more effect and then you’re done for that task.
The overarching story is that your grandfather has left his old work shed to you, which is a common theme in these simulation games. A similar story was found in Ranch Simulator and Way of the Hunter, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, but I can see others dismissing it. Once you complete the prologue, which involved travelling to a quarry and looking for fossils of your second dinosaur discovery, you will be given control of your own museum to run as you see fit.
At first, it’s quite labour intensive. You need to drive to the quarry and start searching for fossils. You are given three crates to use initially, and once these are full you need to load them onto your truck and then use a laptop to call in drones to drop off three more crates. You must drive the truck back to the office, start to clean and assemble the first section of the new dinosaur, and then head back to the quarry to excavate and transport the next three crates worth.
During this time, you are gaining experience and can start specialising your character in things like a better digging and rock cutting, giving you a wider search area and so on. You can also start to hire and specialise employees and once you’re at this point, things get moving more efficiently. There are even fossils that will be at the bottom of pools of water, so you will need to use a generator and pump to get rid of most of the water, and then use a dredge to dig the wet soil. It reminded me of Gold Rush on Discovery Channel, only this time it’s for fossils.
Overall, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is exactly what I was looking for to be a virtual paleontologist. I’m very please to see the steps involved are technical but not dragged out like the initial alpha demo. Being able to add employees to automate fossil cleaning while you’re in the field is a godsend and you’re soon running your own museum as you see fit.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by the Pyramid Games and Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is out now on Steam.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis