Dino Crisis features a game system similar to the Resident Evil titles that were previously released. The player controls Regina, a member of the special forces team that is sent to investigate an isolated military facility that became infested with time-displaced dinosaurs as a result of a top-secret experiment. Because the enemies in the game are dinosaurs rather than undead creatures, Capcom promoted Dino Crisis as a "survival panic" in contrast to Resident Evil's survival horror label.
Unlike Resident Evil, which featured polygonal characters and objects superimposed over prerendered backgrounds, the main graphics in Dino Crisis are fully polygonal, although the camera follows the player from fixed angles much like in Resident Evil. The player's actions are also performed similarly to Resident Evil, with differences such as being able to aim a gun and move at the same time, while quick turning is assigned to a specific button. Other differences include tranquilizer rounds that can be used in place of live ammunition for certain weapons and the use of hemostats in order to prevent Regina's injuries from leaving a trail of blood that can be smelled by predators if her injuries are left untreated. Regina can also use several laser shutters scattered throughout the facility to prevent the dinosaurs from following her. There are also "danger events" in which the player must fend off a dinosaur attacking Regina by rapidly pressing any of the action buttons.