Review: Jurassic Park: The Game

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I fondly remember reading the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park during my sophomore year in high school.  At the time it was a novel that opened my mind to contemporary fiction, chaos theory, and rekindled my childhood love of dinosaurs.  As a kid, who didn’t love dinosaurs?  The idea of being able to genetically recreate ancient lizards and put them on display as a sort of zoo/amusement park made the little kid inside me giddy.  Upon reading the horrors that transpire due to human greed, lack of understanding, and unintentional consequences, I’m happy that dinosaurs are indeed an ancient relic of Earth and not in fact a modern amusement park.

Obviously the fascination of a dino amusement park has caught the attention of the world over as the book spawned three movies and several video games. The current franchise owners have spared no expense to capitulate the growth of the series, as evident by the Jurassic Park Trilogy recently being released on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as the new Telltale game, Jurassic Park: The Game.  Instead of continuing the story at the end of the third movie, the latest from Telltale Games pits the story alongside the events of the original movie.

The game starts off focusing on Nima, a mercenary hired to meet up with Nedry (the greedy nerd who basically was the reason the whole island spiraled into chaos in the first place) to retrieve the shaving cream canister filled with dinosaur embryos.  To grab the player’s attention, Nima’s tale begins in the middle, after things have already gone horribly wrong, and she struggles to get through a dark, rain-soaked, dinosaur-filled jungle.  Cut to Gerry Harding, one of the vets on the island, and his young teen daughter, Jess, who is visiting as a sort of “tough love” trip to scare her out of the lying and stealing lifestyle that she has started down.

Let me stop for a minute.  If for a minute, such an island actually existed, where dinosaurs were living, and I happened to work on it, I can without a doubt say there is no way EVER that I would bring my kids on a “bring your kid to work day” sort of event.  All of the employees of InGen (the company behind the Jurassic Park amusement park) have hinted at seeing brutal deaths at the hands of dinosaurs.  There is no doubt in my mind that bringing a kid to the island is just a disaster waiting to happen.  Of course this sort of parent child tension is employed for storytelling, but as a parent in the real world, I would never let it happen.  Okay, back to the review.

Events collide to bring Nima and Harding and his daughter together, grudgingly working as a team to try and find a way to radio for help once they realize that the rest of the island has evacuated during the storm which raged at the beginning of the game.  Add to the mix a couple of commandos hired by InGen to find Harding as well as one additional scientist trapped on the island, and Telltale has a soup of characters stewing and bubbling away ready to expand on the original Crichton story.  Tensions rise between the commandos and Nima (an obvious non-InGen employee) about a partially alluded to past. Harding wants to be a dad to his daughter, Jess, even though he is never around.  Sorkin, the scientist that the commandos were sent to rescue, has a past that foreshadows her actions toward the later half of the game.  The final component to the volatile mix of a story is the reason why anyone would play the game, and that is of course, the dinosaurs.  T-Rex, velociraptors, dilophosaurus, as well as a few new surprises, grace the game to add peril and humor and tell a tale that is worthy of being a true sequel to the first movie.

Can a richly detailed story make for a good game, or simply a frustrating interactive movie?  There is a fine line drawn between game and interactive movie throughout most of the experience.  On screen prompts quickly become the focal point of the game and sadly detract from the experience.  I could always tell when the game was in fact becoming a game as a little gold dinosaur icon would appear in the upper right corner of the screen.  Miss a Quick Time Event (QTE) prompt and the icon changed to a silver icon. Miss the QTE two more times and silver is replaced with bronze.  The QTEs in the game at times felt relevant to the actions on screen, for instance pulling the character up one arm at a time required alternating left and right bumper buttons on the controller to signify left and right arm pull ups.  Holding down the right bumper and then swirling one of the analog sticks to emulate swinging a pipe also felt almost real.

There are several times when the interactive button prompts felt forced or completely unnecessary. For example, stealth walking.  Button icons slowly fill in color and at the correct moment, a button press means walking stealthily.  Missing a button press meant my character walked too loudly even though there was no indication on screen that the character walked any differently than if I had correctly timed my button press.  Of course poor timing meant a dinosaur heard my character and I was met with one or two choices.  The first choice would be to frantically press even more QTE button prompts in the hopes that my character could survive the encounter.  The second choice was instant death.  Instant death then meant having to replay some sections again.  Several times.

I don’t have a problem with quick time events in games.  But creating an entire game around that mechanic just isn’t that fun.  Or perhaps the options for when I did miss my timing were just not there so that my actions felt inconsequential regardless if I did them correct or not.  Heavy Rain never punished the player for missing an action directly, the game simply allowed a different avenue to travel down.  Sadly, Jurassic Park does not veer from the rigid path and thus feels punitive whenever a mistake is made.

When the game isn’t presenting QTEs as a means for progress, puzzles are the other option to keep the story moving.  Observation of the environment is the main way to find and interact with objects.  Control is only given to moving the camera to pan across a given scene and various objects will light up with either a magnifying glass, a hand, or a talking cartoon bubble.  Interacting with an object gives basically a go/no-go option to move forward.  If the answer to a puzzle isn’t completely obvious, a trial and error mixing of objects makes short work of the puzzles and allows the story to move forward.

Aside from the poorly executed gameplay, the other problem I have with the game are the characters themselves.  Each group of characters is introduced in their own little vignette and taken on their own, the characters are mostly interesting.  As the story progresses and all of the characters come together to try and get off the island, their personalities blur into a giant puddle of indifference and contempt.  The only reason I wanted to finish the game was to see just who and how anyone (if any at all) survived.

Spare yourself the expense of buying this game.  Unless you enjoy quick time events, the game burdens a decent story with gameplay elements that are ill fitting, repetitive and overall frustrating.  Some moments are truly fun and interesting, but the overall experience is one that only a true die-hard Jurassic Park fan would cherish or enjoy.

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Pros:
+ Lots of dinosaurs
+ John Williams iconic music returns

Cons:
– Frustrating, repetitive quick time events
– Puzzles that can be solved by trial and error
– Unlikable characters

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC; also available for PS3, Xbox 360 and Mac
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 11/15/2011
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.