If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed from my childhood, (and let’s face it, not a lot has) it would be my unabiding love for the gigantic, scaly things we call dinosaurs. Like most kids, I was enthralled with these odd-looking beasts and when Jurassic Park came out in 1993, I was absolutely terrified of them. But if you’re like me and couldn’t get enough of the mayhem those dinosaurs created, then you’ll most likely find something of worth in Jurassic Park: The Game, if nothing more than itching a particular dinosaur-related scratch for a number of hours.
The story picks up right where the original movie left off, Hammond and company have left the island, but a few people are still stuck there for various reasons. The biggest of those reasons being the iconic can of Barbasol shaving cream buried underneath a small mudslide thanks to computer genius Nedry. You know… the fat guy in the yellow jacket who got eaten by the poison-spitting dinosaur. Anyway, the game starts with a couple of shady-looking people on the docks waiting in vain for him to arrive with the dinosaur embryos. Eventually, they get fed up with waiting and sneak off the docks in search of their meal ticket. Also in the mix is a father and daughter duo, an aggrieved scientist and a couple of badass mercenaries on a sort of rescue mission. Things happen, people meet, etc., but the common thread is, of course, trying not to get eaten by dinosaurs.
From the onset, the game is much different than any of the other Telltale Games titles. Telltale almost single-handedly revived the adventure genre with the resuscitation of Sam and Max about five years ago and they have the formula down. They decided to change things up here though, using a modern concept to drive the game mechanics. You never really control a character in the game, rather you are in control of “scenes” within the game and with the click of a button, you can switch between scenes and characters to get a full grasp of any given situation. One half of the mechanics has you using the arrow keys to pan the screen around as you look for clues, choose dialogue options to engage the characters and anything else you can do to advance the scene. The other half plays like a series of quick-time events as you attempt to escape from the jaws of the island’s fiercest predators.
Panning around looking for clues is probably one of the most tedious things I’ve done in a game recently. The interaction options are minimal and sometimes feel completely unnecessary. Why do I have to click and drag my mouse four times on a primer pump when that is the only option available? Why not let me do it once and have the computer take over the rest like it usually does anyway? This makes what should be fun and engaging an exercise of frustration and a test of patience. It also takes away some of the sense of freedom and exploration of the game environment since it doesn’t really feel like there’s an environment, just a backdrop on which to click. As for the game’s puzzles, they are pretty straightforward and has players do things like arranging carts on a maintenence track or looking for clues to a password using paleontological dates. Unfortunately, for the most part all you’ll be doing is clicking the little magnifying glass icons until you stumble upon whichever one advances the scene, requiring little or no thought.
Now, all of that may sound offputting (and sometimes it really was) but the action part of the game made up for it in bounds. I played the crap out of Indigo Prophecy, so I don’t really have too much trouble with the “series of quick-time events as exciting stuff happens on screen” thing. Sure it can be a little repetitive, obtrusive and take your attention away from what’s actually happening on screen, but at least it feels more engaging than panning the screen. The game can get truly intense escaping death by dinosaur and you’ll find yourself in precarious situations requiring your full attention and quick reflexes. Ever been stuck in a car with the horn blaring as a raging mommy Triceratops charges at the offending noises as you desperately try to shut the vehicle off? Granted, all you can do is repeatedly press a few buttons to affect changes here, but that doesn’t matter. The intensity of the scene really pulls you in and you’ll root for the characters to escape. Some of the time, anyway. The myriad ways they’ll kill you are fun to watch and I definitely spent more than my fair share of time finding various ways to get the characters eaten. Without giving too much away, my favorite scene in the game was hunting down a lone Velociraptor through dimly lit corridors with nothing but a knife. The quick, darting moves of the dinosaur were chilling as I followed the killer beast, relying on my reflexes to hit the correct sequence of buttons in order to stay hidden. Even though the games mechanics meant that I had little actual control over the events of the scene, I couldn’t help but be drawn in because it was just directed so well.
By far, the best thing about the game is the dinosaurs. The graphics in the game are a bit of a departure for Tellale as well, since their games are usually heavily stylized and cartoonish. While the human characters still don’t quite have that photorealistic feel to them (their features are a bit exaggerated) the dinosaurs are spot on from the film. They look as sleek and deadly as ever, and when you fail to escape one or three of them, you’ll know it wasn’t a bluff. The sounds are taken straight from the film too, from the Velociraptors whooping, bird-like calls to the Dilophosaurus’s screeching yell and the T. Rex’s blood-congealing roar. The graphics engine is a bit out of date and you’ll see some crappy textures and stiff animations sometimes, but the overall effect creates an immersive enough world to appreciate the magesty of Earth’s long-departed rulers.
This game isn’t for everybody, especially those who like to be fully in control of the characters they’re playing, but patient fans of the Jurassic Park movies will find much to appreciate and have another reason to watch them yet again.
The Good: Dinosaurs look great and the kill scenes are cool. Action sequences can be really intense.
The Bad: Some boring and unnecessary puzzle mechanics. Moves really slowly at times.
The Ugly: Holy shit! Is the movie almost 20 years old now?