Review by MTLH
"A failed experiment."
Jurassic Park was the kind of film that simply couldn't have failed. When it stormed into cinemas in 1993, it did so with a hype the size of a Tyrannosaur. Spielberg, Crichton, dinosaurs and the latest in special effects resulted in a commercial behemoth that spawned two sequels and the always continuing speculation of yet another one. And you know what, that first film was actually pretty damn good.
Naturally, the film's merchandising also included games. Whereas the Nintendo machines received various top down shooters published by Ocean, Sega published a different, more platform orientated version for it's consoles. These first games where generally quite good, quite a feat for a licensed title. In the years since, the franchise has spawned many games ranging from first person shooters to management titles and even an one on one fighter. The latest attempt comes from Telltale Games, a studio known for it's point and click adventures and it's serialised distribution model. Released towards the end of 2011, Jurassic Park: The Game has proven to be somewhat of a departure for the studio. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen.
Jurassic Park looks less cartoony than Telltale's regular output. The visuals aim for realism to a degree and the results are mixed. The game's stars, like in the films, are the dinosaurs and they look quite good initially. Detailing is great and these extinct animals look convincing and imposing, at least when they aren't moving around too much. As long as they limit themselves to small, understated motions everything looks fine. When they attempt anything more grand, like a fight for example or running, than the animation becomes wooden and strangely artificial. The Tyrannosaurus Rex forms a curious exception though, leading to the slightly silly notion that the developer put all it's resources into her and apparently didn't have much left for the other creatures.
The human cast fares even less well than the dinosaurs. Facial animation, usually a highlight with Telltale, looks odd with expressions that often don't quite match the emotions they are meant to convey. Other types of animation, as with the dinosaurs, falter when the movements become more elaborate. Grabbing a knife, for example, or pushing a button works well enough while walking, running or diving comes off as stilted and off. The quality of the detailing is uneven with clothing looking generally fine for example while a beard looks like someone has smudged his chin with mud.
Environments are a mixed bunch. Interiors are generally fine, if a bit simple, while the outdoor locations look sparse and occasionally even quite ugly. Think of flat green and brown surfaces with the occasional strip of green pixels meant to represent a plant placed on top and you're not far of the mark. Sure, there is the odd exception, like the jungle around Nedry's wreck at the beginning of the game or the water scenes later on, but they are few and far between.
All in all, Jurassic Park's visuals are competent and can at times even look pleasant but their level of quality is just too uneven. Even worse, they just lack the grandeur of the films, coming over as a low budget television production when compared to the big budget films. This is a shame as Telltale's previous offering, Back to the Future, really nailed the mood of that trilogy of films. Jurassic Park also shows that the engine used by Telltale isn't really suited for full on realism as that style can't cover up it's deficiencies as well as a more cartoony or comic style can.
The soundtrack seems to have been mostly inspired by the film and it works well enough. It enhances the game's atmosphere without imposing itself too much. The sound effects are workmanlike except for the dinosaur calls which sound great. Voice acting is generally good despite some voices sounding a bit off during the first episode.
The game follows the exploits of several survivors of the events depicted in the first film and initially also runs concurrently with it. The group consists of the park's chief veterinarian with his daughter, a woman sent in to retrieve the dinosaur embryos stolen by Nedry in the film, a group of mercenaries sent to pick up any survivors and a scientist with a grudge against InGen. Together they must try to evade the roaming reptiles and make it to safety.
The game manages to emulate the vibe of the film admirably. That is due to the combination of adventure, action, suspense and a bickering cast but also because of several small nods and references, such as raptors opening doors for example or the wrecked visitors centre. The characters are reasonably fleshed out, managing to be a bit more than caricatures. Even so, a few do seem all too ready to act out of character for little to no reason. The game's tone is considerably more serious than Telltale's previous output, as also evidenced by the many grizzly death scenes after screwing something up, and Telltale handles it surprisingly well.
Jurassic Park tries to be a point and click adventure and does contain the perquisite characteristics. The player can explore, examine, collect and converse and there are puzzles to solve. However, the manner in which this is done is quite constrained and takes some getting used to.
For starters, each scene is divided into several smaller parts, usually the size of the screen with a little leeway beyond it. Hotspots are clearly marked but can only be activated when they are more or less centred on the screen. The game decides if an object should be picked up, used or simply be remarked upon. Moving to another part of the scene means accessing a menu from which another viewpoint can be selected. This interface is streamlined but will eventually feel claustrophobic because the player is almost literally boxed in.
But what about the puzzles? Well, Jurassic Park does have a few and most revolve around manipulating items and cooperating with other characters. An example from the first episode sees two characters in a car having to close a gate. This involves removing a dinosaur from the road and activating a mechanism. These objectives are achieved by switching between the two after one of them has left the vehicle, using the car's horn and lights and one character giving instructions to the other. A later example sees the group working together to chase some dinosaurs out of their pen using sounds. These kind of puzzles are in principle quite smart, combining teamwork with an insight of how a certain system works and actually manage to make the enclosed interface work in their favour. Unfortunately this interface also ensures that the puzzles never become more complicated than the examples given.
Special mention should be made about the conversation system. Depending on the point of view of the character onscreen, this system offers several options each of which is directed to another specific person. it can also be something the characters murmurs to itself which can reveal a clue. This system works but can also be awkward at times. Later in the game for example, the veterinarian and the scientist have a discussion in which the player can choose the responses, essentially letting him have a conversation with himself.
So Jurassic Park has the hallmarks of a point and click adventure. Unfortunately it isn't one at it's core. You see, Telltale probably thought that since the film has it's fair share of action the game should have it's due too, hence the introduction of quick time events. These amount to simple reaction tests where prompts appear onscreen which have to be copied. A character may for example be fleeing from several dinosaurs and it becomes the player's task to make him evade the obstacles on his path to shelter. Pressing up to jump over a rock for example, rapidly hammering a button to speed him up or trying to keep a dot in the centre of a mark to help him keep his nerves in check. These segments dominate the game, keep the pace high and add some tension to what otherwise would have been a typically sedate experience. Pure blooded point and click adventures don't tend to lend themselves al that well to high octane thrill rides.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with these quick time events. Their implementation seems awkward at certain points, with a character sprinting, jumping and ducking across the terrain on his or her own before suddenly needing to be prompted to do so. Prompt also don't always correspond so neatly with the required action which can make these sequences feel detached. These issues can make these action segments seem redundant and pointless. Another problem is that the reaction speed required by the prompts can vary quite wildly, being very lenient one time and unforgiving another. There are also situations where missing a prompt, sometimes even a few in a row, doesn't have any consequences while at other times the slightest mistake leads to death. This gives the impression that these sections are a bit arbitrary at times. Fortunately failure only means being set back to the beginning of the event.
The game can be controlled through the mouse and keyboard combination or a gamepad. It becomes pretty clear that the game was designed primarily around the second option seeing that it works best. Playing the game with a mouse and keyboard makes the experience cumbersome. As mentioned previously, moving between scenes is done through a menu. This simply works more smoothly with a gamepad because it negates the need to move a pointer around. The same also applies to using hotspots and following prompts. The gamepad's button layout is just more comfortable and intuitive for this game. The interface may be limiting but it is at least controlled without much trouble.
Jurassic Park may be episodic but was released as a single item. As such, it was a strange decision to maintain it's episodic nature. If Telltale had called the four parts chapters instead and edited them together, Jurassic Park: The Game would have been just that, a single and unified game. However the situation, releasing the episodes at the same time was probably for the best, seeing that the whole experience lasts for about six hours which would have been ridiculously short when spread over four separate parts. It isn't particularly long anyway but at least it doesn't outstay it's welcome with puzzles that are too easy and action segments that rely above all on remembering patterns.
As mentioned in the introduction, Telltale tried to do something different with Jurassic Park: The Game. It is certainly more action orientated than their usual output as well as more streamlined. This results in the gratuitous use of quick time events and an interface that is designed to get the point and click adventure parts out of the way as quickly as possible so they don't hinder the pace too much. The game resembles an interactive movie and is only a little more involved than ancient titles such as Space Ace or Dragon's Lair.
At least the story this approach serves is pleasant enough. It manages to capture some of the magic of the film and offers both action and some decent characterisation. There are a few issues with how they seem to spontaneous change their minds on several occasions though but it is nothing that seriously harms the plot. It's more serious tone is a surprise when taking Telltale's previous games into account but they pull it of well. Unfortunately the presentation could have been better with the quality of the visuals being too uneven but that is something is can just about life with.
As it stands, Jurassic Park: The Game can be considered a failed experiment. It offers something for those that have fond memories of the films but even they are bound to be disappointed. Telltale tried, I truly believe that, but fans of the film are better served by the games that where released at the time of the film.
OVERALL: a 5,0.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 07/23/12
Game Release: Jurassic Park: The Game (EU, 11/16/11)
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