Jurassic Park: The Game – Full Season Review
Game: Jurassic Park: The Game – Episode 1-4
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Available on: Windows PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (PlayStation 3 version reviewed)
As Weird Al Yankovic once rightly sang, “Jurassic Park is frightening in the dark, all the Dinosaurs are running wild.” That is the basic premise for the entire film series, and it remains so for the new episodic title, Jurassic Park: The Game, from Telltale Games, the studio that also brought us Back to the Future: The Game. The Jurassic Park franchise may have started almost twenty years ago, however there is still a strong fan following, what with a fourth film in the works as well as the recent re-release of the film trilogy on Blu-Ray. The Monster Movie is an ever-popular genre, but after such a long time what could the team do to make this Jurassic Park game a bit different from those in the past?
STORY: Welcome… to Jurassic Park. But this time, things are a bit unfamiliar. Rather than simply re-tread the footsteps of the film franchise, Telltale have wisely put together an original story that runs concurrently with events from the first Movie. This means of course that players won’t get to step back into the shoes of Dr Alan Grant or Ian Malcolm, but there are plenty of mentions of and references to elements from the film as you progress through the episodes so that the game feels familiar whilst still putting forward new scenarios and characters. There are two main storylines that players will become involved in, which both meet and intertwine as the game progresses.
Firstly, we are dropped straight into the aftermath of the actions of Dennis Nedry in the first film. Having stolen dinosaur embryos from InGen, Nedry planned to sell them off and make his fortune. However, through a combination of a tropical storm and a hungry Dilophosaurus, his plan failed and the canister of shaving cream that hid the embryos was lost in the forests of Isla Nublar – or so we thought. Gamers take control of a local Costa Rican (a lady called Nima) who has been hired to retrieve the embryos if Nedry didn’t come through, and to find that elusive Barbasol can. Sneaking onto the island, this mercenary has got herself more than she bargained for when she discovers the island is populated by dinosaurs. The second story involves the park veterinarian and his daughter who has come to visit the park. The two attempt to send her back home on the ferry, but come up against the same problems that afflict the other survivors on the island, as well as a group of mercenaries sent to clean up the mess.
The story and atmosphere is where the game really shines. Throughout the experience, you really feel like you are playing through an authentic Jurassic Park Movie. The team at Telltale have done a fantastic job of pacing the action and the set-pieces so that there is a palpable feeling of tension in the title. OK, it will come and go when the pace slows, but when action reaches fever-pitch, the game really ramps up the intensity and makes you panic like you are actually involved in the film. And when the group discovers that there is a new, and deadly, breed of dinosaur on the loose, that no-one had bargained for, things really start to get hairy.
GRAPHICS: The graphics in Jurassic Park are a bit of a mixed bag overall. The dinosaurs we all know and recognise from the film franchise are represented well here, but when the team have to create something from scratch, the results aren’t quite as impressive. The new dinosaurs certainly don’t share the same graphical integrity or even the same visual style as all the ones we are accustomed to. This makes them stand out starkly, which may be a ploy to make them seem more special and unique, but ends up making them appear slightly unrealistic and not convincing, when compared to the well-modelled triceratops or tyrannosaurus rex for instance.
Human characters are fairly impressive, yet a little bit stiff. It must be said, that for a company that is well-known for its cartoon-style adventures, this foray into realistic visuals isn’t entirely unsuccessful, and the results bode well for future titles. Eyes sometimes appear a bit strange, or animations unrealistic, but these are things that could be ironed out later, and the basic engine does produce some nice high-definition backdrops and environments, especially for a download-only title. You may not feel completely immersed in the environment, but it does a good job of recreating the look that we remember from the films and in creating a believable atmosphere for the events to take place in.
SOUND: It must be said that the sound effects and music are another strong point for the title. Being able to make use of a huge library of John Williams musical cues, as well as the many dinosaur sounds that have been created in the past, allows Telltale to really put on a lavish audio experience. All of the forest sounds, animal calls and environmental elements sound authentic, and help to add to the feeling of being surrounded by all of the creatures on the island. The Jurassic Park film was a pioneer for immersive surround sound, and this game does a good job of trying to re-create that idea.
On top of the musical themes that are recognisable from the films, a set of new musical pieces have been composed to accompany them. These different pieces all mesh together quite well, and although they might not possess quite the same flair as those from John Williams, they maintain the overall feel of the source material. The only real issue that might be raised with the sound direction of the game could be the voices. The script doesn’t help at times, as it doesn’t have quite the sparkle of the movies, but it still does a good job of developing the characters and in pushing the story forward. Sometimes the voice-over delivery seems a little stunted, and one character in particular continually slips back into speaking Spanish, sometimes whole sentences, which remain untranslated. This is fine if you have a basic grasp of Spanish, but otherwise becomes a little frustrating. You won’t miss anything important, but it seems like an odd choice, given the fact the subtitles could show the English translation.
GAMEPLAY: Just as many gamers were put off by the gameplay in Heavy Rain, the core play mechanics of Jurassic Park: The Game will divide opinions. The game is made up largely of Quicktime Events and context-sensitive icons, and the developers have stated that Heavy Rain was one of their major influences. As such, most actions in the game require the user to press, hold or tap specific buttons as the corresponding prompts appear on-screen, in order to successfully perform them. In action sequences these will come think and fast, and must be carried out quickly, to avoid failure. In this situation, the icons flash on-screen and are quite clear, so gamers can easily perform the required action whilst under pressure. Quick reflexes will be needed, so those of you who prefer their games more sedated, beware.
During investigation sections, these can be performed in your own time, but the problem that accompanies this is that the icons often appear too small. You control the camera view rather than the character directly, and can scan scenes for clues or useful items. Hovering near one causes a button prompt to appear, but these are drawn to scale, so if the object is far away, the button appears tiny. Sometimes you will have to guess what button to press and some trial and error will be needed. Luckily you aren’t penalised during these slower-paced sections for incorrect button presses. You are penalised in the action sequences though, and depending on how many mistakes you make, you will receive a gold, silver or bronze grade (or none at all if you do very poorly) at the end of the section. Only perfect reflexes are rewarded with a gold, whilst silver allows another two mistakes and bronze three more.
Another issue that makes these quick button presses difficult is a loading issue that seems to occur from time to time. Between scenes and even during sections of action, the game will sometimes freeze and think for a few seconds, before loading the next set of data. This can cause missed button presses, and it can also result in the sound and picture losing sync for several moments. This occurred when the episode was installed to memory, so isn’t a disc read error, and seems like a rather irritating issue.
On top of the QTE’s and investigation, the team shows its adventure gaming roots with some basic puzzle solving. These aren’t taxing, and aren’t timed either, so can be solved when you take a little time to consider all of the options, but it is a nice diversion from the non-stop panic the rest of the game presents, and helps change the pace when it is needed. These are very infrequent though, so don’t let that put you off if you are looking for the high-octane thrills of dinosaur chases and death-defying escapes.
LONGEVITY: For an episodic game, each instalment is certainly a decent length, lasting a good few hours. The series was planned as a five-parter, but was changed to four, and perhaps this was done to hasten the pacing of the title, because as it stands the game moves along at a fair old tick, with few lulls in the action. Once you have completed each episode, the only real reason to replay the game is to attain gold rankings on each of the scenarios, and in turn to collect Trophies or Achievements attached to that. These of course rely on you having good reactions, but if you tackle each scenario at a time, it won’t take you long to gain a gold ranking on most of them. There are three slightly different endings that can be attained, but this is all dependent on your actions in the final scenario, so may not be reason enough to push gamers to re-play the whole story. That said, the action sequences are a lot of fun, and you might want to come back to revisit some of the more intense ones as they do a good job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. That will ultimately be down to the individual, but for a low-value, episodic title, the game provides enough content to warrant the price.
VERDICT: The game has perhaps received unfair treatment from many critics. You have to approach the title in the mindset that you might not be getting an excellent gameplay experience here, but the game will immerse you in the Jurassic Park franchise and it does a good job of making the film series truly interactive. The gameplay itself does become repetitive and the way that interactions are handled does leave a little to be desired, but the overall experience is still a rewarding and absorbing one. The game has its faults, and perhaps if a second season does see production in the future then the lessons learnt from this one will stand it in good stead. For fans of the series, these games are engrossing and a fair continuation of the story, shown from a different perspective.