Video Game Review: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park’s controls mean escapes are quicktime events, not actual movement.
In the 1990s, Jurassic Park made it cool to be a paleontologist. Okay, well, kind of cool, or at least it was cool to think dinosaurs are awesome. Unfortunately, this didn’t really translate into the video game world (or the awful film sequels); a mediocre Sega Genesis platformer and some ill-advised shooters are pretty much the entire Jurassic Park video game legacy.
Now, Tell Tale Games is giving it another go, this time by putting in a story that runs parallel to the original film. However, Tell Tale is also deviating from its traditional adventure game engine found in the Sam & Max and Monkey Island titles. The result is a mish-mash game that combines the heart of the original story/film, PS2-era graphics, and Heavy Rain’s control interface.
Is that a good idea or does it fall somewhere along the lines of cloning dinosaurs for a theme park? Let’s find out.
The easiest way to sum up Jurassic Park’s control scheme is to say that it liberally borrowed ideas from Heavy Rain. Unlike other Tell Tale games though (and Heavy Rain), you don’t have freedom of movement over your characters. Instead, your character stays mostly static and the analog stick is used for camera angles rather than movement. Scenes can be changed by using the trigger buttons while the usual face buttons provide interaction options.
For example, if you’re in a room, pressing the left trigger brings up your movement options to go to adjacent areas. As you tilt the camera angle around, various icons appear for face button interaction. That’s pretty much it in terms of general movement. However, there are also quicktime interactions, and we’ve all seen these before — hit the button at the appropriate time (or the variations of hold multiple buttons or tap a button repeatedly) to make the scene move forward.
While the controls are responsive and get the job done, the lack of general movement can be frustrating and limiting. It’s a curious design choice, particularly for this generation of hardware. Jurassic Park’s control scheme doesn’t necessarily bog down the experience but it certainly does leave you wanting for more.
When Jurassic Park came out in theaters, it brought along the most eye-popping special effects of its day. Even now, the film’s CG dinosaurs look great on DVD and Blu-Ray.
The video game? Not so much. Tell Tale’s games have never been standard-setters in terms of graphics, particularly because they’re aiming for multiple platforms. For example, Back To The Future looks and sounds pretty much the same whether you play it on a laptop, PS3, or Wii.
Jurassic Park follows the same model; the graphics have a slight cartoonish quality to them, and that worked for the lighter tone of Sam & Max or Back To The Future but it does take some of the tension out of Jurassic Park’s scenes. And while the dinosaurs and environments are detailed, they’re just not HD-quality detailed. Everything seems prepared for last-generation hardware, then upscaled with fingers crossed. Even HUD font seems a little fuzzy on an HDTV. Lighting and weather effects don’t fare that well, and animations seem stiff.
The voice cast provides a reasonable, though not spectacular job. With a fairly dry script pushing along a clever plot, any humour seems forced, and lines are read in a fairly flat tone. The story itself works and is engaging, but the voice acting feels like it’s missing the pace and spirit of other Tell Tale works. And while the musical score is adequate (with hints of the original epic John Williams theme), many scenes play out with just environmental sound effects. That particular design decision was probably made to put the player more in the moment of the game, but it winds up creating greater distance.
If you read through my Controls summary, then you’ve basically read a description of the gameplay. Heavy Rain is obviously the inspiration here. However, Heavy Rain’s innovation was not its clunky controls but rather the way the game evoked mood and emotion — as well as providing a massive ripple effect for just about every choice you made. Jurassic Park takes Heavy Rain’s controls but leaves the innovative branching storyline out, making the gameplay a fairly linear series of limited puzzle solving and quicktime events. If you fail the quicktime events, it’s simply Game Over and you retry, and if you succeed at the quicktime events, you get a score — it doesn’t influence how the story direction veers.
The strength of Jurassic Park is its story. If you’re a fan of the original film/book, you’ll recognize many elements that tie directly into the plot. It’s an engaging side tale that meshes with one of the key elements from the original story but the process of getting from start to finish is cumbersome and ultimately not that fun.
Your enjoyment of Jurassic Park will most likely be tied directly to how much you love the original film or book. For most people who enjoyed the original but haven’t seen it in years, they’ll get a kick out of Jurassic Park but won’t find much to work with. Mega-fans will get through it just to see how the story plays out, but it’s a shame that Tell Tale didn’t find something that would have worked for everyone in between. Instead, Jurassic Park could have been developed as a Flash-based game for web browsers to tie in with the latest Blu-Ray re-release and no one would have been the wiser.