November 18, 2011
We just can’t get away from Jurassic Park. Though the original film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel debuted 18 years ago and the last sequel is now a decade old, a slew of toys, comics, games, fan tributes and rumors of a fourth movie have kept the franchise alive. Now Telltale Games has issued its own entry to the list of Jurassic Park spinoffs: an adventure that goes back to the scene of the crime that set the catastrophic events of the first film in motion.
Remember that can of Barbasol from the first Jurassic Park film? The one containing all those very, very expensive dinosaur embryos? Well, that’s the MacGuffin at the heart of Jurassic Park: The Game. Within the context of the new game, the corporate spies who commissioned the nefarious Dennis Nedry to steal the precious little dinosaurs didn’t entirely trust his ability to complete the task. They sent in a back-up: a professional smuggler named Nima.
As with anything in Jurassic Park, though, the best laid plans of Microraptor and men go awry. Nima quickly gets tangled up in a race to escape the island alive. Other characters are park veterinarian Gerry Harding, Harding’s daughter Jess, a couple of mercenaries sent to evacuate the park and a park scientist who is more concerned about the dinosaurs than the safety of her companions. This all takes place in the hours during and directly following the first film, making the game a parallel storyline that fits snugly within the cinematic Jurassic Park canon.
The new game isn’t another run-and-gun dinosaur shooter. There are more than enough of those out there already—using a rocket launcher against hordes of Velociraptor isn’t a rare gaming experience anymore. Nor does the game primarily feature major characters from the films or let you play as dinosaurs, as past Jurassic Park games have done. Instead, Jurassic Park: The Game is akin to a movie that the player directs through puzzles and action sequences requiring specific actions to solve. One moment you’ll be frantically trying to hit the proper combination of keys to prevent yourself from tripping while running away from Tyrannosaurus, and the next you will have to figure out the proper door code to enter a locked area. And the story unfolds not through just a single character’s perspective—the game requires players to jump between characters to accomplish certain tasks. The storyline propels the player, but only as fast as you can successfully navigate through the puzzles.
This type of game setup is both refreshing and extremely frustrating. During many parts of the story, players must observe their surroundings and use what’s at hand to solve puzzles to keep from being chomped by various theropods, and a dialog option allows players to take certain parts of the game at their own pace. During lulls in the action, players can dig into the backstory of various characters through conversation prompts. At one points, for example, you can stop to chat with Nima about why the island means so much to her, or you can decide to just move on to the next puzzle. The action sequences are a different story. Players are required to hit certain combinations of keys in rapid succession in order to escape packs of Troodon, avoid charging Triceratops and stab attacking Velociraptor, but these events require such speed and deftness at the keyboard or gamepad that a player is almost guaranteed to fail the first few tries. An adventure game should be challenging, of course, but many of the action prompts require such a high level of responsiveness or even anticipation that sequences meant to be fun and exciting quickly became annoying.
As for the look of the game, the designers kept appearances consistent with the original film. The park buildings, fences and vehicles match those from the movie, and the dinosaurs match their big-screen counterparts. As much as I would have loved to have seen feather-covered Velociraptor, the only reasonable choice was to keep the designs consistent. Some of the prehistoric beasts new to the game could have used a little more work, though. The Herrerasaurus are a bit too tubby and have skulls that more closely approximate the look of true Velociraptor than the genetically engineered monsters given that name in the game, and the mosasaur in the final chapter was given a number of flourishes which made the marine reptile look more like a sea monster than a real animal. The game designers appear to at least minimally respect hard-core dinosaur nerds, though: Snippets of dialog and journal entries in the game retcon a few of the scientific issues with the fictional story and even include some up-to-date science.
Despite my quibbles about the new prehistoric threats and some elements of the gameplay, though, Jurassic Park: The Game is an enjoyable and well-executed spinoff that lets players venture deeper into the dinosaur-infested park. The game reminded me of the “choose your own adventure” books I read as a kid—the choices you make as the story unfolds will either open up the next scene or send you spiraling into certain doom. That approach, I think, captured the spirit of the Jurassic Park films. A return to the island may not be safe, but it is fun.
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