The trend for exploiting the nostalgia many of us have for fondly-regarded sci-fi blockbusters in videogame form shows no sign of abating. And following recent years’ efforts such as Ghostbusters and their own Back To The Future, developer Telltale Games has now decided to shift attention from the 80s to the 90s with its take on the universally-beloved Jurassic Park.
Unfortunately, while those earlier-mentioned games were able to mask slightly underwhelming and formulaic game mechanics by feeling like genuine and immersive sequels to their respective films, Jurassic Park is both a weaker game and a less convincing franchise addition. As such, it’s far less likely to appeal either to curious gamers or to fans of Spielberg’s film.
The gameplay problems are dealt with more easily. Simply put, it isn’t really a game at all – in fact, somewhat appropriately, given the early 90s origin of its source material, it dredges up the spectre of the late and not-in-the-slightest-bit-lamented CD-ROM interactive movie genre. It’s an almost entirely prescriptive adventure, in which a series of frustrating mini games must be overcome in order to progress the story.
The developers have cited Heavy Rain as an influence – and superficially, it’s an understandable comparison. But the difference here is that while in Heavy Rain the results of all the quick time events affected the story’s outcome, in Jurassic Park they’re simply an obstacle to overcome before moving on to the next scene.
You’re never called upon to determine the direction the game goes in – you’re simply determining whether or not it continues. Any illusion of interactivity – such as the moment a non-player character dies suddenly and early as a result of a decision you make – is shattered by going back and replaying the scene, only to find that a different decision leads to exactly the same result. It’s not until the very end of the game that one of two possible outcomes depends on the player’s actions.
The game’s episodes are divided into a number of individual scenarios, which generally fall into one of two gameplay types – and it’s hard to say which is the more frustrating. The “press X not to die” action sequences don’t generally last very long – but you may find yourself repeating them over and over again should you not manage to hit the right crucial button at the right crucial moment. (That’s a problem that may also afflict you, incidentally, should you choose to end your play session before hitting one of the often-arbitrary autosave points – there being no option whatsoever to manually save progress.)
Other scenes take the form of tedious exploration sequences – but unlike a true adventure game, it’s less a case of satisfyingly exploring an environment and finding information than it is just clicking a succession of “examine” icons in the right order on a static landscape. It’s even worse when you can clearly see what the character’s meant to discover eventually – in one early instance, you spend pointless minutes wandering around the scene looking for a certain object even though fans of the film could instantly pinpoint exactly where it is.
Which brings us on to the second major aspect of the game: how effective it is as a convincing entry in the franchise’s canon. It’s fair to say that it’s not as bad a Jurassic Park story as it is a gameplay experience – but that’s really not saying too much, either.
Flashes of pleasing fan service (faithfully recreated jeeps, a “We’ve got Dodgson here” gag) can’t mask the fact that, unlike Back To The Future, Jurassic Park is centred around entirely new characters rather than the ones we all know and love. Indeed, the one character that does make it over from the film, dino-doctor Gerry Harding, looks and sounds so different that he might as well be brand new, like everyone else. And none of them are anywhere near as much fun to spend time with as Ian Malcolm or Dennis Nedry.
There’s no denying that there are thrills to be had when encountering dinosaurs, mind – particularly when their look and movement are as (movie-)accurately realised as the Dilophosaurs and Velociraptors – but even so, the game never feels like the true sequel to the film it’s hoping to be, a fact exemplified by the bafflingly sparing use of John Williams’ majestic theme.
As such, while it may think it’s laying a better claim to being a definitive Jurassic Park game than its predecessors, it winds up falling short of the original SNES adventure, the Theme Park-esque Operation Genesis and even the deeply-flawed-but-still-more-interesting-than-this Trespasser.
Jurassic Park: The Game is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, iPad and Mac.