Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developer: Telltale Games
Jurassic Park deserves a great game. Spielberg's masterwork one of the most beloved blockbusters of our era, and many of us have been hoping and praying for a videogame that manages to capture the essence of 1993's magnum opus. Telltale's acquisition of the license was cause to make merry - with their back catalogue paying tribute to a developer who treats classic movies with the respect they deserve.
For lovers of the film, Telltale's latest title is certainly a reverential and respectful revist to the island - which is sprawling enough to allow the characters to explore new areas and story arcs without stepping on the original canon. Dinosaurs, both old and new, are introduced in thoughtful and well-paced ways; arriving like old friends who we haven't seen for years. The characters, from a meddling environmentalist doctor to a hard-bitten mercenary tasked with her retrieval, are brilliantly voice acted and eminently relatable. Diehard fans will be in for a treat - both as a nostalgic thrill and an exciting new take on the seminal franchise. As a reunion tour, it's incredibly hard to fault.
This all would have worked brilliantly as a feature film, graphic novel or punchy paperback. But Jurassic Park probably shouldn't have been resurrected as a game. Not this game, at any rate.
Telltale have emerged from their usual puzzly comfort zone and instantly snuggled into another, more aggravating one. Quick Time Events. Jurassic Park is one long cutscene peppered with time-sensitive inputs. Everything from sneaking behind a Velociraptor, throwing a stone at an oncoming predator and often just walking around is accompanied by a QTE, and if you're too slow, you'll stumble, fail or die. The fact that the same button inputs are used for mundane events and split-second action challenges stops the climactic moments from carrying any real dramatic weight, after all, escaping from a T-Rex is functionally identical to everything else on a raw gameplay level. Jurassic Park takes linearity to a crushing new dimension; a single and binary narrative that offers no mechanical or gameplay freedom whatsoever.
Used properly and sparingly, Quick Time Events can make a game more immersive. Heavy Rain perfectly understood that they should be deployed when real choice hangs in the balance; more often than not, failures result in a narrative shift rather than instant death and checkpoint restart. While Jurassic Park does manage to create a few effective moments (a couple of dinosaur encounters and delivering an injection in the back of a car are particular highlights), the overuse and abuse of these basic inputs stops us feeling like players and merely relegates us to onlookers who have to plug in arbitrary key selections in order to move on with the story - akin to a film that stops every few seconds and forces viewers to press some buttons in the allotted time. The story is certainly compelling enough to make you want to partake, but for many players, it just won't be enough of a draw.
It would be innaccurate to say that Jurassic Park is entirely bereft of puzzles, but it's certainly bereft of challenge. Solutions are obvious and entirely scripted to the situation at hand, requiring no ingenuity or creativity from players. Again, you'll feel like a powerless wallflower; disconnected and distanced from the action and unable to affect it in any profound way.
Isla Nublar provides a rich and beautiful setting around which to base a game, and the visuals do a great job of capturing the spirit of the films. On the other hand, the realistic art style makes characters look stiff and inhuman, stopping us from relating to them as much as we'd like. Animations are sub-par across the board, including (but not limited to) the dinosaurs themselves.
As a pundit, I can't help wondering whether Jurassic Park (and, in part, the solid but ultimately harmless Back To The Future tie-ins) illustrates some cracks in Telltale's development philosophy. This latest game smacks of securing a major license and shoehorning game mechanics in after the fact; a plan that worked well back in the Mega Drive days, but just can't stand in an era where quality is key - not franchise clout. New ideas like the Hector and Puzzle Agent series demonstrate that mechanics and design are what make games great, not ageing film licenses to vamp on.
- Great atmosphere, story and characters
- Nostalgia factor
- It's Jurassic Park
- Unbelievable and degrading reliance on QTEs
- Inconsistent graphical quality
- Less game, more interrupted cutscene
The Short Version: Jurassic Park is one big nod to the fans, and judged on nostalgia and respect for the franchise alone, it's a worthy addition to any Jurassic Park afficionado's collection. The story and sheer thrill of being back on the island will be enough for some, but most gamers should give it a wide berth.