As a fan of Jurassic Park, the movie, I was thrilled to hear that Telltale Games was making a game adaptation. That is what Telltale does after all, they take things I loved from my childhood and turn them into fun and silly adventure games. The problem is that Jurassic Park needs to be a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride in order to be faithful to the original material. While there is literally a roller coaster in the game, it serves as an unfortunate metaphor for the game. It just isn’t fun.
The timeline of Jurassic Park: The Game begins right after the conclusion of the first film. One of the first scenes has a mysterious woman searching for a certain discarded can of shaving cream that happens to be full of dinosaur embryos. The story switches between her, a couple of mercenaries, a geneticist and a dinosaur veteranarian and his incredibly annoying 14 year old daughter. Everyone has different agendas: The mercenaries want the embryos, the hippie scientist wants to save the dinosaurs and the veteranarian and his daughter just want to get out alive.
Jurassic Park: The Game is built with Telltale’s gameplay engine, which means that at its core, it is an adventure game. Half of the game is solving puzzles. I’m not sure what happened here, but they are not the brilliant puzzles that we are used to seeing from Telltale. Most of them tend to have you hunting and clicking on objects in the scenery until some event plays out. There are a handful that you actually needed to use your brain for, and these were the highlights of the game.
The rest of the game is filled with cinematic action scenes. Very cinematic. Cinematic to that point that you have no direct control over the characters. What you actually do is press buttons and hope that you got the ones that will make good things happen instead of your character getting eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex. If that doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, then this isn’t the game for you.
In the PC version of Jurassic Park: The Game, you are tasked with hitting different arrow keys at the appropriate time. In most instances the arrows will have two or three circles around them, which tells you how many arrows you will have to click to succeed. Frustration almost immediately sets in when you realize there is almost no rhyme or reason for the button you will need to click after the first one.
You might have to push up to jump over something, but then the game wants to you hit the left arrow to dodge when you could have needed to duck or dodge right. Not only is there is no way to divine the correct course of action, but you need to hit the next button so fast that it’s almost impossible to react to the prompt on the screen. The arrow presses are the same for each scenario, so when you end up failing you watch a quick scene of your character getting gobbled up and then you do the whole thing over again. Memorizing the pattern for the next try isn’t terribly hard, but it’s hardly my idea of fun.
There are plenty of games out there that use this style of gameplay (typically called quick-time events or QTEs). God of War uses them to show off over-the-top kill animations, but you have time to react to the button prompts. Heavy Rain managed to use them much more successfully because the button presses made logical sense, so when you failed it felt like it was your fault. On top of that, when you did fail, the game didn’t end. Typically you would get a stumble which would ratchet up the tension even further. Sure, I enjoy watching people getting eaten by dinosaurs as much as the next guy, especially when they are annoying as some of the characters in Jurassic Park: The Game, but having to repeat a failed set of QTEs was drudgery. The death scenes tended to be very tame, so they weren’t exactly a reward themselves. Eventually I started jamming on the arrows randomly and hoping dumb luck would prevail. I hate to say it, but I started having more success with this technique.
My return to Isla Nublar wasn’t without its moments. Jurassic Park: The Game does end well. The fourth and final chapter over all is pretty exciting, and the final action scene gives you a glimmer of what the game could have been. If you are a Jurassic Park fanatic, you will be able to wring some enjoyment out of the locations and the aesthetic. In the end, Jurassic Park: The Game feels like it is trying too hard to be cinematic. It isn’t a particularly good movie and it’s a failure as a game.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC version of Jurassic Park: The Game provided by Telltale Games. It is also available for the Xbox 360 and PS3.