Telltale Games is a developer synonymous with some of the best Adventure games in recent memory. They also have proven with Back to the Future that they are more than capable of taking a major license and turning it into a worthy extension of the franchise. The question is, can they do the same thing with Jurassic Park? We had a chance to give all four episodes of the game a try. Let’s see how they did.
Telltale has given their games a fairly distinctive look over the years, stylized and trending toward caricature. With Jurassic Park, the visuals have taken a step closer to realism. The characters are properly proportioned and reasonably well animated. Unlike in the BTTF games, the cast is primarily composed of original characters, and there is quite an assortment, from the Bluto-looking Oscar to the Costa Rican native Nima and the young hotshot Yoder.
The environments are everything you would expect them to be. It is set on Isla Nublar, a lush tropical jungle of an island, and it is fully decked out with the veritable theme park of attractions and decorations. It is remarkable how seeing a familiar font or a few jeeps and cars with a fancy paint job can fire off your nostalgia receptors. Everything from the Visitor’s Center to the Barbasol can looks just right. And then there are the dinosaurs.
The artists really outdid themselves when it came to the creatures of Isla Nublar. You’ll see herbivores and carnivores, all of your favorites from the first film. There are even a few that only a diehard dino-fan would recognize, including the Mosasaur and the Troodon, both of which are pretty hardcore and really cool looking.
This being Telltale, I think I can be excused for expecting this to be an adventure game, but it quickly became apparent that this is not the case. What type of game is it? Well, I believe the popular term to throw around is “Cinematic Adventure.” The game is essentially an interactive movie, with most of the aforementioned interactions coming in the form of that least favored of video game features, the Quick Time Event. Now, let me say right now that I am not a fan of QTE. I have the reflexes of a sloth, and a mild case of dyslexia that makes correctly interpreting left and right a crapshoot. Thus, my opinion of the gameplay might be a touch biased, so keep that in mind as you read on.
The quick time events, to their credit, are well executed and exceptionally varied. Aside from tossing up a button on the screen and requiring you to hit it correctly and quickly, this game mixes things up nicely in a number of ways. The button notifications are associated with the specific screen element that they interact with, which means that they move around the screen, making them even trickier to correctly react to. They also pepper in actions besides the standard button tap, like an arc of the control stick, a sequence or combination of buttons, or button hammering. There is even a sort of drunken “try to center the randomly moving dot with the stick.” The difficulty of the actions range from casual to downright unforgiving, on more than one occasion convincing me that a given task was intended to be impossible, requiring you to branch off to a different sequence of events. Sometimes failures have no consequence at all, other times they knock a notch off of your score for the given scenario, and still others will provide you with insta-death. This game rivals Dragon’s Lair for sheer number of death scenes. I cannot tell you how many cast members I’ve seen chomped by a T-Rex due to my own sluggish reactions.
The actual placement of the QTEs is usually pretty good, but there are times when it gets downright tedious. Here and there you’ll be presented with a sequence where you have to do a correctly timed button press for every step in a staircase. Those times aside, Jurassic Par The Game finally illustrated to me one of the really great strengths of the quick time event. The ability to ratchet up tension. Everything from stalking quietly through the darkness to doing a mad dash across a collapsing pile of shipping containers is made that much more intense by the need to constantly scrutinize the screen for your split second opportunity to avoid death. Another thing that I think was brilliant was what I have dubbed QTM – Quick Time Morality. Sure, you’ve had to make a choice between the right thing and the profitable thing, but in most games you’ve got time to weigh the options and make the one you like best. There come events in this game where you have got to choose to save a life of make a fortune, and you’ve got the blink of an eye to make the decision. I can’t think of a truer test of human nature than that.
The quick time events aren’t the WHOLE game, however. While they dominate the action scenes, there are also exploration scenes and puzzles, each of which permit a fair amount of thought and critical thinking. The puzzles may be rare, but they tend to be engaging and unique, like a point where you have to identify at which of four subtly different intersections you are currently standing. The exploration has you sweeping the camera slowly across a scene, hunting down question marks and interacting with them.
In terms of length, the game comes up a little light. It is presented in four episodes, each of which might take you an hour, if you play well. There is a slice of replayability in the form of unlockable journal entries and individually scored scenarios, but for the most part I didn’t feel terribly compelled to revisit those parts of the game that I scored bronze on, particularly considering the fact that, if I did that bad on them, they were fantastically frustrating to me.
As a final note, the controls of this game were interesting. On the PC, you have got the option to use Mouse and Keyboard or Gamepad, and they both work, albeit in different ways. I ended up going with the trusty wireless 360 controller, and it served me well.
Audio-wise, there is a lot to like in Jurassic Park. They managed to get their hands on some of the more memorable tracks from the original score, including the iconic theme song, and the rest of the music has been carefully tailored to fit with the same John Williams tone. Likewise the roars, hisses, and other sounds of the dinos were a perfect match for the films. Atmospheric sounds were exceedingly well done, with the clack of claws on catwalks sending chills up and down your spine just as effectively in a game setting as they would in a movie theater.
The dialog and acting are decent, with most of the case played by different voice actors, and for the most part, they do a great job. I guess, if I had to nitpick, there did seem to be a minor audio glitch here or there, with a piece of dialog suddenly getting louder or softer, but it happened rarely enough for me that it could have just as easily been an issue with my speakers, and didn’t detract from the overall experience.
I was actually pretty impressed with the quality of the story in this game. Remember in Jurassic Park 1, when Newman, er, Nedry decided to cash in on the hard work of the Jurassic Park geneticists by smuggling out a can full of frozen embryos? And remember how he dropped the can and no one recovered it? Well, that can is the launching point of this game. You play as, variously, the following characters: A pair of mercenaries hired to retrieve the can, a park vet and his daughter who try to help an injured merc who was after the can, a group of other mercs who were sent in to evacuate the staff that failed to escape as part of the storm evacuation, and a scientist who refused to evacuated with the rest of the staff. Everyone has their own motivations, and responds differently to the mind-rending stress associated with being trapped on an island filled to the brim with apex predators. An impressive amount of work was put into closing plot holes and giving valid motivation for an escalating sequence of betrayals, redemption, face-heel turns, and heel-face turns.
When taken as a whole, Jurassic Park was actually an excellent game. The story was superb, the visuals were more than adequate, the sound was excellent, and the tension and action were pitch perfect. If you are a fan of QTE, or at least don’t mind it, then this is definitely a game you should try. If you don’t like QTE? Well, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy in this game. You’ll just have to find someone to play while you watch.
7.8 / 10: A game that is superb in presentation and atmosphere, but a bit light on gameplay for my tastes.