Video Game Review: Jurassic Park: The Game

A popular argument over the past decade is which Jurassic Park sequel is worse; some say that Spielberg's lazy sequel is at least more interesting than Joe Johnston's 3rd entry, others say "at least his was shorter" (I personally prefer Lost World, but barely, and have no interest in watching either of them again). Sadly, had it been a filmed adventure (or even a DTV animated film, like Resident Evil Degeneration), Jurassic Park: The Game might have been the best followup, but instead it comes to us on our PCs and game consoles, and thus you must endure a lot of button mashing and tedious conversation choices to follow a fairly rousing and enjoyable adventure across Isla Nublar.

The plot is typical Park fare - folks are on the island, they want to get off, and it's not easy. Velociraptors, Triceratops, "Compys", and of course T-Rex, plus a few other surprises make frequent appearances, and being that you're human beings with minimal weapons, you'll spend a lot of your time dodging or hiding from the things instead of killing them, though you get to do that too on occasion. Our heroes are a group of six or so characters on the island, each with their own agendas. Mina is a hired gun who seeks the can of Barbasol that Nedry dropped in the first film (most of the game takes place a day or two later); Yoder is a soldier of some sort who is hired by InGen to rescue any survivors on the Island, Gerry is the park's veterinarian (and ex husband of the Julianne Moore character from Lost World, a pointless connection that doesn't quite work); Jess is his daughter who keeps finding ways of getting in trouble (sadly she's more like Kelly the expert gymnast than Lex or Tim). Then there's a scientist named Laura Sorkin and Yoder's partner Oscar, who you don't control all that often but are around for most of the ride.

And by control I mean that they're the ones that will duck or swing a pipe or maybe fiddle with a control panel when prompted with arbitrary button presses that appear on your screen. At no point in the game do you actually move your character around, nor is there a predetermined layout for the buttons (i.e. A to shoot, B to jump, etc). Like Dragon Lair (or Heavy Rain), the entire game is basically one long Quick Time Event (QTE), where on-screen prompts will tell you what to do and when to do it, and as long as your reflexes are in good shape, you will pass through the game fairly easily. Every now and then there will be a puzzle to solve, but otherwise there is no need for any gamer skill (beyond button mashing) - as long as you can read and know the layout of your controller without having to look, the game will be a cinch.

This has been the cause of major concern (and subsequent bad reviews) from others who have played it, but honestly I didn't mind it at all for the most part. If you look at the history of Park games, most of them are action oriented and kind of suck. Killing every dinosaur that you come across (or playing as one, such as in the original Sega Genesis game) might be a lot of fun, but it's hardly in the spirit of the films, which feature very little human on dino violence. So while there are a few parts of the game that obviously would have been more fun with a typical control scheme (such as the delightfully nerve-wracking T-Rex scenes), for the most part it's not that big of a deal if you consider what you're doing in the game.

For example, most scenes where you outrun a raptor or whatever has you occasionally flick one of the thumbsticks and/or pound X or something - how is that that much different than what you'd do in a "normal" game? You'd be holding down a run button and wiggling the thumbstick in the direction you wanted to go, right? So who cares? At least this way you don't have to worry about your guy getting stuck on an invisible barrier.

Instead, my biggest problems arose from the transitions between cut-scenes and "gameplay", which are often impossible to distinguish. See, when a cut-scene begins, I usually take my hands off the controller, perhaps to grab a handful of Cheez-its or sip from my coffee (AM) or beer (PM), but here you never knew when a QTE might start up, demanding a quick response. And even when I kept the controller at hand I'd have this problem; I died a few times simply from not reacting to a sudden button prompt that would appear after a cut-scene animation had completed. Worse, these conversations can be real snoozefests; I appreciate the attempt to round out the characters a bit, but Gerry and Jess' endless heart to heart conversations will likely cause some gamers to let one of them die out of spite the next time they're in danger. Some conversations even let you choose responses from both sides, which is just puzzling.

I was also baffled by some of the design choices, such as when you need to interrupt two characters arguing like 5-6 times before the game will actually continue. As the first few attempts were unsuccessful, this just said to me that I was missing something and had to look around again, when in reality I just had to keep doing it without any indication that I was making any progress. It's also occasionally hard to see some of the button prompts, both in action scenes (where they would put a red/orange "B" prompt over a same-colored wall) or in quieter puzzle/inspection scenes, where the prompt would be obscured until you moved the camera around and found the sweet spot.

Thus it's a good a time as any to point out that this was originally intended to be released in four downloadable "episodes". Somewhere along the line, Telltale Games decided to make Jurassic Park a regular retail game, albeit at a lower price point (39.99 in most stores) than the considerable competition. As you might expect, this means it's not quite as polished as the Call Of Duty sequels hogging the shelves. The graphics would have been really impressive on the old Xbox or maybe even a 360 launch title, but pale considerably to any major title of the past few years. Sound is even worse; the voices often dip out or pop in, and there are a number of "skips" in the audio as well. The voice acting is pretty good, and John Williams' music is always welcome (though sometimes they will use a cue that doesn't quite fit - in particular a tense helicopter scene that uses the main theme instead of something more ominous/horror-y), but it's almost like TellTale forgot to QC the final audio mix. Loading is another sore spot; the game always "freezes" as it loads in the next scenario (which is often), and it's not particularly fast either. In other words, it's a budget title in more than just its price point, and yet it's still twice as much as say, Deadly Premonition, a clunky game that was considerably longer and more involved.

If you're an achievement junkie, none of this will matter, however. I had racked up 50 points in the first 5 minutes, and as long as you don't mess up often you can probably earn the bulk of the Cheevos in a single playthru. Very few of them require a little more exploration to earn (such as uncovering a Mr. DNA poster in a slightly out of the way spot during one of the puzzle solving sequences), and the game's generous checkpoints during action scenes make earning the "Fight ____ without making a mistake" achievements even easier than they already were. There's only one that keeps it impossible from earning the entire 1000 in one straight playthru of the 6 hr game, as it revolves around making a "good" or "evil" choice at the very end, but all you have to do is reload the last sequence and make the other choice when prompted, and it unlocks immediately - you don't have to go through the entire ending again to earn it. The only one that takes some effort is making it through the entire first episode* without dying, since the game doesn't let you back out easily when you die - you're forced to continue (or load your dashboard and restart the game). So if you fuck up and know you're done for, quickly pause the game before it auto-saves, and reload to try again.

Why Telltale opted to put this on disc is beyond me - even at the reduced price it's too short and easy to justify the cost or satisfy the average gamer. Given the poor reviews and heavy competition I suspect that price will go lower before long; I would say $20 is perfectly reasonable, maybe a bit more if you're a die hard Park fan. It's sort of ironic that they put "The Game" in the title when it's basically just an interactive movie (even Heavy Rain let you move your character around), but I think fans will still enjoy the twists and turns of the story, and even if it's not entirely successful I laud Telltale for trying something a little different with a big license.

Score 6/10

(Note - Xbox 360 version reviewed; game also available on PS3 and PC.)

*This achievement seems a bit glitched: the actual text says "Make it to the end without dying", which sounds like something that would take the whole game to accomplish. But it unlocks at the end of the first episode if you don't die. Furthermore, it DOESN'T work on the other episodes - I beat the 3rd and 4th eps without dying but it didn't unlock. Weird.


  1. I might rent this sometime. I actually picked up a copy of Jurassic Park for the Gameboy recently. Its based on that scene in the film where Sam Neill walks around with a rocket launcher blasting Raptors and collecting their eggs for points.

  2. Oh, I did not know yet that it a Game to the film gives!


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