Jurassic Park: The Game Review (Xbox360)

If they’d waited two years they could’ve released it alongside the twentieth anniversary of the film. Oh well, at least they got it to coincide with the Blu-Ray release. Yes, it’s Jurassic Park, the best film with cloned dinosaurs in it not called Billy and the Clone-a-saurus, and now Telltale Games have made their first ever non-humorous non-episodic non-CSI game based on it. I’m all a-flutter.

In case you didn’t know, Jurassic Park (the film and book) is about a safari park on an isolated island filled with cloned dinosaurs, which of course goes wrong and the dinosaurs run havoc while the survivors try and get off the island. Jurassic Park (the game) starts during the same time period, featuring a different set of characters who of course also need to get off the island. Despite this seemingly simple goal there is of course a lot of complications on the way to ramp up the excitement, including watching the helicopter with Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler et al fly away to safety. Bastards.

Press X not to get caught by guard. I’m not joking

It would’ve been fine to keep things that simple (the film did and it’s a classic), but Telltale decided to make things even more interesting. They’ve done this by adding sub-plots for every character and a Macguffin in the shape of the Barbasol can full of dinosaur embryos that Dennis Nedry carelessly dropped while being eaten alive by a dilophosaur. Far from over-complicating matters these twists add some much-needed depth, particularly in regard to the characters.

Who can name their favourite character in Jurassic Park? Muldoon? Grant? Malcolm? Samuel L. Jackson? Okay, now do the same for the two sequels. Harder now isn’t it? Jurassic Park: The Game could’ve been just like them, full of irritating characters you just want to see die, but it’s not. I love all the characters because they all go through growth and change during the four episodes, so even the annoying or seemingly one-dimensional characters end up as completely different people. I even ended up liking the kid, and that’s frankly unheard of in Jurassic Park. My favourite character? The grunting, barely speaking soldier-for-hire Oscar, who starts off as obvious dino-food and ends up the most heroic and likeable of the lot.

I really am quite impressed with the story of Jurassic Park: The Game. Aside from the characters having depth there are plot twists, exciting scenes, new dinosaurs and thrilling escapes. The action sections are incredibly tense, but there are still quiet moments of down-time where you can catch your breath and take on the odd puzzle. There’s even humour now and again. It gets the licence perfectly right.

However, sadly I’m not reviewing a film. I’m reviewing a game, and the crucial element I’ve failed to mention so far is gameplay. Don’t be put off that Telltale are universally known for point-and-click adventures, even turning Back To The Future into one, as Jurassic Park is completely different from anything they’ve done before. I’m just not sure if I like what they’ve done with it or not.

The closest comparison, and the game that was obviously the biggest influence on Telltale, is Heavy Rain. The entire game is built around quick-time events, with every action performed with a combination of on-screen button presses, stick rotations, button hammering and minigames. For the most part this is okay, although far too often you’re asked to either do something superhumanly fast or ridiculously banal – I mean, how can you fail at opening a door, picking up a small object or turning around? You don’t even get the chance to move the characters directly, so any quiet moments take place in just a few camera angles you can switch between.

Yes, she can

This is the point where the rest of this review becomes almost entirely optional, which is part of the reason I waited so long to bring the gameplay up (what a tease I am). A lot of gamers will be immediately put off by that last paragraph, and frankly I’m not here to tell them otherwise. If you didn’t like Heavy Rain and think a game based entirely around QTEs has less place on this Earth than dinosaurs then that’s fair enough. Nothing I can say or do will convince you otherwise, and I’m not sure you’re wrong to do so.

Still here? Good, because despite the rather limited gameplay (which I’m personally not a fan of) I still enjoyed my long-overdue return to Jurassic Park. Almost all of it has to do with the story, writing and pacing however, very little to do with actual gameplay. As mentioned there are plenty of interesting characters so you’re never quite sure who’s going to die and who’s not, there’s plenty of emotional moments, and no matter if you’re hammering Y or not the action scenes are still incredibly tense and well directed. Even if you sometimes don’t know whether you’re in a non-interactive cutscene until a command pops up and you die before you can press RB.

Then there’s the dinosaurs, the heart of the franchise’s popularity. If Telltale screwed them up I’d spit on the game, but fortunately they get them exactly right. All the favourites make memorable appearances and none overstay their welcome, and there’s even a few new dinos in here such as the frankly horrifying Troodon, who even the Raptors are scared of. The animation on the dinosaurs is perfect, they’re all believably real animals (one of the great things about the film) and the sound design is spot-on too.

John Williams’ iconic music, arguably his best and most recognisable soundtrack, is present too thank god, but sadly it’s been a little bit butchered. There are only a few snippets here and there which are repeated far too often, and they end abruptly or transition awkwardly too. Considering a lot of the game is cutscene you’d think Telltale would be able to change tracks between scenes more smoothly than this. There might as well be a record-scratching sound effect in there. Shame really, I usually love Jared Emerson-Johnson’s stuff.

Speaking technically, while the dinosaurs are all beautiful the rest of the cast don’t really stack up, with some rather static movements and expressions (except when they’re being eaten or torn apart by Raptors). Graphically the game is a big step up for Telltale, although it’s still just in early-360-game territory. In terms of controls I mostly played with my Xbox joypad (which seemed the natural place for QTEs) and things seemed to go perfectly well. I hate the “get the dot into the circle” minigame with the right analogue stick, but there were never any moments where I pressed a button and the game didn’t acknowledge it, even in stressful situations. However, there was one bit where I died, restarted, wasn’t given a command and immediately died again, so there are a few bugs. Loading screens are immersion breaking too, and it’s ridiculous that there isn’t a Pause button (it’s the first Telltale game not to feature one). Oh, the save system’s pretty crap too, and you can’t skip any cutscenes for obvious but still extremely annoying reasons.

You don’t see much of these guys, sadly

Jurassic Park: The Game gets the licence utterly perfect, offering a thrilling rollercoaster ride (sometimes literally) of dinosaurs, tension and action, but still wise enough to slow down, let you and the characters catch their collective breath, and unwind with a simple puzzle or two. The story twists in interesting ways and the characters all go through challenging journeys, all of which really kept my interest to the end of the final episode. On the other hand though it’s basically a four-episode interactive movie no better than Dragon’s Lair, with very little challenge beyond frantically tapping buttons in order to get a good rank, and as a consequence the game’s over quite quickly.

If you’re not deathly afraid of QTEs and love Jurassic Park you’ll find a lot to love here, but it’s just got too many flaws to truly recommend it. Did I say flaws? I meant QTEs.

Top Game Moment: That sweet moment when you realise that yes, the T-Rex will actually eat the 15-year-old girl. Or less sadistically, the badass fight between Oscar and the Raptor. Totally my new band name.