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Jurassic Park - PC Game Review
For years, game designers have been trying to merge cinematic storytelling with interactive gameplay. Developer Telltale, known mostly for comic point-and-click adventures such as the Sam and Max and Wallace and Gromit series, goes darker and more adult with Jurassic Park, their harrowing and occasionally infuriating attempt to reach gaming immersion nirvana.
Jurassic Park takes place after the events of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster film. Isla Nublar, an island off the coast of Costa Rica, is mostly deserted, save for a few human workers and all of the dinosaurs created by eccentric InGen CEO John Hammond. A young mercenary and her weaselly employer sneak past the security fences in search of a canister containing dinosaur embryos, which they plan to sell when they return to the mainland. Meanwhile, the island’s chief veterinarian is showing off the island’s genetically engineered wonders to his rebellious teenage daughter. On their way to the boat to leave the island, they almost run over the mercenary, who’s been severely injured by a dino. During the next eight hours or so, it’s your task to guide these people safely through the jungles and tunnels of the abandoned theme park to the docks to an awaiting escape boat.
Remember the classic arcade quarter-swallower Dragon’s Lair, in which you had to respond with precisely timed joystick movements to continue from scene to scene? This is basically what you get with Jurassic Park. You don’t move any of the characters from place to place. Instead, you respond to icon prompts as each scene progresses. These prompts have you pressing your arrow or WASD keys, moving a dot to match a floating target with your mouse, and clicking on magnifying glass icons to examine items in the background. Unlike Telltale’s previous games, your characters can die in JP, and they frequently will (the designers even rub your face in it a bit by telling you how many times you’ve died in each scenario). You receive ratings (gold, silver or bronze) based on how many times it takes to complete each scene.
Telltale has once again built their new game using the Telltale Tool, an almost decade-old engine that’s really showing its age. However, the artists have managed to coax some very lovely graphics out of the old tech. The color palette is deeper and much more interesting than most of their other games, and the level of detail in the dinosaurs and the island itself is impressive. Also of note is the pace. There are times when there’s considerably too much exposition, but for the most part, you can’t afford to take your hand off of the keyboard and mouse, lest you miss an icon prompt and end up dinoburgers. In fact, there is some serious tension in the story in spots, sold fairly well by the voice actors.
But in an attempt to keep the story going and the player invested, Telltale has turned the mildly annoying Quick Time Event (QTE) into a source of uncontrolled frustration. There are many times when the prompts disappear much too fast, not giving you enough time to see them and react accordingly. The game makes it easier for you by decreasing the number of QTEs in a sequence after you fail enough times, and autosaves are frequent enough that you won’t be stuck at one place for very long, but there were many times when I felt lucky that my mouse is corded; a wireless one might’ve ended up buried in my monitor. Aside from the QTE problem, the story can get bogged down in extraneous conversations, even in the middle of puzzles. Telltale games are notorious for their tricky puzzles, but they’ve been all but jettisoned them from JP; there are only three of them (one in each of the last three episodes). None of them are particularly puzzling if you pay attention, but one of them is tough to solve without drawing yourself a diagram, so have pen and paper ready. Also worrying is the lack of manual saves, even on the main menu. If you leave the game and come back, you restart not at the nearest autosave, but at the beginning of the current scenario. But if you can’t stand to leave without getting gold ratings on all of the scenes, you can replay any of them from the menu.
It’s good to see Telltale start to branch out into more mature subject matter (they have a game based on the Walking Dead cable TV series in the works). But their tech is going to have to evolve past the trusty point-and-click interface that has served them so well in the past. There are some undeniably handsome visuals and some very involving storytelling in Jurassic Park, but the out-of-date engine and the game’s total reliance on QTEs make it hard to recommend for anyone except the most patient and level-headed of gamers. On the bright side, you get all four episodes (clocking in at about two hours each) for a reasonable price ($30); not a bad deal as long as you can keep your blood pressure in check.