PSN Review: Jurassic Park: The Game



Jurassic Park: The Game is almost the sequel you’ve been wanting since the moment you finished seeing the movie for the first time. Packed to bursting with intense and exhilarating raptor fights, tyrannosaur chases and all manner of edge-of-your-seat adventure peril for you to leap though, it also maintains Telltale Games’ knack for excellent writing as it crafts likeable, well-developed characters, an enjoyable story and sharp dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s a fantastic adventure experience marred by many recurring technical issues and awkward presentation.

Taking place alongside the movie (though featuring no recurring characters outside of shifty Dennis Nedry’s bloated corpse and plenty of sly nods here and there), Jurassic Park: The Game picks up just after Nedry’s plan to smuggle priceless embryos off the dino-infested island resort came to an abrupt dilophosaurus-assisted halt and he ended up a mauled carcass. When Nedry naturally doesn’t make the meet, the head of the smuggling op sends in a back-up: Gruff Michelle Rodriguez-alike Nima. While on her way to track down the shaving cream can full of hidden embryos, she crosses paths with a dino vet and his teen daughter just as the park starts to dissolve into chaos and dinosaurs roam freely in search of fresh meat. Aided by an InGen military rescue team, the trio attempt to make it off the island with all limbs intact as they dodge all manner of formerly extinct carnivorous monsters.
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Taking a slight step away from their usual tried-and-true point-and-click adventure game formula, Telltale Games (Back to the Future: The Game, Sam & Max) borrow a few tricks from Heavy Rain as Jurassic Park plays out more like an interactive movie than a traditional “game”. As a character flees a dinosaur, swings a weapon, jumps over a gap or opens a door, Quick-Time Event style button prompts flash up on parts of the screen instructing you to push the analog stick right to dodge right, twirl it to turn a crank or hammer the ‘X’ button to run faster, and so on. Perform the desired controller action and the character escapes danger and progresses to the next scene. Get it wrong and they’ll either stumble or encounter a gruesome, crunchy death (and with hundreds of chances to screw up, there’s more grisly demises packed into the game than a stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books). The action sequences play out with a medal system in the corner of the screen to gauge your progress – you start with a gold ranking, but the more mistakes you make, the more your score drops to bronze and below.

It’s simplistic and very linear, and if you weren’t a fan of Heavy Rain’s interactive movie gameplay, then you’ll be equally turned off by the action sequences here. If you’re willing to buy into it, though, the action set-pieces are packed with tense, heart-pounding moments of peril that’ll have you mashing buttons in sheer adrenaline-fueled panic and breathing a sigh of relief when your character makes it to the end un-chomped. Jurassic Park: The Game is an often unrelenting assault of the same kind of memorable, high-stakes, character-driven adventure set-pieces that the film thrived on, and whether it’s the simple terror of outrunning and evading a T-rex or taking control of a marine as you fight a raptor with a combat knife(!), there’s a tonne of memorable pulse-pumping moments. It doesn’t hurt that there’s copious use of the classic movie score and a tonne of nods and allusions to the film that stay just the right sight of geek pandering.
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There’s still some point-and-click DNA left amidst the new action-oriented set pieces, though. Between action scenes, you’ll often be investigation the room, inspecting objects, talking to characters and solving rudimentary puzzles. Each scene is usually split into several points of view, which you can pick from and jump between using the left stick. One character might be one one side of the room, while their companion is on the other, and you’ll have to switch between the two to complete a goal, like using a crane with one to allow the other to hook it onto something. It’s all pretty simple stuff and, though there’s only a couple of scenes that’ll give you more than a moment’s pause for some genuine puzzling, there’s just enough to make it feel like slightly more than a hollow Dragon’s Lair update.

Telltale Games’ major strength has always been in their trait of putting story, character and writing at the forefront of the gaming experience, sometimes to the point where you’ll want to forgive what their titles lack in polish and presentation. That notion has never been more prominent than in Jurassic Park: The Game. Telltale once again manage to excel at crafting likeable characters and telling a wonderfully engaging story, but while the game does a great job at making you give a damn about these people and want to guide them through dangerous situations unscathed (or see asshats get their comeuppance), shoddy presentation and a seemingly complete lack of quality assurance pop up in a major way to derail the experience.
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The button prompts that pop up to show you what actions to perform are awkwardly presented. Popping up as giant magnifying glass or hand icons, they have teeny-tiny icons in their lower right corner to signify which button to actually push, but they’re so small that you’ll often find it a huge challenge just to distinguish what the game wants you to do, dying in the process. On other occasions the game will throw up three icons at once during an action scene, and it’ll take several deaths and trial and error to work out that the game wants you to push them in sequence to carry out an action, despite giving you no indication of their order.

Strange moments also lose sight of the usually clear and focused importance that Telltale places on story and character. The game often switches between its small ensemble of characters, but doesn’t usually do a good job of letting you know that it’s done so. It usually happens during investigation scenes, so there’s no punishment for not noticing that you’re suddenly controlling another member of the group, but it’s a jarring experience to flit back and forth without warning. It’s a problem that reaches its apex as the game has you weirdly pick dialogue choices for two different characters to carry out an argument from both sides of the conversation, rather than have you take control of one person and pick responses that reflects your opinions. It’s jarring, awkward and feels more like an overcompensation for the game’s natural lack of interactivity than a natural narrative choice, and threatens to unsettle the grounding of character and focus – if you’re steering a character you like, it’s weird to be controlling their abrasive opponent at the same time.
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Even worse is the occasionally terrible frame rate problems. For a game that demands split-second responses from the player, it’s only fair we should expect the same in return. But despite being an experience that relies on smooth, fluid transitions from one moment to another, Jurassic Park: The Game throws up juddering stutters, huge drops in frame rate and awkward pauses as it switches from one part of a scene to the next. Frame rate problems and glitches are nothing new for a Telltale game, but while it was easy to forgive the issues of their WiiWare titles as by-products of being forced to meet the maximum 50mb size limit for Wii downloads at the time, here there’s no such restrictions. There’s simply no obvious reason why a PS3 downloadable game with less than taxing visuals should hitch up and stutter this badly. It’s an issue that tends to get better (or less noticeable) as each episode wears on, but it still puts a massive dent in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

It’s an adventure game in the truest sense of the word, crafting engaging, likeable characters and putting them and you through scene after scene of breathless, rollercoaster peril. Sadly, while Telltale Games reaffirm that dialogue, story and character is their forte, Jurassic Park: The Game is an experience greatly undone by the sloppy technical issues that plague the game. If you can get past the recurrent glitchiness, there’s an incredibly thrilling game and an enjoyable fan-friendly Jurassic Park follow-up story underneath, it’s just a shame that they come with so many glaring caveats.

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Jurassic Park: The Game is available to buy on the US PlayStation Network now priced $29.99. A European release is due soon.