Welcome…to Jurassic Park?
Before we get started, I need to point out that I am an avid Jurassic Park (JP) fan. The book impressed my young mind when I first read it in the late 80s and the movie dazzled me even more when it released in theaters. On the gaming side, I haven’t been all that impressed with JP games but I loved the Sega CD game, which played like a point-and-click adventure – it was my hope that this title would be an enhanced version of that given TellTale’s resume. I also feel that in full disclosure I love TellTale games and truly feel this developer, even at its weakest, is amazing and I look forward to all its new releases. With all that in mind, hopefully you’ll trust me when I say that Jurassic Park: The Game is a glitchy mess that disappoints in almost every way imaginable and has me questioning future TellTale licensed releases.
I was a fan of full motion video (FMV) games in the Sega CD/3DO era that spawned titles like Dragons Lair and Night Trap, but for most of the gaming populous they are seen as a tragic dark time for video games. This probably also explains why the dreaded quick time event (QTE) also plays whipping boy for interactive cutscenes that have gone mainstream this generation. The decision to make JP: The Game a hybrid of the two ill-fated genres baffles me, but I hoped that if done right it would be commendable. Additionally Heavy Rain did a decent job of proving that a game that is one big QTE can be a solid title, but not without stumbling along the way in the more aggravating scenes of previous title Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit in Europe and Japan). JP: The Game seems to have learned nothing from developer Quantic Dream whom it supposedly used for inspiration because TellTale managed to make button combinations that frustrate and consistently break immersion. If it’s a dirty trick, it was used – having you press buttons in short windows (and anything early or late is an immediate death), long sequences requiring perfection, instances where you have to hold one or two buttons and then doing a complex analog stick rotation (all with a timed window), or my personal favorite preparing you to press one button and then making a different button blink on another part of the screen just before the other button’s cue. If that last part sounded confusing that’s because like most of this game, it is. Additional foolish choices in gameplay include a using the analog stick to keep a rotating ball balanced, which is so brutally touchy that your second attempt is made so easy it doesn’t even require you to move the stick – apparently the developers had this issue during the testing stage, but what a poor way to solve the problem. I also don’t understand why some of the button presses are placed on the screen where they can be hidden in the background, which is made even more frustrating by the two second window you’re given to press said button. There are moments in the game, especially near the end, where you will make critical decisions but for some reason you haven’t a clue that this particular button press is a choice and once its made it will affect the plot. You will also see a bunch of sequences where multiple buttons will flash in front of you at once and sometimes you need only press one (a “decision”) and others will require you to press them all. How do you know which? The game will kill you and force you back to the beginning of the sequence to do it right like a good monkey the second time through. This is how you will feel after about the first hour of JP: The Game and it somehow manages to get worse with every following hour from then on. Odd choices for the console version (I played it on PS3) include using the right stick for QTE movements but the left stick during exploration. As it stands, regardless of what you play it on, you’ll consistently make your way through a tense series of button presses only to die on some stupid developer trickery in what buttons to press and then roll your eyes as you repeat the sequence, now prepared for the bullshit up ahead.
These gameplay issues are really a shame too, because when these action sequences start and you are given a relatively straightforward QTE the tension really grows with each button press, especially when you need to rapidly tap on a single button. Action sequences in the game are probably the biggest draw and although the scenarios aren’t new per se, the dinosaur interactions are exactly what you’ve come to expect from the franchise. TellTale did take the time to include details that even the most avid fans would appreciate and really worked to bring Spielberg’s original masterpiece back to life (the plot completely discredits what was done in the book just as the movie had). This mimicry was so distinct that it sadly continued into poor storytelling as well, a category I was very disappointed to see TellTale fail so badly at. In episode one you’re given a realistic scenario that doesn’t seem forced into the plot (it takes place moments after Hammond and crew escape the island in the first movie). All introduced characters are realistic and the events that transpire feel like they could have been in an alternative script for the second movie. With such a great appetizer it slowly becomes a train wreck as the plot begins to take a rote and unnecessary approach, eventually ending in a hurried group of events that leaves you caring for no one. TellTale made great characters and does a decent job developing most of them, I can’t possibly understand why they felt a need to destroy all that work with stupid events in the plot, the final episode being the main offender. I’d love to go into more details because hopefully spoiling the insipid plot may encourage you to avoid this title completely, but my ethics just won’t allow for it – trust me though, you’ll be disappointed.
Graphically the game looks great, easily competing with the visuals of most titles found on consoles today. To see them in motion, especially with the giant dinosaurs I appreciated so much in my youth, was a treat. In addition, music also “spares no expense” as the John Williams theme we all know makes subtle appearances and action music, although most likely recycled from the films as well, blends in effortlessly. There was no attempt to re-create any sound effects from the movie either, all raptor calls, dilophosaur hisses and T-Rex roars are authentic from the films. It was probably an easy asset to obtain and may have even been forced in the licensing agreement with Universal, but either way it gives a quality touch that makes the game feel truly authentic. You will probably have a hard time noticing any of this, though, because the game is so damn buggy on consoles. A hiccup here, a loss of sync there is excusable, especially in the first episode, which was probably completed first and has the benefit of clearly having the most polish. By the fourth and final episode you can literally watch your console processing the information, go make coffee during the loading screens and I even found a point in the final sequence that reminded me of those old FMV films because I literally saw the pause points where the game decided whether to load the live or die sequence. I’m hoping these are greatly improved on the PC side but as for the consoles, I’m fairly certain that the 360 version suffers the same stutters of my PS3 version, especially when you consider JP is on disc for the 360 and my version was installed on my console’s hard drive. When the game freezes there appears to be no rhyme or reason and your PS3 will require a hard reset, something I hate doing with my poor aging launch console. Don’t be too quick to assume your game froze though, most times it’s just the disappointing frozen action that proceeds your next loading screen – which on PS3 can be detected by looking for your hard drive read light, if it’s blinking you should still be safe.
Jurassic Park: The Game was a highly anticipated title for a guy like me ever since it was announced about a year and a half ago. At a couple of trade shows I got the opportunity to play a few random sequences and in truth I had high hopes for the title. It pains me so much to see it all fall apart so disappointingly, especially with a developer like TellTale and the same solid license agreement that impressed me with Back to the Future. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, this is the first game of this type for TellTale so I’m sure pessimists called this from day one, but I never imagined it would be so poorly crafted and still release. Many have said the 6-8 hour completion time makes this title short, but for me it ran far too long and by the end I spent most of my time hoping they would wrap the story with a decent ending and wondering what game I would play when I was done with this mess. Sadly the Deep Blue Sea (that’s the biggest spoiler I’m offering) plot and rushed feel for the ending (I’m certain this was planned as a five-episode title originally) just comes together to beg the question: why did they even bring it out in this state?
Score: 2 saddened brontosaur wails out of 5
-Spydersvenom (Fred Rojas)
Editors Note: This title was not provided as a review copy. It was received by the reviewer in a free promotion that accompanied PSN+ in early November.