Jurassic Park: The Game presents a tough situation for us. On the one hand it combines two things we've loved in the past, the spectacular Jurassic Park film series and the successful story-driven developer Telltale Games. However, it is an experience where the player is almost entirely superfluous. Indeed, the subtitle The Game barely seems to apply. While there are still moments which shine that remind us of Telltale's pedigree (Sam & Max, Strong Bad, Tales of Monkey Island), the game is essentially an interactive cutscene. Let us explain.
It is recommended that you've watched at least the first Jurassic Park film, as the game picks up from one of its few dangling plot threads - the shaving can full of dinosaur embryos Newman from Seinfeld died trying to smuggle off Isla Nubar. A mercenary arrives on the island near the end of the film's events to retrieve the can for her employers, only for matters to get complicated as her fate becomes entwined with a few survivors left behind, and the rescue team sent to fetch them. There's no one protagonist in the game, which means control switches between six characters, all of which have their own personalities and flaws. Some are initially stereotypical but are eventually given depth, even if it's towards the end of the game. Some are just insufferable gits, like skinhead rescuer Billy.
The quality of the writing in Jurassic Park: The Game varies. There are times when simply too much is said, and plot points are over-explained or scenes are left to go on for too long, ruining tension and pacing. Telltale also weave in a few lines directly from the film, which to be honest stick out like a sore thumb rather than work as clever references. However, there are some interesting ethics explored, mostly centering around the 'lysine contingency' that is meant to keep the dinosaurs under human control.
Telltale, while known for point-and-click adventure titles, have taken a different approach with Jurassic Park: The Game. This becomes immediately clear as the game begins - with a cinematic quicktime-event laden cutscene, as a woman is chased by the admittedly creepy new Troodon dinosaurs. We then flashback to earlier in the story, where the same woman, Nima, is tasked by her accomplice with sneaking into Jurassic Park. If you were expecting some stealth-based gameplay you may be disappointed, as you soon find out you have no control over the character's movement. You can move the camera around and highlight certain objects to interact with, and that's the point when you realise this is the extent of the game's interactivity.
Basically, Jurassic Park: The Game is Telltale's dinosaur version of Heavy Rain. In an attempt to provide a cinematic experience that's accessible to casual players, the game plays out like an animated movie, with the 'gameplay' divided into three parts. Action scenes are simply quicktime events, with button prompts you have to react to in order for the 'scenario' to continue. Fail to react fast enough, and you'll be treated to a death scene, some of which are inappropriately disturbing given the rather PG nature of most of the game. There are dialogue scenes with a round Mass Effect-style interface, but often your choice of dialogue is irrelevant and your input is essentially unnecessary for the game to continue. The investigation scenarios are where the game's puzzles are found, the majority of which involve clicking around static screens, trying to find the right order to interact with items. You can move from location to location in a Phoenix Wright-like location select screen, which while cute on the DS feels embarrassing in a game with the scope of Jurassic Park.
All of this is worsened by the fact that the controls on PC just aren't very good. The game has been designed with a gamepad with analogue sticks in mind. Without one, moving the camera is done with the WSAD keys, while several quicktime event prompts involve moving your cursor to an icon and dragging it around in the desired direction, making the already hard-to-time prompts even tougher. In addition, since you are responsible for six characters, some of whom are both heroic and villainous, it's often confusing as to exactly who you're controlling with the on-screen button prompts. This is a shame, since the action scenes comprise some of the few times Jurassic Park: The Game really feels like its source material, as Velociraptors and Troodons attack you from all angles, and there's a genuine sense of danger as you sprint to escape. You are awarded medals for how well you perform in these scenes, which encourages replay value, but also kind of destroys tension whenever you see the pop-up box appear informing you that the scenario is over and showing your reward, immediately signalling you can put down the controller for a while.
There are further problems, including the game's pacing, with occasionally jarring shifts between its gameplay styles. For instance, one cutscene sees our heroes chase a character who has escaped into an elevator. They get there just as the doors close - damn! They need to follow her, but how? The scene then inexplicably cuts to one of the protagonists calmly browsing an exhibit in the same room, apparently having forgotten the immediacy of the situation, beginning a slow investigation segment. The game isn't incredibly long either. It was originally intended to be episodic, but after a delay has seen all four episodes included in the one package. The whole thing will last around 5-7 hours depending on how often you die or if any of the handful of somewhat challenging puzzles stump you.
Jurassic Park: The Game's presentation is unfortunately also a mixed bag. The dinosaurs themselves have impressive models and animation, and there are a couple of great moments such as a T-Rex/Triceratops fight that evoke the wonder of the film trilogy. The human characters have some great animation in cutscenes, even if their facial expressions can get a little... odd. However, the game doesn't play nice with ATI cards, including ours, and as a result we had to drop a few of the settings down to get a frame-rate that didn't interfere with the quicktime events. The voice acting, on the other hand, is great, and the dinosaurs chitters and roars are very authentic to the films. Various glitches and bugs also occur from time to time, including missing props or characters' eyeballs and problems with the audio.
There are also some issues with the interface. The main menu takes an inordinate time to load up, with an extraneous animation that has to occur every time. If you want to change the resolution, you have to step through every option, waiting for your monitor to adjust each time, instead of just choosing the one you need from a drop-down menu. Finally, we had problems switching between our keyboard and gamepad, usually requiring a few restarts of the game to get it to identify we had changed input devices.
Even if we ignore all of its foibles and faults, the best thing we could say about Jurassic Park: The Game is that it certainly is an 'interactive movie'. You are basically literally watching an animated movie play out, albeit with almost the bare minimum of interaction from you. The quality of the direction and action is sometimes impressive, the writing is decent and it does feel like a proper Jurassic Park experience from time to time. It just doesn't feel like much of a game. It pales in comparison to the higher-budgeted Heavy Rain, as while they share similar mechanics, Heavy Rain was able to offer a degree of non-linearity, or control, that Jurassic Park: The Game simply lacks. It's an interesting experiment from Telltale in this genre, but it is a failed one, and one that the Jurassic Park franchise arguably doesn't deserve.