Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jurassic Park: The Game Review

Jurassic Park: The Game, developed and published by Telltale Games.
The Good: Some nice dinosaurs
The Not So Good: Annoying quick time events, “puzzles” require an excessive amount of trial and error for specific solutions, dialogue choices never impact the story, slow pace, performance issues, checkpoint-only saves
What say you? A dull, tedious adaptation with repetitive, limited interaction coupled with a lack of choice: 2/8

I think we can all agree that dinosaurs are cool, and the best platform for them is the big screen, as seen in the blockbuster movie Carnosaur 3: Primal Species. Oh, and also some little independent film called Jurassic Park. There has been the occasional misguided attempt at a computer game based on the franchise, and now it's Telltale's turn at the helm, authors of the Back to the Future revival and the Sam & Max games. Attempting to bring their style to Isla Nublar, does Jurassic Park: The Game inject both action and adventure into an action-adventure?

Jurassic Park: The Game delivers a mixed bag of graphics. On the bright side, the dinosaurs are very detailed and animated quite well, coming to life in their tropical paradise. The humans are less effective: while the facial animations are done well, things get worse as you travel further down, ending with poor ground textures and blurry low-resolution backgrounds. Rain also looks poor, and stiff animations are noticeable in a number of the game's scenes. Still, it was a bit impressed at how much content there was: you get a five-hour movie, essentially (plus alternative dialogue), which obviously took a lot of time and energy to create. However, there are noticeable performance issues (at least for me): the game hangs during the most inopportune times, seemingly loading in the middle of a quick time event when you are supposed to be pressing buttons. I guess this is the trade-off for having essentially no loading times, but I'd rather stare at a title screen for ten seconds than suffer through a slideshow during the middle of an action scene. In addition, I had to change the screen resolution one choice at a time, accepting each new step on the way to the optimal choice. That wasted a good four minutes of my life watching my monitor reset through all of the available resolutions. It's a small thing to complain about in the end, but it speaks of the lack of polish Jurassic Park: The Game suffers from in some areas. The sound design is OK, I suppose, with decent enough voice acting (although the teenage daughter was terribly cast). The music was underwhelming: I guess Telltale couldn't get the rights to the full theme. While uneven, the presentation of Jurassic Park: The Game fits its $30 price tag.

Jurassic Park: The Game consists of four episodes (five to six hours) of around twelve chapters each, set up kind of like a DVD (for good reason, with the lack of meaningful interaction). As you progress through the linear story, you can earn medals based on how many times you screwed up the quick time events. You get a death count and (thankfully) restart the button pressing sequence quickly. The game progresses very slowly, and it's an odd combination of generally rapid quick time events and arduous scene hunting. Jurassic Park: The Game also has checkpoint-only saves, which are infrequent enough to annoy when you'd like to exit the game on your terms.

Jurassic Park: The Game consists of two main things: clicking that masquerades as puzzles and quick time events, which, I think it's safe to say, nobody thinks are fun anymore. Occasionally, scenes are presented that you must search for objects to click on. These areas of interest are clearly displayed with gigantic question marks and magnifying glasses, and it's simply a matter of clicking things in the “right” order, as determined by the developer. For example, clicking on that tree might not do anything, but clicking on the jeep first and then the tree will move on to the next scene. Another example: I know where that shaving cream can is from the movie. Can I click on the dirt? Of course not. I have to aim the jeep lights around and investigate various places where I know the can is not located, then find a soda can in the back of the jeep to trigger the discover scene. Talk about intuitive! While a few of the puzzle sequences make sense, most are illogical in their static design. I wasted a significant amount of time just trying to figure out the prerequisites to advance the scene.

Quick time events! Unfortunately, they are a big part PRESS LEFT NOW of the Jurassic Park: The Game experience, as the game relies heavily on sequences where PRESS UP AND DOWN you have to press specific keys at seemingly random times. Some cutscenes come with quick time events, and some do not, so you always PRESS LEFT AND LEFT AND RIGHT have to keep one hand on the arrow keys just in case. They also seem to appear at the weirdest times, interrupting the PRESS UP UP UP UP flow of the story. There is really no skill involved in the game, and if you die by missing a combination, the same sequence will appear the next time, so rote memorization can be the key to PRESS UP AND DOWN AND UP AGAIN success. I don't think that pressing four buttons at specific times to walk around or reload a tranquilizer rifle actually qualifies as UP UP UP LEFT DOWN “gameplay”. Additional options include brief mouse-driven minigames where you have to navigate a fake computer interface or guide a circle inside of another moving circle, plus some choices in dialogue, but your selection never actually changes the story in any way, giving the player the illusion of choice when there really is none. Those who like to push random buttons and watch what prize comes out might be entertained by Jurassic Park: The Game, but everyone else will be left wanting much, much more interaction.

In Jurassic Park: The Game, you occasionally press buttons and click the mouse while watching a movie. “The Game” is quite a misnomer, as there isn't much of a game to be had. There are certainly no decisions to make on your own: you must press the right buttons when the game tells you to, and you must click the scenery in a predetermined order. The player is really unnecessary; in an age of procedurally generated content and multiple endings, the restrictive nature of Jurassic Park: The Game is simply archaic. You get quick time events, where you must press arrow keys in succession, a tedious process that wore out its welcome years ago. You get searching puzzles, where you must click on the right question marks hidden on multiple screens in the correct order. You get dialogue choices that don't actually do anything different. There's even the irregular mini-game using the mouse. None of these things are fun, and the story is only passably interesting. Jurassic Park: The Game suffers from significant enough performance problems (stuttering during quick time events) to negatively impact the gameplay, and the checkpoint-only saves restricts your ability to exit the game when you wish. So what are we left with? Basically a movie where you have to press the right buttons to advance to the next scene. That's not the level of sophistication I was looking for. Simply put, fans of the movies will be very disappointed that more wasn't done to further the inherent appeal of the franchise.