It’s a beautiful summer day at a wildlife preserve on a small tropical island off the coast of Costa Rica. A young girl named Jessica, her father, Dr. Gerry Harding, and another of the reserve’s doctors named Sorkin are in one of the park’s numerous scientific facilities. The latter two are fervently arguing over the proper course of action regarding medical treatment for the animals, and its potential effects on the ecosystem of the world at large. Jessica is trailing behind them as they walk — she and Dr. Harding aren’t on the best of terms at the moment. They’ve been through some trials recently that have tested not only their physical abilities, but the limits of their relationship. She wasn’t exactly a saint before she came out here to visit him, either. Annoyed at his refusal to let her take on risks or responsibility, she removes from her pocket a lighter and a pack of cigarettes — she had stolen them from Dr. Sorkin a few minutes earlier. Likely thinking, “Whatever, they’ll never notice,” she ducks into a darkened room. She fumbles for a cigarette, but drops it since she can’t see properly. Taking out the lighter, she flicks it a few times until the flame comes on. She smirks with glee — that is, until she notices that the fire has also illuminated the face of a velociraptor.
It is hard to describe in words, but the best thing I can say about Jurassic Park: The Game is that it absolutely nails that distinct feel of the movies it is based on. The engaging ensemble cast and their believable character development arcs, and the arguments and harsh words that are suddenly interrupted by a feeling that something is just not right. Then a pair of glowing eyes appears, accompanied by a musical melody that evokes a sense of curiosity. A highly inventive, edge-of-your-seat escape sequence ensues. Then, usually, someone gets eaten.
The game’s plot is multilayered and interesting, with each character having their own idiosyncrasies and motivations. Dr. Harding and Jessica simply want to get off the island once the dinosaurs escape their pens. Dr. Sorkin is dedicated to protecting the rights of the dangerous wildlife. A mercenary named Nima is after the Barbosol can of dino embryos left behind by Newman from Seinfeld in the first movie. Then there's the pair of InGen agents who at first want to evacuate everybody, but whose goals start to change as the situation gets more intense. You have to give the story credit — it successfully weaves together themes of animal rights, mankind’s propensity for playing God, parental issues, and the unexpected changes a dangerous situation can evoke in a person. Were it not for one groan-inducing late-game betrayal that felt completely unnecessary for this character, I’d say that the story kept me riveted throughout. It’s nothing Oscar-worthy, but certainly more enjoyable than, say, Jurassic Park II.
In order to maintain the dichotomy between scenes of reflection and drama and the all-out action sequences, Telltale Games blended two play styles in a creative fashion — the point-and-click puzzle-solving scenarios the studio is known for give way to Quick-Time-Event-laden action sequences at the drop of a hat. One moment, you’ll be using a crane to yank off the door of a power station which powers the ride that will take you where you need to go. The next you’re on the track and using well-timed button presses to convince the dinos they’re not welcome on your roller coaster.
It’s not all sunshine and lysine on Isla Nublar, though, as the game has some big flaws that keep it from greatness. Chief among them is that the prompts which tell you what keys to push during the QTE events often don’t give you enough time to do so. I beat Heavy Rain on Hard on my first playthrough without any heroes dying, but here I failed certain scenes several times because the game didn’t give me enough time to press the button it prompted me with. This is doubly so when it layers three commands on top of each other and barely gives you any extra time. On top of all this, the framerate here is awful, meaning that many deaths were caused because it simply didn’t show me the prompt.
There are a lot of programming errors that should have been ironed out, as well. When you start a new game (on the PC version), you are asked if you want to play with the keyboard and mouse or a game controller. I started with keyboard and mouse, but for the purposes of this review, I plugged in my Xbox controller partway through. The controller was recognized — pressing Start paused the game. However, as soon as I moved the analog stick, the on-screen cursor disappeared and I couldn’t interact with the environment whatsoever. The problem persisted until I paused the game and went back to using the other control method. If you want to know how the game plays using a controller, I apologize, but I can’t tell you.
The story is driven home by the highly believable actors. Yes, not character models — actors. The animations here are highly nuanced, particularly facial expressions during conversations, which lends some realism and helps get you attached to the characters. They can move a little robotically when performing certain non-essential actions, but if Jeff Goldblum is considered an actor then Dr. Harding deserves an Oscar. The dinosaurs are rendered with a frightening amount of realism, making it seem like the characters are in true danger of a gruesome death. Startlingly gruesome, actually — missing a prompt during an action scene usually gets you killed in some elaborate way, and with faces getting burned by acid, people getting trampled by T-Rexes, and raptors jumping into vehicles to feast on their hapless victims, you have a strong desire to avoid getting a Game Over.
Audio in the game is generally well-done, but nothing to write home about. Characters are paired with appropriate voice actors, and the music evokes the same sense of wonder as it does in the movies. There is often some jarring repetition, though, that takes you out of the experience. In the middle of a serious conversation, characters will often randomly spout the same line of dialog a second time. It is easily the second-most annoying thing in the game, outside of the framerate issues. At least the dinosaurs sound realistic enough to scare any young children that might be sitting in the next room.
Including deaths, the game’s four episodes took me around seven hours to complete. I’d rather have this game’s tight pacing than additional hours' worth of filler, but I can’t help but feel shortchanged when the average episode of Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island was about four hours. You can replay the action scenes to try for better rankings (by getting as few deaths as possible), but there’s really no reason to return to this game unless you want to see all the cool death scenes.
‘Interactive movie’ is generally seen as a derogatory term in the game industry. Jurassic Park is certainly a guided experience, and there is generally only one way to move forward. However, this allows it to deliver movie-style pacing and action scenes. Games like this live or die based on the strength of their characters and story, and luckily Telltale has delivered. However, the myriad technical issues make it impossible to call this a must-play for everyone. The casual adventure game fan may enjoy it, as long as they can put up with the aforementioned annoyances. Fans of the movies and books should definitely check it out, and they’ll probably find they get their money’s worth. Welcome to Jurassic Park — The Game!