Between reviving beloved franchises like Sam & Max and Monkey Island and coming out of the blue with the delightful Back to the Future: The Game, Telltale isn't pulling any punches in its campaign to reclaim my childhood. So far, they've done justice to every property they've tackled. Their latest nostalgia blitzkrieg is Jurassic Park: The Game, which takes place at the familiar dinosaur park but introduces all-new characters and attempts to follow up on some of the loose ends of the film's plot. In keeping with the spirit of the movie, this is a faster-paced, darker game than Telltale's usual oeuvre, with a unique interface and control scheme to go along with the different tone and pace. Unfortunately, the effort is held back by an engine that feels ancient and a general lack of awe that keeps the game from ever matching the best moments of the film.
Fans of the 1993 Spielberg movie (or the Michael Crichton novel it's based on) will remember one Dennis Nedry, the portly computer programmer who compromises the park's security in order to steal valuable embryos for a rival corporation. In doing so, Nedry turns a tightly-controlled zoological environment into a deadly dino free-for-all; one that comes back to bite him in his (considerable) rear end when he is stalked and killed by a venom-spitting Dilophosaurus. The embryos, encased in a fake can of Barbasol shaving cream, rolled away from Nedry and were buried under a pile of mud, never to be seen again.
Or were they? Jurassic Park: The Game picks up the trail of the Barbasol can, telling the story of the mercenary sent to retrieve the embryos from the island, as well as an assortment of other characters who have been left behind after InGen CEO John Hammond and company escape. In addition to Nima the mercenary and her contact Miles, you'll play as Gerry Harding, a staff veterinarian accompanied by his daughter Jess (because what's Jurassic Park without children in peril?) as well as Dr. Laura Sorkin, a geneticist on a mission of her own, plus Oscar and Yoder, two guns for hire brought in by InGen to rescue everyone else. Needless to say, the rescue does not go smoothly and before long everyone is trapped on Isla Nublar with a host of ever-hungry dinosaurs. Each character also has their own various motives, some of which are more secret than others, and some of which aren't terribly conducive to everyone's survival.
Jurassic Park is, like other Telltale games, divided into episodes, though all four episodes are being released as a single product this time rather than spaced out over a course of months. That’s probably a good idea in this case, since it's easy to forget the details of an overarching narrative when there's a month or two between releases. The urgency of the story—RUN HERE! FIX THIS! WATCH OUT! QUICK, HIDE BEHIND THAT! GET OFF THE ISLAND BEFORE YOU GET EATEN!—plays out better in a few consecutive sittings, making the game feel meatier, though it's still only about six or seven hours long.
The game does a great job of hooking itself into the Jurassic Park mythos, feeling like a natural extension of the film rather than a cheap cash-in. The writing is solid if not remarkable, with likeable, fleshed-out characters and a script that's far more serious than Telltale’s traditional work. There are weak points in the storytelling, though. Character motivations can sometimes flip with little provocation, and the protagonists can be awfully talkative during life-or-death situations, which takes the bite out of some of the action-y bits. (Maybe there's a better time for long-winded exposition than when raptors are clawing at your heels, guys? Huh?)
While there are a few laughs, Jurassic Park is naturally heavier on drama and suspense than, say, Strong Bad. The story takes the time to delve more deeply into some of the themes briefly touched on in the film, exploring the ethics of bringing what is essentially an endangered species into existence. While most of the game is a fast-paced series of close shaves and narrow escapes, the inclusion of such issues lends some literary gravitas that is certainly welcome. Dr. Sorkin in particular feels the weight of ethical responsibility and strives to reverse the lysine deficiency installed by the original engineers as a failsafe to prevent the dinosaurs from surviving on their own.
The actual gameplay is a fairly radical departure from what we've previously seen from Telltale. In fact, it all seems fairly derivative of Heavy Rain's pattern of exploration bookended by blink-or-you'll-die Quick Time Events. The button prompts also ape the physicality of Quantic Dream's opus: opening a door involves moving the mouse/thumbstick left or right, while kicking a dino in the face (a fairly common occurrence, actually) may involve mashing a button or timing your press just so according to the onscreen prompt.
The QTEs feel appropriate for the most part, but can be frustratingly inconsistent—imagine your character running and leaping about in a cinematic without any input required from you, only to have an action prompt pop up halfway through the scene to complete one of the jumps. Take more than a split second to react and—whoops!—you're dead. The punishment for death is jumping back to the last checkpoint, which is never too far away and so isn’t overly frustrating, though your rating for that scene drops, if you care about that kind of thing.
In general, though, the Quick Time Events make for some involving and suspenseful action. They may not reach the intensity the film, but they work well enough. There are even a few truly clever moments that play against the expectations of the genre, like a scene where a character, dazed from a hard fall, must struggle to gather her senses. The player has to guide a moving dot on-screen to hover over a target using the mouse or thumbstick. Normally this isn't much of a challenge, but in this one case, the dot moves so wildly that it's literally impossible to succeed, meaning the character remains dazed. The forced failure emphasizes the desperation of the moment to nice effect.Continued on the next page...