Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Jurassic Park: The Game

Post-Launch Review
Jurassic Park: The Game
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games, Kalypso Media
Released: November 15 2011

Jurassic Park was intended to be an episodic game with the first episode to come out in April 2011, but delays resulted in all 4 episodes launching at the same time for one price. The plot of the game takes place during the events of the original Jurassic Park film. A dinosaur veterinarian and his daughter are trapped on the island during the catastrophe; a mercenary is sent in to retrieve the dinosaur embryos that Nedry failed to deliver in the film; and another merc squad is sent to evacuate survivors who missed the boat. The gameplay is a mix of classic point-and-click adventure with a healthy sprinkling of reaction-based quicktime events.

At Launch
The critics were unimpressed, weighing in with average scores in the mid 50s across all platforms. Most critics cited mediocre plot and characters and a control scheme that was barely interactive. Some reviewers gave it a higher score, considering it more of an interactive movie than a true game. There were some complaints about bugs that sounded pretty severe.
There was a bit of controversy regarding the Metacritic user reviews and the ethics of biased reporting. It turned out that a bunch of Telltale employees had logged onto the site and given the game scores of 10/10 across the board. It didn't seem to matter that much in the end, though — the user score currently sits at 3.2/10.

Post Launch
Can't seem to find any info on updates. There was an achievement added for Steam's 2011 Christmas sale but that appears to be it.
The Good
Another Perspective
The plot of the game provides some neat looks at other perspectives of the events and philosophy of the film. There's a big debate over whether or not the dinosaurs have the right to live, the human responsibility over the dinosaurs, and whether the survival of the dinosaurs should be prioritized over that of humans, as well as the potential ramifications of the dinosaurs' escape and interference with the modern ecosystem. Some of these issues were brought up in the films, but they're explored a bit more in-depth here.
Plot & Characters
The game's plot is a bit of a diamond-in-the-rough. There's some nice moments, good twists, great foreshadowing — but there are some odd patches here and there. Some parts feel a little stretched out. With a bit of cutting and polishing it could actually make a great movie plot. There's more good than bad.
The characters are also pretty well done. Each of the main characters is fairly well fleshed out, and we get to see a lot of personality and motivation and developing relationships and perspectives in the many conflicts between characters.
Dialogue System
Throughout the game you speak as different characters, each pushing their own agenda. It's a great tool to get you to sympathize with the characters: they're not just NPCs. Their goals become your goals. The choices provided do a good job of making you feel like you're in control when the outcome is actually the same in most cases. To clarify, the good part is not necessarily the dialogue UI, but the fact that you play as every character for some time.

TellTale's game has a couple of nice nods to the original film without being obnoxious. We don't get any unnecessary chance meetings with film characters, nor any too-obvious signs of passing. There are a couple of glimpses — the escaping helicopter, Nedry's corpse and car. The references that made me laugh were Nedry's security (“Ah ah ah! You didn't say the magic word!”) and the classic line “Dodgson! We've got Dodgson here!”.
New Dinosaurs
We're introduced to some new dinosaurs and reptiles that didn't make an appearance in the films. There are a couple of minor additions, but the main ones are the troodon and the mosasaur. The explanations for the lack of mention in the film are simple but perfectly reasonable. The troodon are actually pretty scary: they're smart and fast and stealthy like raptors, but instead of direct attack, they infect prey with a bite and then hang back. They lay eggs in still-living bodies, which is also pretty creepy. But the most intense part of the troodon lore: they were intended to be euthanized because they're too dangerous, which is why the low-level staff don't know about them and they're not in the brochures. The raptors were deemed safe enough, but the troodon were supposed to be destroyed. Whoah.
The Neutral
Quicktime Events
The game is split between point-and-click sequences (which are fine, if a little linear sometimes) and quicktime events. I know a lot of people hate QTEs. I have mixed feelings on the ones in Jurassic Park. They really help make the action sequences feel intense, and it feels great when you get things right on the first try. On the other hand, it can be really annoying to repeat a sequence over and over, especially when the sequence requires very precise timing — for some of them you can't just mash buttons, you have to time your presses correctly with a very small margin of error.
The T-Rex may have been a little overused, and it frequently pursues characters beyond the point of reasonability. I mean, how much does the thing need to eat before it's full? But for the most part it's scary and intense, just like the movie.
The Bad
Graphics & Animation
The dinosaurs themselves actually look quite good and move well for the most part, but overall the game looks like it was made years ago. Textures, models, and animations have very little detail for a modern game. I realize that's just how Telltale does their games, but I don't like it. It worked better for Back to the Future, which looked deliberately stylized; but considering the history of the Jurassic Park film franchise and its effects, I was expecting something more realistic and up to date.
Buggy & Broken
Frequently — VERY frequently — the game skips or stutters, but things are still happening. I miss entire chunks of dialogue, or even worse, button prompts, resulting in horrible death. I've had the mouse cursor disappear, so I can't select necessary options in time during intense sequences. Some games have bugs you can forgive or overlook; these ones are atrocious and absolutely break the game at critical points.
After a bit of research on the internet, it appears that the problem is either ATI graphics cards, or TellTale's game engine — from what I read the engine is designed to load content (textures, shadows, audio, etc) as it's needed rather than pre-loading everything like most games do. The method works just fine for older, graphically simpler games like Sam & Max, but it fails in Jurassic Park, where more complex textures and shadows are required. It also means it's unlikely to be patched, as a fix might require a pretty big overhaul of the engine code.
Turning shadows to minimum or off seems to pretty much fix the hanging issues, but the only solution to cursor disappearance is to quit and start the game again.
The Verdict
Recommendation: Maybe, but don't pay full price.
If you do decide to buy the game, don't get it for full price — the poor graphics, animation, and maddening bugs are just not worth it, not to mention the common hatred of QTEs. But if you can get past the problems, there's a decent game underneath. Not great, but pretty fun, and a good fit into the world of Jurassic Park. And, you know, dinosaurs.

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