Review: Jurassic Park: The Game (PC)

Jurassic Park: The Game
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/15/2011

Telltale Games set out to make an adventure game that captured the feel of the Spielberg-directed films of the 90’s. There was a lot of hype built up around it and I wasn’t sure how their standard formula of adventure game like Monkey Island would play out here. They really haven’t gone that route so much as this game is more a blend of Heavy Rain and the Monkey Island play style. There are lots of events that take place in action scenes that you have to time just right broken up by puzzle areas that you need to investigate in or simply take a break and have a conversation with the person you’re with. But does this approach work? Yes and no.

Like most of Telltale’s titles, the game is told in an episodic format, but in this case was released all at once instead of monthly installments, but you can start at any of the episodes if you want or play from the beginning. Honestly, if you’re playing first time, do yourself a favor and play from the beginning. Telltale has gone back to the setting from the first film with the game, at Isla Nublar, the main facility that was to be what the tourists would have seen and where Hammond’s dream was turned inside out. Instead of dealing with Grant, Satler or Malcolm and re-treading ground we’ve already seen, we’re introduced to an almost new cast of characters and a much more expanded role for the park’s Veterinarian, Dr. Harding, the one who was working on the sick Triceratops in the first film with Dr. Satler. There was a lot of danger of not only not fitting in with the film’s continuity, but also adding way too much to the lore of the first island with the new species they were introducing that wasn’t on InGen’s list, but as far as the story goes, they managed to not only skirt that issue, but provide a very plausible series of events that could have easily happened concurrent and after the film’s events.

As I mentioned earlier, the game focuses on Dr. Harding, the park’s vet and his daughter who happens to be visiting the island just before Nedry does his thing in the film. There’s a Costa Rican native named Nima who is working with someone from Biosyn to get Nedry’s embryos off the island. Although, obviously, something goes wrong. The game actually spends very little time dealing with events and specific areas surrounding the film and instead at first focuses on these two groups and after Hammond and his team of “Ëœexperts’ have made their escape, Harding and the others are facing trying to figure out their own escape off the island. There is a rescue team involved with an interesting cast of military misfits as well as a scientist who values who own work over human life, or so it seems at first. The ingredients are there to make this something that any fan of the Jurassic Park films would love, and I have to say that the story is as involved as the first and second film, if not more so, and far more involved than the third film, which I still enjoyed.

Visually, the game offers some stunning moments. Some are very Spielberg-esque and some could move right from the video game screen to live action in terms of set-up and be absolutely breath-taking. And then sometimes the shadows don’t work at all, the lighting looks extremely off, and you’re sitting there wondering if this part of the game was really finished or not. Luckily those moments are few and far between. The dinosaurs look and move just like their movie counterparts. In fact the best animation in the game is in the dinosaurs themselves. There is a fight recreating a classic cinematic moment from The Lost World (1925) and the Field Museum in Chicago, between a Triceratops and a T-Rex and I ended up having to re-do portions of that scene because I was too enthralled watching these two giants go at it. I think one of my other favorites that could have been from Spielberg, but feels more like Pitch Black, when one of the characters goes to get a smoke in a darkened hallway and as they light up it illuminates the dinosaur that was skulking down the hallway. Setting up the suspenseful moments was very well done. There are a few errors here and there though, mostly in the people of all things which had motion capture done for their performances. Sometimes there are animation errors where it looks like huge portions of movement are missing, or the mouths never quite sync up to the audio going on. For the most part things are smooth, and I’ve seen worse in other games, but when you’re dealing with a game that’s gearing for a more cinematic feel, it really stands out.

For the most part I cannot fault the sound design on this game at all. The classic John Williams Jurassic Park theme is used, along with a few new themes and other musical cues from both Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. All are used to good effect in game. The casting for the characters was pretty good. The actor’s make you care about the characters, even with their faults, and believe me, they all have them. The dinosaurs also use their calls from the movies and the games. The T-Rex on the game menu especially, scared my dog out of the room, just like when I watch the film normally. While there is all this great audio going on though it does glitch in spots. Dinosaurs will visaully roar and nothing comes out, the music will kick up and completely drown out everything else even when you have it set to the lowest setting and everything else much much higher. So while I think they did an amazing job here, it needed another coat of polish before it was called good.

The game itself is a bit of a departure from Telltale’s usual formula and goes a bit further from adventure and much closer to timed-event interactive movie. The down time scenes where you have to solve puzzles and interact with other characters to figure out your next step is what really keeps this an adventure title. Basically, think Heavy Rain as far as how you’ll spend most of your time playing the game. As the story progresses the game has you hitting different buttons to match the action on screen, and if you fail, bad things can happen, like not out-running the T-Rex or being clawed to death by raptors. Remember kids, you are alive when they start to eat you. I’ll explain what does what in a second. Outside the interactive movies are the more traditional adventure game staples, like hunting around for a key card, or figuring out what order to put things in to fire up the power, or even getting a baby Triceratops back into her pen by coaxing her food from her. For the most part these are done really, really well in the traditional adventure scenes. When you’re trying to play along with the action is where it all starts to fall apart.

Normally on the PC you have a mouse and keyboard. The game sets different events to your a,w,s, and d keys and during the adventure segments your mouse gets involved as well. This wouldn’t be a big deal and they give fairly clear directions on what keys to hit and what combinations, but there’s issues with this system. I tried three different keyboards, my gaming keyboard, a standard USB keyboard and my laptop’s built-in keyboard and I was still having timing issues getting things in on time if I didn’t know what was coming ahead of time. Even then it was a struggle as commands didn’t always pop up at the same moments. The keystrokes just don’t pop up on screen fast enough for you to get some of them in at times, costing you your gold score at best, or making you redo part of a section after your untimely death, at worst. Then there’s the mini-game they throw in with the mouse where you’re trying to ‘clear your head’ by making this ball, which is controlled by your mouse, hover over this floating target that not only moves randomly, but at random speeds, and because the mouse response is so slow, you can barely, if ever, make the ball stay in the target long enough.

So about half-way through the game, I gave up. I was frustrated. I wanted to scream and wave my little stubby rex claws in the air and rampage (see my avatar). Luckily for me I was borrowing my friends Xbox 360 controller to play Skyrim, as that game on PC has issues with keyboards as well. I set up for a controller in the menu and Jurassic Park opened its controls right up. The key buttons to hit changed, suddenly I was using the analog sticks to rotate things instead of hitting bizarre and often impossible to replicate key combinations, and the stupid ball on the target game became a lot more doable. So basically what I’m getting from this is that they programmed this for a controller, then added keyboard options later and either did it badly or it wasn’t tested thoroughly. That’s the only explanation I can think of.

If you’re looking to play this over again and are willing to fight the controls if you don’t have an Xbox controller, more power to you. Each part of the game is divided into smaller sections, and you get a trophy rating for each one, so if you got a bad score on one section I can see going back and re-doing it. Ultimately though the game plays out the same so different dialogue options aren’t going to do that much for you on a second play-through. Personally I loved the story, so I can see revisiting the game for that. I really wish they’d have added an option where if you got gold on every section you could just watch it like a movie though. That would have been fantastic. I don’t see people fighting with the controls much though, unless they patch this so the commands pop up sooner and give you more time to enter them. They’re too unforgiving at this point, and unless you’ve played a scene a number of times you’re going to lose your gold from a sluggish response time.

One thing this game could use is a difficulty setting. While I didn’t have too many issues with puzzles, as they’re all very straight-forward, an easy mode that cuts out some of the keystrokes to make this a bit easier for people who don’t have the timing of a flea on speed could play it would be nice. This is one of Telltale’s first titles I’ve seen them put all the chapters out at once for a game. You’re looking at about eight to ten hours of play time between the four episodes included with the game, but probably closer to eight. Visually and audibly the game is on par with most major releases and it’s half the price. Sure there are bugs and its a bit tough to play, but the story is really well done.

While Jurassic Park games have been done before, most of them have been park simulators, one of my favorites actually, or plat-formers. This is really the first adventure game we’ve gotten for the book and film series and that’s very cool. I also love that while it’s set on the same island, we only visit two set pieces we’ve seen previously, and everything else is new and yet still fits in with what you’d expect to see on John Hammond’s Jurassic Park island. They’ve even brought in new species while they weren’t on the ‘InGen’ dino sheet, could just as easily have been there, just like the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III. The blend between the heavy cinematic and more classic adventure game was neat to see as well, but it all feels done before. Heavy Rain did the cinematic feel. While the story is new, it conforms to exactly what an audience might get out of a Jurassic Park 4 if it was set-up this way. That isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it ends up feeling very much like a sequel and this is the first game in what I’m guessing Telltale hopes will be a series for them.

I blew through this game in two afternoons. The only reason it took me two was because I had to work 9 hours the one day and didn’t have time to sit and do it in one play-through. Even with all the frustration with the controls I really wanted to see how the story played out, and to see how many times they threw in the T-Rex or whether or not I’d make it past the raptors, and don’t even get me started on the dilophosaurs. To say this was my crack for the weekend would be an understatement. Even my wife was watching over my shoulder while I played. But then there’s the down side. The game has appeal, and through all the Jurassic Park fans they have an audience, but the game has issues. While my wife enjoyed watching me play and initially wanted to play, watching me struggle with somewhat sluggish and often unresponsive controls has made her rethink that. If she does play, she’s going to end up using the 360 controller I think just so she has a better chance of enjoying it. The game is priced pretty decent, and can kill an entire afternoon through all four episodes, and has an audience, but it really needed another pass on the PC version to get it playing just a little better.

What really has been bothering me about not only this title, but Skyrim from Bethesda just a few days before this titles release, and Rage from ID before that, is the developers no longer taking the PC market seriously. I shouldn’t have to plug a 360 controller into my laptop to make a game playable. There’s a perfectly good set of user interface devices calibrated to tell my PC to do everything that I want it to. They’ve been around since games were being developed on the PC, well the keyboard anyway. It seems people are forgetting to make sure these little handy-dandy, standard with every computer devices work well with the games they’re putting out for consumers to use. If you had a PS3 game and had to go buy a USB keyboard to play an action title when you have a perfectly good controller, wouldn’t you be upset?

I don’t mean to single Jurassic Park out for this, but there were several sections in the game I got through mostly by sheer luck because the game either wasn’t picking up my keystrokes or they didn’t have the commands on screen fast enough to hit them. Those same scenarios, when I plugged in that 360 controller, were almost a cake-walk in comparison. That just reeks of laziness to me. I love Telltale as a publisher and the titles I have bought have been on PC. It’s my preferred platform. I do have a PS3, and I did get to review Monkey Island for that, and while it was fun, I like having games on my PC. But now if I want to play Jurassic Park I better have that 360 controller with me, which means eventually buying my own, or I’m going to be cursing up a storm in front of someone’s small child while I try to avoid being devoured by a T-Rex. I may sound a bit down on the game, but I honestly did have a blast playing it, which is the important thing.

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresizeJurassic Park: The Game delivers a fantastic story that expands on the Jurassic Park film world and lore, especially the events from Isla Nublar. We get to meet an all new cast and a returning character in Dr. Harding, the park’s vet, although his role is greatly expanded upon. Telltale does a great job telling their story, but where the game falls apart is in the controls. Heavy Rain was obviously a big influence, but the slow response times with the keyboard and mouse make portions of the game almost impossible to get past. Like a recent RPG title released recently, I plugged in a borrowed 360 controller and they game played much better after that. If you’re a Jurassic Park fan and don’t mind fighting the game a bit in certain portions, there is a great story here for you, if you’re looking for a game like Heavy Rain though, you may want to give this one a pass. I’m recommending a 360 controller for any PC players out there though. It’ll make the game much easier to manage.

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