21 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Jurassic Park: The Game

Do you remember when Spielberg’s original film was released - the jungle landscapes filled with the kind of creatures you’d only ever seen sketched in the educational books of your childhood, or crudely animated in early twentieth century monster movies? It was awe inspiring cinema, terrifying at times, always encouraging you to believe that such things were a possibility in this strange world of ours. Also, dinosaurs are cool. Above all, that was the message.

Amazingly, Jurassic Park: The Game inspires none of the emotional impact of the original film. Fear of raptors all too often becomes annoyance at lizards, depth of character becomes featureless friendships. and even the T-Rex - a legend amongst beasties - is reduced to little more than action filler.

The game is divided into four chapters, each essentially an hour long quick time event which you’ll experience from a number of perspectives. For those unfamiliar with QTEs, it's worth me advising that your only involvement here in moments of peril is to watch for symbols flashing up on the screen as you hurry to manipulate the corresponding action on your chosen method of control.

I'm not making it sound boring for comic effect - this is technically all you have to do when you’re not working your way through the odd static puzzle section. Admittedly, something frantic and usually dangerous involving huge lizards might be happening onscreen, but any excitement is tempered by the tedium of keeping your eyes peeled for the next sequence of controls you'll be required to mash. There is a reason that this doesn't sound fun on paper. It isn’t.

As an introduction to gaming, Jurassic Park might offer a small child an hour or so of face-twitching enjoyment - it might even educate them in some minor way. But then, when they fail to respond quickly enough with a button press they may just witness a young girl having her spine snapped in two by the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. And that's quite the contrast. The action sequences and workaday puzzles are too simple for adults, but the extreme violence portrayed in the death scenes is completely unsuitable for kids.

Without a doubt though, these (mostly) accidental sacrifices provided my only moments of joy throughout the entire experience. Watching any one of these whinging arseholes getting pasted and guessing as to what the twisted minds within Telltale's Department of Sadism would come up with next was a hook. In the darkened depths of their development offices someone at some point had definitely said, ‘No, you’re not seeing the bigger picture: I want nothing left of this guy after he gets crushed between two battling dinosaurs. And the little girl needs to be watching’ and I can respect that. I enjoyed these little moments. I also give it a month before Jurassic Park: The Game: The Snuff Movie makes it onto YouTube.

The characterisation is where Jurassic Park completely falls apart. For the amount time you spend with each of the islanders you should feel something for them by the last chapter of the game, but it’s impossible. Here is the father/daughter team. Here is the mystery woman. Here is the ruthless paleobiologist. Here are the macho mercenaries. If they weren’t so completely unreliable in their motivations and emotional responses there might have been a chance to see them grow. But they’re dull, obvious stereotypes and completely unfathomable in their intended appeal.

Take the dino doctor, Laura Sorkin, who we discover is an animal rights activist and wishes for all the lizards to flourish on the island. She wants the biological kill switch within each one of them destroyed by treating the water supply with a special solution. But the question is, if she’s so incredibly fond of animal rights, how could she possibly be involved in the park project from the outset considering the extent to which these creatures are experimented on and manipulated and restrained? An explanation is never once attempted.

And further on when she becomes involved in a heated discussion over the water incident with our hero, Gerry Harding, the player is required to enter the argument as both characters simultaneously, picking one person’s lines before rebutting their own point a moment later. The result is a confusing sparring match which makes as much sense as playing poker against yourself. Where does the player stand in all this? At this point, they’re not so much a gamer as an underperforming film producer.

This just one select example of how hard it is to become involved in the experience on offer here, but the truth is this sort of thing is typical of the entire game. Shoddy dialogue, underdeveloped protagonists, repetitive action... I wanted to like Jurassic Park: The Game. I wanted the John Williams score to stir something within me and carry me through this dreadful experience if nothing else, but at the end of the day not even a brand as big as this can save such lacklustre game design.

Jurassic Park: The Game is available for purchase on Steam for £21.99, here.

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