Jurassic Park is one of those films that terrorized summer box offices for months and irrevocably shaped a generation of young minds. To say I bought into its hype would be putting it mildly. I daydreamed about the movie weeks before it hit theaters, and I still remember the tingle of goose bumps crawling up my arm as the theater lights dimmed and the film started. Jurassic Park didn’t disappoint. I was so dinosaur obsessed that I even read Michael Crichton’s novel. I have a feeling that Telltale Games has a similar love for the franchise. The studio’s Jurassic Park game is filled with interesting scientific asides, quirky characters, and a number of movie references. The team’s love for Jurassic Park is apparent – I just wish love was all you needed.
Jurassic Park: The Game follows Dennis Nedry’s Barbasol can full of dinosaur embryos through a series of events that take place after the film’s closing credits. Unborn dinosaurs are a hot property, and genetic research company BioSyn sends a couple of professional smugglers to Isla Nublar to retrieve the specimens. This simple retrieval mission turns into a heaping pile of dino droppings when the smugglers get attacked by a pack of venom-spewing dilophosaurus. Sole survivor Nima Cruz eventually meets up with Jurassic Park’s chief veterinarian Dr. Gerry Harding – one of the only characters from the book/movie to make it into the game (aside from Nedry’s bloated dead body). Harding and his daughter got stuck on the island when the storm knocked out the power, but their journey to get off the island quickly becomes a fight for survival.
Jurassic Park’s narrative isn’t bad, but it’s not very deep either. The story features a few interesting character moments spread across several hours of people outrunning some of the fastest dinosaurs ever. The tone stands in stark contrast to the original film – most of the action contains hints of slapstick comedy. I watched a pteranodon kick a chopper out of the sky, several theropods hop aboard a rollercoaster while it was still in motion, and a tyrannosaurus fling a metal door like a discus at a man hiding in a tree. Thanks to these hokey Land of the Lost-like antics, the action has no tension at all.
Even if Telltale had added more weight to the storytelling, taking this game seriously would be difficult. It looks like a game that jumped out of the ‘90s. Jurassic Park’s nearly two-decade-old effects are still convincing. On the other hand, Telltale’s cartoony, PS2-level graphics have trouble building the kind of immersion that enthralled audiences in 1993.
Telltale freely admits that it molded Jurassic Park’s gameplay off 2010’s innovative Heavy Rain. Critics lauded Quantic Dream’s title because it gave players new ways to interact with a detailed world, allowing them to make real choices in a fluid narrative. Jurassic Park strings together a series of pass-or-fail button-press sequences. Many of these feel sluggish and lethargic, like a victim of a compsognathus attack; I actually had to perform a QTE to navigate a character down a flight of stairs, retrieve a case of tranquilizer darts from a car, then go back inside. A few dialogue sequences break up this action, but Jurassic Park’s world isn’t rich enough to deserve exploration, and its few puzzles rarely require thought. You rearrange carts on a roller coaster, decipher a door code, and play a matching game using a number of maps to figure out where you are. Then it’s back to the quick-time events.
Despite its many disappointments, Jurassic Park might offer fans a few thrills. I got a kick out of exploring the underground service tunnels and park locations never seen in the movie. I smiled at some of the clever dialogue. And I perked up when I caught a hint of a mosasaurus’ scaly tail inside Jurassic Park’s underground marine facility. Unfortunately, many of the best action scenes and character moments happen so late in the game that many players likely won’t have the patience to see them.
Telltale’s flawed but entertaining approach to the Back to the Future license left me hopeful for the developer’s take on Jurassic Park. Despite some early reservations, I still felt like that goose-bumped 13-year-old boy as the game’s opening theme started and Jurassic Park’s logo popped on screen. Unlike my younger self, however, I was in for a disappointment.