I can't help it. I have to start this review with a song. I mean, Jurassic Park. It's frightening in the dark. All the dinosaurs are running wild.
You can't take a franchise about a theme park powered by mad science too seriously, and that extends to Telltale's game based on the film series (which was, in turn, based on the Michael Crichton novel.
Jurassic Park: The Game returns to the original island during the time of the first film. It starts during Dennis Nedry's plot to steal several dinosaur embryos, where he turns off the power to the fences. It avoids going to the point of view of the film characters, so you don't see any faces from the classic cast during the course of the game. Instead, the focus runs on a new, interesting cast, starting with two of Nedry's contacts for his embryo-theft scheme. One promptly dies at the hands of a Dilophosaurus while the other runs into an innocent park veterinarian and his daughter and promptly takes them hostage. This leads to a rapidly snowballing situation with an increasing array of dinosaurs and other problems, including some surprising details about the dinosaurs that change aspects of the entire series.
The game's plot would make an excellent movie, and it's told through surprisingly effective techniques that evoke the film from its heights of drama and humor to the thrill of dinosaurs on-screen. The thing is that the game evokes the film's feel by being, in its entirety, a movie. The most accurate genre for Jurassic Park: The Game is Quick Time Events (QTEs) because most scenes consist of them, and the rest are only adventures in the very loosest sense of the term. This is not a typical TellTale Games work, and it's hard to say if it works in its favor or not.
The QTE gameplay core uses the arrow keys and mouse, and the latter is only used rarely for "keep the mouse on the target" sequences. Events have a few control variants — all introduced in the first episode — but rely entirely on the visuals to appear distinct. The results are fairly enjoyable in short bursts, and the developers seemed to know this, splitting each of the four episodes into 12 scenes, keeping any session from running too long. The game judges your play in these areas by counting your mistakes, and it even grants medals for perfect runs — even though this can be a luck-based mission with some of the controls.
The remainder of gameplay is very light adventure fare. You don't walk around and explore. At most, you can move between four points at a time, and you can only interact with a limited array of glowing points, which combine into modest puzzles. Surprisingly, the game provides a fair number of extraneous details. For example, if one character inspects a branch of poisoned berries, a character who shows up at that location later can notice that the branch was disturbed. Otherwise, the gameplay lightness here can make you wistfully look forward to the next QTE sequence.
If you view this game purely on its play merits, you're going to be very, very disappointed (in keeping with Jurassic Park tradition). Fortunately, TellTale makes up for it with a surprising demonstration of digital cinematography. The soundtrack is intricate and matches each scene perfectly, voice actors have wonderful tones, and the graphics, while not of recent spec, are pretty effective, with solid use of shadows and camera techniques to keep scenes exciting and in line with the series. If you let yourself focus on the plot, you'll find quite an entertaining ride with characters whose motivations go far beyond mere survival. The T. Rex that shows up in every episode is one of the less scary things ….
The effectiveness of Jurassic Park: The Game doesn't come from its limited gameplay or its middling production values, but from a carefully told, enjoyable story in the setting, with solid cinematography, voice work and atmosphere. The game is most certainly not for everyone — especially not with a $30 asking price for a massive pile of Quick Time Events — but those who loved the classic film back in the '90s should find it worthwhile, with a nicely thrilling tone, strong use of the setting, and just a hint of TellTales' sense of humor.
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