— This post contains multiple spoilers for Jurassic Park: The Game.
Well, here we are — a few months shy of two years since I documented my first foray into Telltale's Jurassic Park, and nowhere near the position I'd thought I might be in by now.
Looking ahead back in June 2016, imagination filled with visions of a future that wasn't to be, I thought I'd embark upon this second — long overdue — foray with a camera pointed at my face, a microphone pointed at my mouth, and a well-established YouTube channel to share the results, whatever they might've been. Alas, irony struck again. It took all of that becoming thoroughly, 100% possible to make me realise that, for now (and for the foreseeable future…), it's just not for me. With writing I began, and with writing I'll continue. So…
YOU MEAN THERE WERE TWO GROUPS ON THAT ISLAND WITH DINOSAURS ON IT?
The full story is, of course, in the full post, but though I came away from the first episode of Telltale's adventure with decidedly mixed feelings, I was, at least, interested to see what happened next.
Playing on PlayStation 3, the game's performance left a lot to be desired, the graphics weren't particularly great, and some of the characters were — to put it lightly — atrocious; but I loved (and continue to love) the premise of the game, and found that, despite its many, many issues, it wasn't all bad. Revisiting some familiar locations was great, and it was fun to see what — in Telltale's world — some of the dinosaurs were up to when not terrorizing the cast of the film. As I said, I was interested to see what happened next… and now, as you might've guessed, I have!
JURASSIC PARK, AFTER DARK
The opening of moments of Telltale's second episode, The Cavalry, took me completely by surprise. After running back through the first episode as a refresher course, I expected to be plunged straight back into the increasingly cheesy madness of it all. I didn't expect something beautiful — and though that beauty lasts only for a few seconds, beautiful it is.
High in the sky, a flock of pterosaurs soars over Nublar; below, a flock of modern birds does the same. John Williams's iconic theme plays, and, for a moment, it's enough to just sit back and watch. There are similar moments scattered throughout the remainder of Telltale's story; for all the action — all the time spent with the characters running for their lives — the game often takes the time to portray Nublar's dinosaurs as animals, too. Just doin' their thing. When the Raptors first encounter the characters, it's because they were hunting some Parasaurolophus, and, on one occasion, the Rex rejoins the fray because it was doing the same.
Even in those moments when they behave more like your typical monsters, there's usually an undercurrent of realism. In the excellent Bone Shaker scene, the herrerasaurs are attracted by our heroes' efforts to get the roller coaster working; later, the Mosasaurus — whose portrayal here is infinitely more satisfying than that seen in Jurassic World — only attacks when alerted by the sound of Nima's air tank getting caught on a rock.
In fact, the only animals that really seem like 'monsters' are the Troodons (even if their glowing eyes are sometimes unintentionally funny) but, even then, it's not their only trait. Their often over-the-top viciousness is implied to have territorial roots, and one of the game's most disturbing scenes — another point in its favour: it doesn't shy away from being disturbing — stems from the characters discovering their nest.
I can't tell you how much I appreciated stuff like this — and better yet, it was just one of a few pleasant surprises my return to the island I previously referred to as 'Isla Nooblar' brought. But we'll get to those later. As I said, it began with the Pteranodons — and that beginning was far too brief, intruded upon by the arrival of InGen's rescue team, a trio of mercenary men who immediately made me roll my eyes. With painfully few exceptions, such characters seem doomed to be stereotyped, and Jurassic Park: The Game's versions do little to buck that trend.
Fortunately for us (though not, of course, for him…), the pilot — D-Caf… — is taken out of the equation early-on, but the others are in it for the ever-proverbial long haul. Despite having a large part to play in the story, Yoder (the leader) remains annoying from beginning to end, and his partner, Oscar, is given such a cartoonish appearance (muscles, beard, bandana) that it's hard to take him seriously — which proves to be a genuine shame because, with a past that speaks to the darker side of Hammond's Jurassic Park project, he slowly emerges as one of the most interesting people on the island.
Elsewhere, we're introduced to Laura Sorkin, who — right up until she loses her mind (because of course she does) — is the best character Telltale's tale has to offer.
Along with a journal that (among other things) admits Jurassic's dilophosaurs and Velociraptors are woefully inaccurate, she brings a massive amount to the story, casting a novel-like shadow over the films' Hammond and portraying Dr. Wu in a very different light than we're used to, one that (were the game canon) could be seen as planting the seeds for the character Wu seems to have become in the Jurassic World films.
In fact, I found myself thinking about Jurassic World a great deal as Telltale's story unfolded. With the island's geothermal power causing problems, Mount Sibo being mentioned directly, Sorkin's attitude towards the animals, and the intense debate that erupts between she and Harding about humanity's responsibility to the dinosaurs versus the impact they might have on the modern world, I can't help but wonder if, canon though it cannot be, the game nevertheless played some part in shaping the story behind the upcoming Fallen Kingdom.
Something has survived, indeed…
Of course, the remaining episodes continue to flesh out familiar characters, too, with Harding revealed to have gotten a divorce — because it doesn't seem like a Jurassic story can exist without at least one fractured marriage… — and Nima revealed to have significant ties to Nublar.
Just as with Oscar's, Nima's story casts a shadow on InGen's park, and adds a great deal to the island's story in the process. The only shame here is that it's told relatively late in the game, via a tediously long — though admittedly skippable — conversation between she and Harding that slams the breaks on the adventure just when things are getting exciting.
The fact that I found myself feeling excited proceedings at all is notable in itself. As I said way back near the beginning, I expected to be plunged into cheesy madness as I delved into the rest of Telltale's tale, and though there was definitely an element (or several…) of that in there, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought. None of the new characters ever sank as low as Episode 1's abysmal Chadwick, and, when the credits finally began to roll, I felt like I'd been on a pretty good adventure. It wasn't perfect, obviously, but it felt Jurassic — and, to me (having found some recent additions to the franchise lacking on that particular score), that was incredibly refreshing.
Jurassic Park: The Game features middle-of-the-road characters, a decent enough story, and some fantastic dinosaur action. It provides a nice look at what the park might've been, and expands upon the film in interesting ways. Unfortunately (short of simply taking to YouTube, of course), to experience any of it, you actually have to play it — and if there's one area where the game really falls apart, it's with its gameplay.
Believe me, I know…
After disappointing experiences with the first episode on both PlayStation and iOS, I thought things would be improved by playing through the remaining three on PC. Not so. True, the game looked marginally better and ran significantly smoother, but the gameplay itself continued to be decidedly unengaging. In slower-paced scenes, it's maddeningly tedious, and in their faster-paced counterparts, punishingly-timed. It simply isn't enjoyable. From beginning to end, it feels like said gameplay is getting in the way of a fun Jurassic adventure rather than facilitating one.
Given that the game is… y'know… a game, this isn't great, and, ultimately, feeds into my overall opinion of the thing. With a few necessary tweaks — and, perhaps, some work from a lactose intolerant scriptwriter… — Telltale's tale would make for an interesting spin-off story (perhaps something in the vein of the galaxy far, far away's 'A Star Wars Story' films), but, as a game, it's hard to recommend to anyone but die-hard fans of the franchise.
It's not quite the disaster it's often portrayed as being, but, for those considering taking this particular walk in the park, it's best watched rather than played.
— For more things Jurassic, visit the site's dedicated page: The JHN Files: Jurassic.