Isla Nooblar: A Weekend Excursion to Telltale’s Jurassic Park — Part #1

You mean there were two groups on that island with dinosaurs on it?

The following post contains spoilers.

Telltale Games. It’s a name of some repute these days. Complaints about a dodgy engine aside, the developer appears to have been able to do very little wrong over the last few years. The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, and more — it’s an undeniably impressive portfolio.

But I’m here to talk about a game that came before this so-far unbroken run of critical success, a game that, to my great regret, didn’t share it.

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In June of 2010, it was announced that Telltale would develop titles based on two Universal Pictures properties as part of a new licensing deal. One of those properties was Back to the Future.

I love Back to the Future, but in this case, it was well and truly eclipsed by the second of the properties mentioned in Telltale’s announcement.

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Jurassic Park.

If I love Back to the Future, then there simply aren’t words to describe my feelings towards Jurassic Park. Favourite film of all time, where my imagination spends 99% of its time, still isn’t getting the treatment it deserves — if you’re in any way familiar with my online activities, then you know the drill.

Obsession aside, I had another reason for being so excited about Telltale’s deal: at the time of the announcement, there hadn’t been a significant Jurassic game for seven years, since the release of 2003’s fantastic Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.

I remember it feeling as though Jurassic Park: The Game was in development forever. I’d check in on it every now and then, only to find myself presented with the same page on Telltale’s website each time I did. Logo. Release year. Nothing more. At some point, a series of screenshots came along, too.

As it turned out, there was an explanation for this. Originally intended to be released episodically, beginning in April 2011, the game missed its eighteen-minute window, debuting instead in November, with all four episodes made available simultaneously. Back to the Future: The Game, having made it out first, had been met with positive reviews: the stage was set for Jurassic Park: The Game to so the same.

Unfortunately, though, it didn’t.

With poorly-executed characters and clunky, underwhelming gameplay, Jurassic’s reception was about as cold as the ideal temperature for storing Henry Wu’s dinosaur embryos. It was criticised as a barely interactive movie, with a park that — according to IGN’s Greg Miller — was far less wondrous than the one that had graced the silver screen.

I didn’t see the reviews. By the time Jurassic Park: The Game debuted, I’d put it out of my mind, trying — and succeeding — to ignore its existence. A peculiar turn of events, given my prior excitement, eh? Well, for whatever reason, I hadn’t realised that the game would be available via download only. In my non-connected home of 2011, this put it definitively out my reach. Rather than stewing in disappointment, I chose to instead to forget.

And forget I did — until October last year, when I decided I was finally going to add a Jurassic Park-dedicated page to my online portfolio. I thought it might make a nice project, to finally play the game, record some stuff for my site’s YouTube channel — maybe write a thing or two about it, too. The only question was, ‘When?’

The opportunity presented itself towards the end of May this year, just in time for #JurassicJune. I received an e-mail from PlayStation, reminding me that I was eligible for a free trial of their streaming service for older games, PlayStation Now. And what should I find when I booted up my console to flick through the roster of titles available through said service?

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Unfortunately, as evidenced by the fact that the above mentioned YouTube content never materialised, my initial experience with the game wasn’t positive.

Presumably, I thought, because it was being streamed to my console rather than accessed locally, the game didn’t run well. At all. This choppy performance, along with the game’s plethora of other issues, resulted in my setting down my controller before even having completed the first episode. I came away from that first foray into Telltale’s tale thoroughly inclined to agree with the sentiments of the previously mentioned reviewers — my hopes of creating some (hopefully) entertaining videos and articles, like John Hammond’s dreams, abandoned.

That was that. Or so I thought.

Just as you might be aware of my feelings towards everything Jurassic if you’re familiar with my online activities, you might also be aware that I am loathe to leave a PlayStation Trophy list incomplete. Even for games I really don’t take to, I crave that 100%. But I thought I’d dodged this particular bullet with Jurassic Park: The Game.

PlayStation Now works by creating an artificial PS3 environment on your PS4. When I first found myself in this environment, I was presented with a message informing me that any Trophies I earned while using the service would have to be manually synced before they’d show up on my list. Having decided not to endorse Telltale’s park, I didn’t bother. I thought I was safe.

Cut to an indeterminate number of days later. I was endeavouring to clear up a few more of Uncharted 4’s Trophies when I decided to pop open my list to check my progress — and there, right at the top of that list, shining out of the screen like a big middle finger from the gaming gods, was Jurassic Park: The Game, and its unacceptable 28% completion.

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From that moment on, my fate was sealed: I was heading back to Telltale’s Nublar.

Admittedly, this all sounds much more sensational than it actually was. Things were nowhere near as bad as they might have been. In a move I thoroughly respect, each of Jurassic Park: The Game’s four episodes has its own individual Trophy list — dipping a toe into one instalment, however briefly, doesn’t doom completionists like myself to having to play the others.

And so, on Friday night, I took up my controller once more. In an effort to escape the choppy performance I’d encountered on PlayStation Now, I bought the game for my PS3. Aged though that console now is, I thought that playing the game natively would yield better results.

I was wrong.

Even on the console on which it was intended to be played, Jurassic Park: The Game’s performance is, frankly, pathetic. This might have been understandable if the game was incredibly demanding, if it looked good enough to forgive the odd stutter. But it isn’t — and it doesn’t.

While not bad per se, Jurassic’s visuals nonetheless leave quite a bit to be desired. Everything looks stiff, rigid, and the animations intended to give it all life are really nothing to write home about. The vocal performances, whilst ranging from acceptable (Harding) —

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— to abysmal (Chadwick) —

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— sound as though the actors’ minds were somewhere else entirely whilst giving them, and the soundtrack, though elevated by the occasional John Williams cameo, is utterly forgettable.

On PlayStation 3, Jurassic had all the problems I’d encountered on PlayStation Now. But, in spite of them, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

I think that had a lot to do with the fact that this particular excursion was free of the stress of recording, of trying to provide a commentary that doesn’t sound as though I have no idea how to speak my native language, and that of worrying that the computer might befoul the proverbial bed and screw everything up at any given moment — but it also had a lot to do with the fact that, disappointing execution aside, the basic concept of Jurassic Park: The Game is excellent. The idea of a second group of survivors on Nublar, their story running parallel to the events of the film, has tremendous potential. It really does, and I was able to appreciate that as I played.

There are also some pretty great moments in there, too. Though the game can’t really be considered canon, getting an idea of what some of the animals were up to when not terrorising the cast of the film was fun. Seeing a whole herd of dilophosaurs, as opposed to just the one, was very, very cool indeed —

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— and revisiting locations such as the original Visitors’ Centre will never not be great. Unless you’re Jurassic World, of course!

I joke.*

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Though the visual presentation leaves much to be desired on the whole, the game really nails the aesthetic of Jurassic Park in a way that some additions to the franchise don’t. Everything feels right, looks like it belongs.

And then there are the nods, the references — some subtle, some not so much…

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Some from the films…

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And some from the novels…

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Even though the game is dripping with references to the point where it could easily become tiresome, I couldn’t help but appreciate it every time one came along. Whether it made me chuckle or roll my eyes, I was always amused.

Whether this amusement lasts through the remaining three episodes, we’ll just have to see. Because, as bad as the game is — and despite having some positives, it is bad (though, admittedly, not quite as bad as you might be led to believe) — I’m interested to see what happens in those other episodes. I want to continue, to be able to give a verdict on the whole thing — which is why this post is titled as being Part #1.

As for when Part #2 will show up, I have no idea. It’s going to be a while, though. I want to revisit the idea of recording the game, of being able to post a lengthy video alongside my thoughts on it. Thing is, I don’t plan on returning to video production until I’ve managed to get my hands on a computer that can cope with it without my current, aged laptop’s ever-present risk of blowing up. So, as I said, it’ll be a while.

Hopefully, though, it won’t be quite as long before Telltale’s game is no longer our latest ticket to an interactive Jurassic adventure.

Above, I mentioned that, at the time of Jurassic Park: The Game’s announcement, it had been seven years since there’d been a significant Jurassic game. These days, it’s been just short of five — if, of course, you’re willing to consider Telltale’s effort ‘significant’. And, as most members of the Jurassic community will tell you, it really is about time there was a modern game.

There’s no shortage of ideas, either. And, it’s worth mentioning, there is a chance that life may yet find a way.

Fingers crossed.

*
Not really.
FOR THE ATTENTION OF VIDEO GAME DEVELOPERS EVERYWHERE
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2011. Yes, you read that right: 2011. That’s the last time there was a Jurassic game of any real significance. Whilst an enjoyable treat, LEGO Jurassic World wasn’t at all what the majority of fans have been waiting for, and with the commercial success of Jurassic World, it should have been but an appetiser for bigger, better things to come. Well… fire the waiter, and send some raptors into the kitchen to see what’s up, because we’re still waiting for the main course.

Jurassic is a franchise that lends itself to any number of genres, and there’s certainly no shortage of ideas for possible games. It really is about time one came along. Yes, there are rights involved, deals to be made and permissions to be gotten, but, let’s be honest: it’s going to happen.

Life will find a way, and someone will make one. Why not you?


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