Jurassic Park: The Game hands-on

First-look at Telltale’s new cinematic adventure

Telltale Games has come a long way since it was a 15-man operation with Telltale Texas Hold’em to its credit. Since then, the studio’s been fighting the good fight, keeping the point ‘n’ click adventure genre alive with many successful episodic series and digital releases. Now, the company is pulling out the big guns with its sights set on big licensed properties, like The Walking Dead, Fables, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park. We recently got some brief hands-on time with Jurassic Park – and from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the game’s QTE-centric gameplay may divide fans of the film.

Our demo begins with Dr. Gerry Harding and his daughter Jess driving through the foreboding storm that trapped visitors on the island in the original movie. In the back seat sits Nima. She’s injured and unconscious – and while it’s not 100% clear as to why Harding and his daughter are racing towards Jurassic Park’s visitor center (the demo takes place in the middle of the game), we assume that they’re looking for shelter from the pre-historic beasts running wild through the park.

Above: Dr. Gerry Harding was the veterinarian taking care of the sick triceratops in the first film. But he’ll be taking center stage with his daughter Jess in the upcoming adventure

In terms of Jurassic Park’s genre as a game, the title is hard to pin down. Speaking to GamesRadar, Telltale Games’ Director of Design Dave Grossman described the title as part adventure and part survival horror with a little bit of an influence from Heavy Rain – though he was hesitant to call it a pure adventure (there are puzzles, but no huge inventory bags to click through) or a pure survival horror game (as it’s a far cry from something like Silent Hill).

Harding soon brings the iconic Jurassic Park jeep to a stop when he spots a triceratops munching on a plant outside its pen with the gate wide open. The first challenge is to get the giant triceratops off the road so you can move on – and you’ll need to do something about that open gate. This is where Jurassic Park’s unique navigation system comes into play. You can switch between different characters to view the scene from the point of view of other characters, you can pan the camera, which highlights various objects you can interact with to trigger new scenes of dialogue. It’s all stuff you’ve done before and feels intuitive, but it all plays out seamlessly. The back-and-forth dialogue sequences between characters and scene transitions are completely lacking in any awkward pauses and always feel cinematic.

Above: The game is great about mainting a sense of dread and tension during its more actiony scenes

Finding a way to close a gate and move a large object: it sounds just like the sort of puzzle that you’d find in an oldschool point-and-click adventure. But it never feels that way. You’ll use the navigation system to bounce back and forth between camera angles focused on Harding and Jess as you try to move the hungry dinosaur and close the gate. And it all makes so much sense. Harding asks Jess to check the glove compartment for the manual with the code for to unlock the manual override for the gate. Jess tries flicking the jeep’s lights on and off and honking the horn to scare the triceratops off the road. Throughout the whole process, all your button presses and camera pans feel intuitive and smooth. It seems doubtful that you’ll run into a situation where you’re banging your head against the wall trying to combine some ball of string with every clickable object in sight to solve a puzzle.

Above: Like the film, it looks like Jurassic Park: The Game will be full of tense ‘close call’ moments, but it also maintained a strong pace during its calmer dialogue scenes with no action

The voice acting, dialogue, camera work, and attention to detail also feels just right for a game set during the first film – and that’s what Telltale was going for. “We wanted to do something that feels appropriate and is moody in the same way as the film. So super realistic – that probably wouldn’t have worked quite so well for us. So we tried to carve out our own niche which is mostly realistic with a mix of stylization to give it an artsy feel,” said Grossman when asked about Jurassic Park’s visual style.

As the demo continues, Harding and Jess finally solve the case of the stuck Triceratops and the open pen gate, only to find that they’ve attracted the attention of an alpha triceratops that starts attacking your jeep with Jess inside. After a bunch of dodging and a ton of close calls, we find ourselves saved by the Tyrannosaurus from the film who attacks the alpha triceratops. As with the movie, it seems that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, and during the heat of the dino-on-dino battle, the demo ends.

During the demo, we worked our way through some of the best QTEs we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, but this is also where we think Jurassic Park: The Game will leave interested parties divided. They may be great QTEs, but if you’re looking for more, you may be out of luck. The way the game lets you pan and jump to different points of view of the immediate area like you’re a film director feels fresh and slick. And whether you’re twirling the thumbstick as Harding pulls a lever or are racing to punch in the correct sequence of buttons during an action scene, the QTE-ness of Jurassic Park’s gameplay was certainly satisfying. For those looking for something different and a solid Jurassic Park side story and some damned decent voice acting, this is great news. But those that oppose QTEs on principal will surely balk at the idea of game that relies so heavily on the Simon Says nature of the interactive adventure.

Feb 18, 2011