Before Telltale Games hit it big with games like The Walking Dead, they were still trying to figure out how to reinvent the adventure game for modern audiences. Jurassic Park: The Game is certainly part of this experimental phase, particularly because unlike other series and franchises they adapted before like Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit, there would be a heavy expectation weighing on the game. A Jurassic Park game would need some dinosaur action, so Telltale took a chance and tried to marry the heavy narrative focus of an adventure game with the action and setpieces one would hope to find in a crowdpleasing dinosaur game… to mixed results.
Jurassic Park: The Game does try to please Jurassic Park fans in more ways than just shoving dinosaurs in their faces though. Set just around the ending of the first Jurassic Park film, this game aims to try and answer a few lingering questions and tie up some loose ends, things like the Barbasol can full of dinosaur embryos Nedry lost being reincorporated here as a central plot point. Details from the novel also emerge here and are addressed to clean up the canon of the film series, things like the supposed lysine dependency meant to keep the dinosaur population under control and InGen’s efforts to deal with the sabotage of the park being addressed here as well. If you haven’t seen the film though, there are plenty of moments where you might find what is meant to be a shout-out to a famous scene and not really have the context for it, but luckily the bulk of the plot does remain focused on its new cast of characters rather than always referencing more recognizable faces… although it does lean really hard on the Jurassic Park theme music, essentially having a different instrumentation for it so it can fulfill roles as a sad, intense, or triumphant song as needed.
There are multiple playable characters across Jurassic Park: The Game, each one having their own reasons for being on Isla Nublar after the dinosaur theme park was sabotaged and the revived prehistoric creatures were set free to run rampant across it. The main characters are certainly the veterinarian Gerry Harding and his daughter Jess, two innocent people just hoping to find a way off the island safely, but the other characters who come along all have ulterior motives for their presence. Former island native Nima resents what has become of Isla Nublar, Dr. Sorkin is trying to make sure the dinosaurs survive the chaos, and two mercenaries are hired by InGen to rescue any survivors, those being the jovial Billy Yoder and the unhinged tough guy Oscar. Allegiances are made between the core cast and motivations change as they learn more about what’s happening with the island and what truly motivates the other characters, this group playing their roles well for the purposes of serving up some dramatic moments but not doing much more than filling narrative slots to make sure the action moves along and has some decent people for the player to be lightly invested in during perilous moments.
The story rounds the characters out a little with incidental details and clear defining characteristics, but really the plot is definitely trying to work its way to interesting new dinosaur encounters. Telltale definitely gets creative with the dinosaur setpieces, featuring moments like dinosaurs attacking characters as they’re aboard a roller coaster and Oscar taking on a raptor solo with just a knife and years of military experience. You can expect plenty of the dinosaurs you’d hope to see putting in appearances, the T-Rex showing up from time to time and even having a battle with a triceratops the player will need to safely navigate around, but the game even has a few new dinosaurs it introduces to join the expected creatures. An unusual new dinosaur lurks in the shadows, bright glowing eyes, incredible speed, and a dangerous poisonous bite making them a mysterious threat as they fade in and out of relevance, and an encounter with an underwater monster certainly stands out from the usual expected moments of trying to outmaneuver velociraptors or flee from a Tyrannosaurus.
Jurassic Park: The Game gives you the dinosaur action you came for… but the way you interact with it can ruin some of the thrill. During scenes where your character is in danger or performing some task, the game will have button prompts appear on screen, the player needing to press the right buttons quickly enough to do so safely. Rather than actually running from the dinosaurs, you just press the right button to keep moving or else you might end up dead. The need to watch for button presses means you may have difficulty watching the visual treat the scene is trying to be, but if you do die, it doesn’t put you back too far to try again. Not every button press you fail leads to instant death either, but the game does try to make you stay invested by having the game’s four episode structure subdivided further into segments where you can earn a gold, silver, or bronze medal for not messing up when the game asks you to participate. Button presses do often have similar functions between scenes so sometimes you can anticipate what you need to press, but far too many times the game will essentially give you cutscene busywork. Rather than moving the plot along or letting you enjoy a scene, sometimes Jurassic Park: The Game gets nervous and forces in some bland interactivity. The worst cases of this are moments where you need to alternate between X and B in a mild rhythm to walk. Sometimes it makes sense, a character sneaking needs to be careful with their footsteps, but it’s still slow and unnecessary there, and perhaps the worst moment is early in the game where Nima is swinging a machete to clear away jungle foliage. If you fail the button presses here, she just gets her machete stuck in a trunk for a second and things continue, the game revealing how pointless the activity truly is outside of giving the illusion you’re contributing to things. When these do crop up during moments that should be getting the player’s adrenaline going, it can sometimes instead feel robbed of its thrill by how generic the button requests are, or perhaps made a little annoying since you might have to be too quick in the draw to appreciate the events unfolding.
The timed button presses of many scenes won’t totally ruin them though, and there are some better structured moments outside of the story where you have to solve progression focused puzzles. When the game asks you to do a bit more hands-on interaction with the world by manipulating parts of it, it’s often in the form of figuring out a location through observation or arranging it to properly allow the plot to continue. It feels like there’s quite the emphasis on the area around you, and while adventure games do often have you scouring the immediate area for useful tools, here many of the puzzles are about the area itself. Finding out where you are in the tunnels beneath the park with some blueprints, identifying how to navigate around dangerous dinosaurs, and noting environmental clues to find lost items are some of the puzzles you can expect, but there are certainly other types like getting the earlier mentioned roller coaster working and, naturally, ones that more directly involve the dinosaurs. From getting a triceratops to go back into its pen to guiding parasaurolophuses around using prerecorded dinosaur calls, even the puzzles don’t forget why many fans are here, and for people expecting Telltale’s focus on branching dialogue paths, you can pick what characters say at moments, but the plot has one way it wishes to go and the one meaningful choice you make during it is relatively minor. Judging it on what would follow isn’t really fair to it though, but it’s just another case where Jurassic Park: The Game could have made interactivity a more important part of the design but didn’t.
THE VERDICT: Jurassic Park: The Game gives people what they would likely want from such a game but in a way that holds it back. There are plenty of creative and well choreographed dinosaur scenes, with definite highlights to be found and the game’s own new dinosaur managing to earn its place with its unique addition to the dinosaur action. The characters fill their roles well as people caught up in the chaos of a dinosaur theme park gone awry, and in many ways, this is a fine expansion of the events of the first film. The problem is the gameplay doesn’t support it as well as it should, because outside of a few decent puzzles, it’s a lot of timed button presses that can take you out of a moment or lead to instances of filler. Jurassic Park: The Game would have likely been better as an animated film rather than a game, but the integration of its interactivity isn’t so flawed that it spoils the whole of the experience.
And so, I give Jurassic Park: The Game for Xbox 360…
An OKAY rating. If you come to it for impressive dinosaur attack scenes, you’ll definitely get your fill, but the awkward attempts to make impressive visual action interactive weigh them down. It’s not too hard to get through most of these timed button press segments, but it still lessens the enjoyment you’d hope to get from such suspenseful moments, especially when those scenes might have frivolous ones in between. The puzzles are certainly the better fit for connecting moments and the game might have benefited from tying those into the attacks instead of it being a test to press the B button at the right time. The linear story does mean you can just watch a video of it and likely have a better experience for it, but the game isn’t so bad that you’d be totally better off doing that.
Jurassic Park: The Game is a fine addition to the Jurassic Park franchise, it’s just held back by the fact it is a video game and Telltale wasn’t sure how to integrate that into their ideas for the plot. The timed button presses just aren’t as engaging as seeing a dinosaur try to eat people uninterrupted, but if the proper focus had been placed on meaningful participation, then this game could certainly do right by both halves of its name.