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Jurassic Park review: Dinosaur's Lair


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Jurassic Park: The Game is brilliant in exactly one way. It is so respectful and contiguous to the film, it becomes an elaborate enactment of John Hammond's dubious blueprint. Telltale has created a disastrous theme park ride, and you never stop running away from it.

It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as a shallow quick-time event -- a drawn out, press-x-to-hold-on-to-your-butts marathon with a John Williams Lite soundtrack -- but Jurassic Park's crime isn't one of carelessness. There's a clear love for the film on display, and a wink at the player who knows just how many times you have to pump the primer handle before rebooting the park's power.

Isla Nublar's resurrected wildlife is approached with a familiar mixture of childlike wonder and fear, and Telltale is deliberate in doling out new dinosaurs at the right moments. The characters appear more substantial than those in the films, and they butt heads far more often. Dr. Sorkin, a rebellious environmentalist, and Billy Yoder, an insufferable mercenary sent to retrieve her, provide the most interesting wrinkles in the plot, which is cleverly hinged on the world's most valuable can of shaving cream. This stuff would be great in a movie.

Without wringing hands about what a game should or shouldn't be, it suffices to say the writing is good for the screen, but bad for the player. Jurassic Park feels devoid of moments that value or recognize your participation, forging ahead with its story and hoping you'll enjoy your popcorn ... quietly. Even Telltale's adventure games are propelled forward by some player ingenuity -- a developed understanding of Sam and Max's internal logic, and the cerebral spark that compels you to try using the sea snail on the gong. The occasional puzzles in Jurassic Park offer a reminder of that, but even they feel restricted and obviously signposted.

The appeal of Jurassic Park is enough to lure you in, but not to sustain your meager participation. It's a bit like the scene where Ellie feels the reassuring pat of an arm on her shoulder, only to discover there's no body attached to it.

The theory goes that if watching people chased by dinosaurs puts you on the edge of your seat, pressing the correct buttons to ensure their survival should catapult you right into the action. In practice, becoming a slave to on-screen prompts erodes tension and excitement, while a nasty truth bubbles to the top: you're not helping this person outrun a T-rex, you're voting on whether the scene continues. Most of the time, your character has started making the jump before you've even pressed a button or flicked the stick assigned to that action.

And that assignment never shows any consistent logic or discernment. These are equal opportunity QTEs, where everything from the mundane (squint at a footprint!) to the life-threatening (dodge those teeth!) can boil down to mashing Y. When you encounter a clever pairing of input and action -- like coaxing a wandering dot to the center of a target, and administering an injection in the back of a rattling car -- it almost seems like they went together through luck of the draw.

The easy, thoughtless nature of following instructions all the time trivializes the danger in action scenes, making their inventive construction observed but not felt. Deaths seem arbitrary, sometimes striking when you expected a stumble after missing whatever prompt governed your ability to put one foot in front of the other. These bluntly applied challenges can also undermine the characters, making them appear unbelievably imbecilic. Press the wrong thing and watch: a girl becomes incapable of tossing a rock at point-blank range; and a trained soldier hisses "Dammit!" as he incorrectly sneaks behind a velociraptor.

It's all so binary and, with one clear exception within the last few minutes, free of impact. The acting in Jurassic Park easily bests that of Heavy Rain, but Quantic Dream's game went off the rails in more than one way, often toying with tests of memory and always incorporating your outcomes in the story. Sure, its plot doesn't hold up under scrutiny, but at least you can bend it.

Telltale's rigid technology, when placed under the spotlight, isn't good enough to compete with a movie's well-constructed thrills, so you can forget about treating this as another bit of Spielberg. The animation frequently fails both the action and drama, dinosaurs seem to be moulded from brown vinyl, and the foliage looks like it was constructed for a high school play. There's an unusual claustrophobia that pervades all of the exterior environments, as if the island ends just outside of the view you've been granted. It's a solid effort to be dour compared to Telltale's cartoonish games, but the cinematic illusion comes to a halt every time someone pulls an odd face, or when the music stops abruptly between scenes.

Some of these shortcomings can be drowned out if you're engrossed in active dialogue with a game. Jurassic Park: The Game makes it challenging to strike up a conversation, as it has a lot to say but no time to listen. Like a themed roller coaster, it asks that you suspend your disbelief as things happen around you, the same as they do for the next person. Soon enough it's you who feels suspended, then weightless and ineffectual.

This review is based on all four episodes of the PC version of Jurassic Park: The Game purchased by the reviewer.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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