Return to Isla Nublar in the new Telltale Games adventure, Jurassic Park: The Game Episode 1, built for the dual-core power of the iPad 2. Less of a fully realized video game, and more of an interactive movie requiring sharp reflexes and simple sleuthing, this swipe and tap adventure will be released in four HD episodes, each one priced $6.99 in the Apple App Store. With a Jurassic Park merchandising renaissance in recent months, fueled mostly by an announcement of yet another sequel, this game’s debut is both well timed and much appreciated. In other words, we’ve really missed you, T-Rex.
Jurassic Park: The Game Episode 1 doesn’t try to add a whole new storyline to the franchise (and if you’ve seen The Lost World, this is probably a good thing), but instead, puts a really fun spin on the original – and by far the most successful extended JP plot. If you can remember some 18 years ago, Dennis Nedry spent a whole lot of energy gathering embryos and transporting them in a shaving cream can, only to end up as Dilophosaurus dinner when his car got stuck somewhere in the stormy jungle.
What became of that shaving cream can was an obvious plot setup that unfortunately was never realized in the sequels, but it becomes a great starting point (and therefore, the catalyst) for Telltale’s multiple original characters. You’ll play as a Costa Rican tracker, an InGen employee and his daughter, as well as a Jurassic Park computer technician who are all desperately trying to stay alive while the park, with its wonky mainframe grid, is overtaken by prehistoric beasts.
I must say, I appreciate Telltale’s angle here because there were always holes in the original Isla Nublar story that needed plugging. Beyond the whole ‘What’s going to happen to the shaving cream?’ dilemma, one had to wonder about any other park employees who may have missed the ferry to the mainland. Did they get out alive? Were they left on the island to become Velociraptor chow? What about the rival genetics company?
After nearly two decades, I’m glad to see the folks at Telltale (who clearly care about creating strong characters and an engaging story) answering some of these questions by allowing the user to explore the horror happening on the other side of the saurus-saturated island.
Jurassic Park: The Game Episode 1 is going to disappoint some who are hoping for a fully interactive experience. Much like the old school cabinet game Dragon’s Lair, or those few who were lucky enough to play the Sega CD Jurassic Park game about a decade after that, much of the craftsmanship and focus is on the narrative rather than the fully immersive playability of what a true computer adventure can offer. What results here, similar to much of Telltale’s library, is more in the vein of an interactive movie than a fully-fledged video game. As an avid film-goer first and recreational gamer second, I quite enjoy this type of gameplay every once in a while. However, those who wish to control all aspects of the character as he or she explores the island, shoots at dinosaurs and moves boxes around, will likely be disappointed by the heavy agency that is infused throughout.
Still in? Good, because Episode 1 provides an ample amount of fun: from hacking at jungle growth with your machete to hacking into the security grids with your computer, there’s a lot to discover, explore and pry open. And because the puzzles aren’t even close to challenging, you’re never stuck too long at one stage or task – meaning a good dino conflict is never far off.
In fact, the game is dino-heavy following a somewhat slow, but still interesting start. Unlike Telltale’s Back To The Future offering, there’s a lot more emphasis on the actions characters must take rather than choosing their correct dialogue in order to advance them through the game. That said, I can’t help but think the T-Rex was a tad overused, which may hamper future episodes. I mean, how do you top the T-Rex? And no, JP3’s Spinosaurus won’t cut it.
Graphics & Voices
Considering the platform, the overall look is quite good with some nice detail. It sports a cartoony aesthetic that may not impress hardcore PC gamers, but for the iPad it does the job. Dinosaurs very much look the part, and their human counterparts aren’t too shabby either. Part of what made the original movie’s effects work well are how the dinosaurs walk, jump, charge and chase, and the game adopts a similar emphasis on the kinetics of both prehistoric creatures and modern man. And for those wondering, even your character’s death visuals are pretty cool, if lacking gore, should you make a blunder or two.
Backgrounds and environments: from dreary docks and dark pockets of jungle to the Jurassic Park vehicles and visitor center all properly capture the atmosphere and feel of what it would be like to walk around on a newly-deserted tropical island. While the textures can be a bit flat, no doubt limited by the hardware, Telltale always seems to put much effort into their characters and settings. Yet again, this type of attention helps serve the narrative from beginning to end.
Also worth mentioning are the voices and casting. The game does a wonderful job of finding the proper talent to lend believability to this world. Nothing is too over-the-top or cheesy, and it’s not hard to be invested in these characters pursuits by the episode’s end, thanks in large part to the acting/directing. In fact, sound and music design is top-notch and adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.