Casual Terror: Jurassic Park Preview

By Alec Meer on August 30th, 2011 at 1:06 pm.

I'm writing this in a room in Sweden full of games journalists, and not a one of them could think up a good dinosaur pun. It is the saddest moment of my life.

Trespasser it ain’t, but despite being a far easier sell Jurassic Park: The Game: Episode One: The Intruder is likely to be the title which confounds the argument that Telltale make formula adventure games, simply variations upon a structure and style they hit upon with the first series of their Sam & Max episodes. This is something a little different, the moment when Telltale prove their design ethos isn’t frozen in amber after all. While seasoned adventure nuts will perhaps bounce right off this officially-sanctioned side-story to the first film due to its very casual approach puzzling and danger-dodging, it clearly aims to draw a crowd far beyond nostalgic Lucasartisans. Specifically, a crowd who want to see people om-nom-nommed by bloody great dinosaurs.

‘Cinematic’ is a cynical go-to buzz word for far too many games during their hype pupal stage, and far too employed to mask rote mechanics with flashy whizzbang. Jurassic Park, at least, is using it – and doing it – as an attempt to be as one with its celluloid predecessor. It wants to be an extension of the film at least as much as it wants to be a memorable videogame in its own right.

With the Telltale engine newly enhanced for highish-end, more realistic graphics and art style, essentially the idea is you respond to quick-time events, use a spot of deduction and orienteering and solve fairly quick-fire puzzles to create a fast flow of deliberately filmic action. “We want you to feel like you’re playing through a movie but you really have control of the movie,” explains lead designer Mark Darin. That noggin of yours is unlikely to be taxed to breaking point, but in exchange you’ll have a more dramatic, even pace instead of stiltedly walking back and forth trying to work out where to go and what to click on next.

This also means Telltale’s trademark absurdity and lateral thinking is left behind in favour of what they hope are believable characters you care about it, and who are in real danger. “If you don’t react your character can die, which is first for Telltale,” says Darin. “We really wanted there to be consequences, you can’t just skip through it.”

Primarily, this involves death by dino. Quick-time events – responding rapidly to on-screen prompts – apparently constitute about a third of the game, and generally revolve around trying to avoid doom. It won’t always be insta-doom, however, with the game often granting a bit of breathing space and room for error before it introduces your face to a thunder lizard’s maw. For instance, mess up a couple of QTEs during a sequence, you’ll probably still get away, but you’ll see you character cack-handedly stumbling and lucking their way to escape instead of being a cool-headed badass. It’s not purely react-or-die stuff though: also on show is climbing up a cliff by alternately hitting left and right. “We want to present classic adventure gaming sensibilities in a fresh, new way” says Darin. Broken Sword 3 springs to mind, though there seems to be a lot less crate-pushing.

There’s also plenty of conversation, now a whole lot shorter on absurdist humour and punnery, and presented as a chat-o-choice wheel in the manner of Mass Effect – but this being a pretty casual affair, it’s in the name of getting across a sense of the characters rather than trying to confuse your conscience.

I’m unhelpfully not saying what character you play as, because you’ll play as multiple folk throughout the course of the game. “It’s really about playing the scene as opposed to playing a single character,” explains Darin. In some sections, characters will work together, but in the section I see the player’s controlling a female character called Nima with a slight Vasquez air, who’s a bit of a jungle navigation expert. She’s guiding a nerdy, whiny bloke called Miles Chadwick across Isla Nublar, and he’s there to meet Dennis Nedry. Dennis Nedry being, if you cast your mind back almost 20 years, the fat bloke who tries to steal a dinosaur embryo from Jurassic Park but gets noshed on by one of those little spitting dinos as he heads to rendezvous with a chap on a boat who’s offering good money for this corporate thievery.

The first episode of the game, The Intruder, kicks off very shortly after Nedry’s ignoble demise. “What if the man on the boat expected Nedry to be a bit of a screwup, so they’d placed a tracking chip inside the canister?” muses Darin. Alas, Chadwick proves little more capable than Nedry, ending up as a gawky dessert for another dilophosaurus shortly after he and his guide find Nedry’s body and jeep.

This leaves Nima on her own, and running a QTE gauntlet to get away from the rampaging mini-beasts. A failure to respond to one prompt sees her killed by what appears to be the same dino that did for Nedry while seeking shelter in his jeep; the same scene played out successfully sees her slam the vehicle’s door into its scaly face and make her escape. Either side of this action sequence, the challenge is to scour the environment for clues, in a way that’s vaguely reminiscent of LA Noire but more signposted.

A magnifying glass icon shows interactive objects and even part of the environment, such as panning across a jeep for bloodstains, investigating damaged bits of tree or following footprints – this game, or this section of it at least, isn’t a series of cartoon rooms but rather a wild forest, thus making a significant change from seeking out openly absurd or puzzlicious items. “You don’t have an inventory per se, it’s more about manipulating the environment and making the immediate area work for you,” explains Darin.

I can’t say how this is going to feel in practice – if the visual rewards and the aim to have a sustained flow of lizard-bothering rather than adventures’ traditional stop-start nature are going to make up for the fact that it’s not going to place heavy demands on gaming skill. It’s got a little bit of Dragon’s Lair going on, a little bit of Heavy Rain and, of course, a little Telltale tradition. It’s probably going to err too much towards the casual and the hand-held for gamers like me – in other words, it’s simply not aimed at gamers like me, but rather at people who get a little bit more out of a ton of exciting and, oh let’s say it, ‘cinematic’ visual stuff immediately happening in response to a button-press.

So yeah, Trespasser it is not: we shall never see that infinitely odd and bold game’s like again, or at least not in association with Steven Spielberg movie. This, instead, is a concerted attempt to be the official companion game to the blockbuster movie – only some 17 years later. It could have been a straight repeat of Back To The Future, but instead it’s aiming to making something more appropriate to its elected, more sadistic and serious-toned source material. I don’t expect, personally, that I shall gravitate towards it, but I’m glad to see Telltale stretching themselves and genuinely tackling something both stylistically and mechanically out of their usual comfort zone.

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58 Comments »

  1. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    What a shame.

  2. Khemm says:

    Who do I have to bribe to make a sequel to Trespasser? We can make it without any compromises these days, the original suffered because the technology just wasn’t there at the time for such an ambitious game.

    As for Telltale’s JP – Casual puzzles and QTE might make it a no buy for me.

    • Jhoosier says:

      Yeah, I think my first experience with QTE was in Just Cause 2. Even the QTE to knock somebody out of a helicopter was annoying, I don’t see how I could make it through a whole game of that.

      This is a game for others, which means I’m not going to see dinos in any game soon :(

    • Wulf says:

      I feel that Primal Carnage is one-upping what Tresspasser was, personally, and doing a good job of it. I’m very much looking forward to that one.

  3. HermitUK says:

    Trespasser was ahead of its time. Buggy and broken, yes, but it tried its hand at Far Cry’s jungles and Half Life’s physics years before either was really feasible. We need another period of dinosaur mania, so that ‘Dinosaurs and crate puzzles: the Game’ can get another chance.

    Also her health bar is on her breasts. Take that, bloody-screen!

    • soldant says:

      Totally agree, I still marvel at all the things they attempted to do. I also cringe at how much of it was broken, but it’s still awesome.

    • pepper says:

      After some googling I found this:

      http://www.trescom.org/

      Not all is lost. I think.

    • shoptroll says:

      I wonder if it would ever show up on Good Old Games. Seems like the game was ambitious, and like Crysis is more known for being poorly optimized than anything.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Crysis wasn’t “poorly optimised”. It’s just that too many people were labouring under the misapprehension that their current PC should be able to handle its higher detail levels. And nor was “optimisation” Trespasser’s problem; Trespasser’s problem was that the technology was broken, and the gameplay was hamstrung as a result. (And yet even then, it was still amazing.)

    • Donjo says:

      I played a demo at the time it was released I was fairly intrigued.. so when I saw an actual copy of it in a friends house around five years ago I had to borrow.. played all the way through and managed to enjoy it- it definitely got the atmospherics right even if the game play was quite broken…

  4. Joshua says:

    ’tis sounds a bit like Indogo Prophecy, but without that story that got rather absurd in the end. I love the idea that acharacter can die prematurely and that will have consequences for the story, which is something more games should do.

    Also, QTE’s done right?

    • P7uen says:

      It has Heavy Rain written all over it.

      I frogging love Jurassic Park and I loved Heavy Rain, but for some reason I’m not interested in combining the two at all.

    • Wulf says:

      I loved the nonsensoleum-fuelled latter half of Fahrenheit. (As opposed to the cut down version of it that Indigo Prophecy had.) I don’t know why we always need to go with near-earth storylines which are entirely sensible, anyway, because that just makes me think that all gamers are boring, conservative bean counters with not even the first inkling as to what romance might actually be, beyond perhaps a candlelit dinner. :|

      More of what Fahrenheit was would actually make me a very happy camper. I often find that games are very boring and unchallenging compared to other mediums, and even the somewhat hamfisted ethical dilemmas presented by Human Revolution came over as a revelation to some simply because games tend to air on the side of boring, just so they aren’t risky, just so they won’t break the tiny little minds of people playing them… apparently.

      Fahrenheit took a chance and just went nuts with it, and we’re condemning it for that? Boo. Well… I, for one, loved the hell out of Fahrenheit, all of Fahrenheit.

    • Daiv says:

      Hear hear, Wulf!

      It’s quite something when the game starts with what looks like a demonic-possession-induced stabbing in a diner – and then it gets weird. But, unlike practically everything else, it simply doesn’t stop getting weirder. It escalates the weirdness at a constant, unrelenting pace, until it’s utterly, irrevocably bonkers, and then keeps powering on to the point where the reality-maintaining portion of your brain screams and gibbers and shuts down, leaving you to face the madness alone.

  5. Eclipse says:

    Casual puzzles and QTE you say? I though it were a survival-run\hide\gun game, too bad.

    • Khemm says:

      It would be a lot better as a traditional adventure game or action-adventure like Dino Crisis 1-2/ Resident Evil 1-3, it looks like.

  6. Spacewalk says:

    Oh great, a Dragon’s Lair comparison, it’s the Mega CD all over again. What’s next, a sequel to Road Avenger or Time Gal.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Well, it’s a good codeword for “nicely animated sequence of trial-and-error QTEs that is very rapidly no fun at all”.

  7. jon_hill987 says:

    What is the point of QTE? It’s like watching a DVD that keep prompting you to press a arbitrary button on the remote to continue. It isn’t something that is fun.

    • Stupoider says:

      I… I have to admit, QTEs are something of a guilty pleasure of mine, but I do prefer watching someone completing them rather than doing it myself.

      I liked the QTEs in Shenmue 2.

    • Rii says:

      The point of a QTE is that it isn’t a cutscene.

    • Bioptic says:

      Shenmue did QTEs right, in that they were:

      1) Non-arbitrary (press left to dodge left, press kick to jump), enabling you to read your situation just a fraction of a second before you had to press buttons.

      2) Rarely instant-failure – a chainsaw to the face would kill you, but you’d have plenty of opportunities to catch up to someone in a chase scene.

      3) Completely integrated with the gameplay – you were primed to expect them throughout, especially in tense or dangerous situations.

      4) Continuation after failure – only in some cases, but if you survived you were able to carry on with the game after failing a QTE. This invested them with more tension and narrative weight than simply “press button, or reload checkpoint for 10 seconds ago”.

      As you might be able to tell, I was a fan of Heavy Rain.

    • Ian says:

      @ Bioptic: Although whoever designed that “walk over a million rickety planks in a ruined apartment block” section needs to be kicked repeatedly in the balls.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I hate em too. They aren’t fun, they aren’t a game either. Fahrenheit is one of the worst ‘games’ I’ve ever played in my life. It’s an interactive film really, and a very poor one at that. Also, they pretend to be innovative which pisses me off too as they aren’t whatsoever.

      At least Dragons Lair was fun to watch!

    • rayne117 says:

      You could easily argue every game ever is just an interactive movie. There will never be a “new” cutscene from the actions you have done in the game, the developer has made them all already, you are just unlocking them by completing missions.

      You just have a problem with the way you’re interacting. Which is fine. But don’t say only games with QTE are interactive movies.

      This above realization is one of the many reasons I am having a falling out of enjoying games.

  8. Bodylotion says:

    Jurassic Park is a great movie and if this game follows a story like Jurassic Park it must be pretty good but like most people here rather would see a Tresspasser 2 sort of game.

  9. karry says:

    I wonder if we’ll ever see proper feathered velociraptors in games.

  10. EOT says:

    No mammary based life bar. No sale.

  11. Saul says:

    I’m going to be a dissenting voice and say that it sounds at least a bit interesting. Mostly the bits about QTEs that aren’t auto-kill and puzzles that don’t require hours of wandering and experimentation.

  12. MrXswift says:

    i love jurassic parc .. and dislike point and click adventures (not all) but most of them are just boring..
    anyway.. seeing what telltale did with back to the future i dont think they will be able to capture the jurassic parc feeling.

    tip for the telltale ppl before studying everything about dinosaurs go study how to make playable games!
    and please stop with this comic style nonsense..

    • Khemm says:

      Boring? What adventures have you played lately?
      If by “boring” you mean “you have to relax, take your time and there’s no pew-pew”, then I honestly can’t help you, it’s just not something you’ll get into. Just don’t say they’re boring, it’s just the genre is not up your alley.

    • PodX140 says:

      Khemm: Read the spelling, the lack of capitalization, the ellipses with only 2 periods. Coupled with “ppl” and a complete disregard for adventure games, I think we have here a genuine youngster. Reasoning is not only impossible, but should be avoided as it tends to aggiatate the subject.

    • MrXswift says:

      @Khemm:
      Yes, you are probably right this isn’t my favorite genre but there are some PnC adventures i enjoyed playing like Machinarium, Tales of Monkey Island, Myst 3,Leisure Suit Larry Love For Sail.

      @PodX140:
      Sorry for my spelling, english is not my first nor my 2nd language. I’m still learning.

      I’m not disregarding PnC adventure games. It’s just that in my experience, when i play this genre i get the feeling that the developers didn’t put as much effort in it as they could have.

  13. NathaI3 says:

    “mess up a couple of QTEs during a sequence, you’ll probably still get away, but you’ll see you character cack-handedly stumbling and lucking their way to escape instead of being a cool-headed badass.”

    “you’ll play as multiple folk throughout the course of the game.”

    “the challenge is to scour the environment for clues,”

    This is just Heavy Rain with dinosaurs, then.

  14. Balm says:

    Trespasser it ain’t

    Thanks for putting TL:DR at the begining

  15. metalangel says:

    “(QTEs) apparently constitute about a third of the game”

    Dinosaur’s Lair! Geddit?

  16. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    But can we ride them?

  17. Fenric says:

    The music evokes feelings that the trailer does not cash.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yes. The music is still incredible. Some of the best movie music ever.
      The game looks a bit crap, and I’m thinking it might be an attempt to squeeze extra bucks from the JP re-release in cinemas.

      In other news: Jurassic Park to be re-released in cinemas! Cannot wait.

  18. shoptroll says:

    Probably going to wait for reviews on this one and grab the season at the end. A Steam sale dumped most of Telltale’s work into my backlog and I’ve done a poor job of digging out since then.

  19. BatmanBaggins says:

    There is just nothing in this article that even got me remotely excited for this game.

    If anything, it lessened my desire to play it.

    Also – what is Telltale’s obsession with episodic games? Why not just make one full proper game instead of cutting it up into 4 or 5 parts and releasing it on a vaguely-defined monthly schedule?

  20. Synesthesia says:

    THEY SAID HEAVY RAIN I AM UPSET

  21. MartinNr5 says:

    Here’s your pun: “I bet you dinosaur this one coming!”

    Thank you! I’ll be here all week, try the fish.

  22. Adekan says:

    “You Bet Jurassic: Park Preview ”

    You’re welcome.

  23. ASBO says:

    Ahh but they mix it up a bit by letting you alternate between pressing left and right. Seriously sounds less fun than a speak-n-spell

  24. mechabuddha says:

    So should I use my free game (from Jurassic Park delay) on Jurassic Park or Hector?

  25. DigitalSignalX says:

    Lack of puns?

    Jurstastic Park Preview
    Terrorasaurus Text
    Things that go extinct in the dark.
    Paleolithic Park Preview

    This was just 6 minutes in a room full of cats, far better inspiration then journalists.

  26. elnalter says:

    i just want to look down and see high poly cleavage

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