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