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Anatomy of a bad game: Jurassic Park

It's been a while since I last ranted about a video game, but just like last time, I try not to do so because I'm not a game designer. However, for extreme cases, I think I can make an exception. I was actually intrigued by the controversy about that game, as the metacritics score was allegedly tempered with by the game company's employees, who are being accused of submitting themselves 10/10 scores to boost the game's score. Which means I wanted to check by myself what it was all about... and it wasn't really pretty.

Jurassic Park from Telltale Games could have been a good game. The theme is nice, the movie was great, and there was lots of potential. However, the execution was quite miserable. But let me explain why. Caution: I'm probably going to spoil the story here and there, so do not read further if you still want to have a genuine experience on the story.

One thing that surprised me is that this is a quicktime-event based game, and some people compared that to Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream. Well, even if you can compare the gameplay with the fact you have to press buttons to advance the story, if you really want to make a comparison with another game of that style, you should rather pick Dragon's Lair or Space Ace. Because what Jurassic Park: The Game really offers is a completely linear story, properly anchored to well-defined rails you can't get out of.

Basically, what I'm complaining about is that in Heavy Rain, you had several and different story outcomes. The fact that you can die with one character doesn't bring you to a Game Over. It'll simply be integrated into the story, and will bring a different aspect of the ending. You can actually make changes in the course of the story to influence what's going on. In Jurassic Park, you strictly have no choice. If anybody dies, it's a Game Over screen (which a gruesome "death toll" counter), and if you're trying to make any action outside of the script that might look like a "choice", you're probably going to die right after.

Now, really, there's quite no reason there couldn't have been a few choices to make. Maybe even a few "fake choices", à la Mass Effect, where you have the feeling you've made a choice, but in the long run, that doesn't make any difference. In the case of Jurassic Park, there are lots of ways the story could've been different, with a lot of different endings. For example, Oscar could've survived. If the "someone needs to die in that room" was really mendatory, there was a few potential choices there. From that point into the story, no character present a particular skill that could make a difference in the story that follows, so having to chose could've been possible. Now there's a lot more than just fake choices. If we try to expand the story, Yoder could've been a good guy. Or Nima could've betrayed Gerry and Jess. And this is only talking about nearly the end of the story. But early alterations could've been possible too.

Anyway, They wanted to make a linear story, I get it, that's fine. That's not Heavy Rain, that's more Dragon's Lair, okay, okay, we agree on this. But, then, why is this a bad game ?

Well... there's also other troubles, especially in the execution of the quick-time events system. In Heavy Rain, the icons were floating 3d thingies that were quite clear about what was going to happen, or almost. In Jurassic Park, it's more... I don't know... some kind of funky Ouendan game. You have to learn the sequence, die a few times trying to, re-learn the sequence again because the game tried to baby-sit you by simplifying it on the fly, noticing that you died a few time on it, and then finally, you're rewarded by a checkpoint right before the next sequence. At least the difference between Ouendan and this is that Ouendan doesn't have checkpoints, and the sequences are much much longer.

I think the worst part about it is that early in the game, managing to hit or miss the keys weren't a cause for death. Only a very few selected keys were the important ones. It wasn't even the number of keys you missed into the sequence that could cause the death. You can just avoid all of the unimportant parts, that you quickly learn by just not touching the keyboard until you see that you actually die, so that you can start learning the sequence at that point only. It's so binary it's stupid. I mean, the outcome is strictly the same, so except for the "score", that stupid medal thingy you get to complete the sequence without missing any action, there's zero story-driven incentive to do it right or to do it better. Only once or twice I noticed a few differences in the outcome dialogues that the characters would say depending on how well you'd do, but that's about the same as the medal thing. I mean, if you're going to do a Dragon's Lair, at least make the sequences of key to do something. Having whole blocks of keys presses that serve zero purposes is just insulting to the player. Of course, it gets more difficult as the game progresses, but it could've been easy at first by still having the key presses mandatory, but having less of them.

Also, there's two puzzles in that game. It's an action-driven game, yet they managed to cram in two puzzles. Fine. But these two forced me to actually pull a piece of paper and write things down or even more: draw things, in order to solve them! It's been a loooong long while since I last had to write things down in a game in order to solve a puzzle, and it was definitely not an action game.

As for the control, they are horrible. You're playing on a keyboard, sure. That's an interactive story, okay, like watching a movie. So pressing "space" makes sense to enter the game in Pause mode. But making this be a full, animated screen that you can't exit right away after pressing space by mistake is just lame. You have to wait for the animation to finish, the menu to appear, in order to click on "Resume" or press "Esc" to go back to the game. You can't use Space again to unpause. But in the game, the "Esc" key acts as an alias for Space and will activate the same pause again! Argh! So if you mash the Esc button to go back in game, you're just going to pause it again! And in dialogues I'm always tempted to press Esc to exit it and go back to exploring. But no. That'll enter the Pause menu. In order to "exit" the dialogue system, you need to Right Click. There's not even a hint about this on the screen. I had to Google it at some point, as I was stuck into an endless dialogue. Because every other dialogue would have had an escape option given (the typical "bye!" choice), or would just stop by itself.

The graphics are "meh". I mean, it's kind of in the uncanny valley, to have motion-captured animations for characters, and hand-made animations for dinosaurs. There's a bit of an obvious clash here. Also, I've seen a few (quite typical for a SLI setup) graphical bugs. Not a huge lot, but, still. Like, Gerry's hand moves in order to press the keypad according to my instructions, and then when coming back to the normal animation, his hand didn't reset and is still in "rubber mode" from the keypad sequence.

Finally, as for the story itself, yeah, it's not TOO bad, even though there's a few odd things. In episode 3 they decide to go to the marina. Which is fine, I guess. But none of the two park employees, one of them being one of the genetic engineer, know anything about the animals in the marina. Wut ? And they're like "yeah, it ain't no aquatic dinosaurs that's in there, we can't make them, it's impossible." But there is. Nobody knows how, why, or so, but they're here. Also, on a different topic, why in the hell do we need to interact with the T-Rex in every single episode ?! Episode 2's T-Rex appearance in particular, is completely useless. I understand that it's the badass "bad guy" that everyone's a fan of and so on and so forth, but after a while, it gets old. Also, just a side-note: having a 15-years old girl being crunched and eaten by dinosaurs is a bit disturbing to see. I'm pretty sure this shouldn't be allowed in a ESRB-T game.

Oh, and the game is short. I was really surprised to see the "Episode 2" screen popping up, even though I was only playing since a few minutes. I spent maybe 4 or 5 hours in total in that game, and I really spent a long time on some sequences.

All in all, I guess that if you're only a fan of sequences of humans getting nom-nomed and stomped onto by big, predictable dinosaurs, that game is for you. Otherwise, if you have the slightest interest in having a game that is fun and challenging to play, while still being gruesome, you're better off playing The Bindings of Isaac.