Let's be honest, nobody here is out to be hatin' on Telltale Games. They've done too much for us -- resurrecting nostalgia-soaked classics with the added consideration of doing them full justice with quality humor, decent production values and rewarding gameplay. With that said, I think it's hard to argue that aside from smaller projects like Poker Night at the Inventory and Puzzle Agent, they haven't strayed too much from the standard formula of adventure gameplay. At their best, they add fun new twists to existing puzzle tropes (the interrogation sequence in Sam and Max Season 3 comes to mind), but at their worst -- well, things can turn formulaic, fast.
With the announcement of Jurassic Park, I was excited to see Telltale veer out of their comfort zone both in gameplay and overall tone. Frankly, we've seen them flirt with dramatic themes in Monkey Island and Sam and Max before but the end result has always been a stiff upper lip rather than a coronary convulsion. This was aided by the fact that no matter how dicey the situation could get, you could rest assured that ultimately nothing you did would cause a character to die. The result of their effort to bring a heightened tension to the game with death and timed sequences is a mixed bag, but unlike what various "internet people" might have you believe -- it's really not all that awful. If you're familiar the quirks of the genre it owes most to, interactive movies, and set your expectations accordingly, Jurassic Park: The Game Episode 1 (phew) isn't a bad way to kill an hour and a half for the price of a movie ticket.
I decided to give Telltale's iPad version a shot, but it seems that the gameplay is the comparable with each platform. In each "scenario" (chapter) of the game, we're immediately launched into a cinematic sequence and given a series of opportunities to swipe or tap the screen to get a character to leap, jump, or perform any number of tasks at the required time. It opens with a woman running for her life in the park, stalked by an unseen dinosaur. As she runs, you swipe up to leap over branches, left to look around you, and tap to keep yourself from plummeting into the rocky abyss as you back off over a cliff. All this finger motion is mildly engaging, but ultimately doesn't do much to differentiate the experience from that of watching a particularly polygonal animated cartoon -- let alone provide the sphincter-clamping action the game is clearly aiming for.
That's the problem with the game, it feels too much like a roller coaster that stops every once in a while and asks you to wave your hand in the air to continue. Given, it's a pretty and well-made roller coaster, but the hand waving doesn't add much and ultimately makes your hand hurt (at least on the iPad).
Seriously, you think the Jeep controversy stuff is bad? Just wait for the carpal tunnel.
Occasionally the player is left to explore an environment from a series of fixed camera angles controlled by an awkward picture-in-picture interface. Sadly, the end result is more Night Trap than Heavy Rain, as each explorable area is essentially a pixel hunt that can quickly become monotonous and never facilitates any particularly rewarding "a-ha"'s. Speaking of Heavy Rain, I find it interesting that Telltale chose to market Jurassic Park as a spiritual successor to the surprisingly popular interactive film for PlayStation 3, as much of the player's engagement in Heavy Rain is facilitated by the fact that your actions directly effect how the story branches out. And isn't that the point with creating an interactive experience instead of a passive one -- to create a sense of heightened emotional investment through a player's perceived impact on a world? Telltale clearly missed the boat on that one, as ultimately the outcome of each scenario doesn't do anything to effect the story and deaths simply prompt the player to restart the scene. Another opportunity for engagement in game lies in making the world explorable and the player prone to serendipitous discoveries, but again -- another missed opportunity.
It's not all bad, though -- as the game clearly manages to provide a sufficiently engrossing storyline, albeit one rife with stock characters (charitable father/feisty daughter, mysterious assassin with Laura Croft curves, you get the idea). Honestly I don't know that the quality of writing is any less or more than previous games as much as the more realistic style makes the character's lack of dimensionality feel more jarring. But after all, this is Jurassic Park -- not Schindler's List. I didn't find the voice acting at all bothersome, and Jared Emerson-Johnson does an excellent job of recreating and adding to the orchestral palette of dramatic cues and themes from the movies. Graphically, the game is an improvement from older Telltale titles with more dynamic lighting and sophisticated animations -- but overall there's a sense of mediocrity that perhaps should be expected with the relatively budget price tag. On occasion, inappropriately subtle responses to character deaths can be pretty hilarious. Performance is improved on the iPad from other Telltale titles on the platform, but still doesn't quite feel as solid as you'd hope with jarring aspect ratio shifts in the menus and random audio syncing issues.
When it comes down to it, there's no reason to avoid Jurassic Park: The Game, Episode 1, particularly if you're already a fan of the franchise or Telltale. The game does seem appropriate for a more casual market looking for the kind of bite-sized fast-fix gameplay each scenario in the game provides, and might not be interactive enough to sustain interest on traditional consoles. Keeping that in mind, while no Heavy Rain -- Jurassic Park: The Game still promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience for fans of the series, interactive movies, and the merely curious.