On the last day of seventh grade, I left my middle school into a baking-hot late June day to go see Jurassic Park with my Great Uncle Frank. I would miss Heather Nunn's pizza party—where everybody would be—to the detriment of my 12-year-old social life, but Jurassic Park was one of those massive summer movies that defined the 90's cinematically. Another in a long line of special effects-riddled thrill rides that allowed for an escape from the oppressiveness of the sweltering sun and the mundane months of rural Connecticut summers, Jurassic Park was 120-plus minutes of old-school movie magic in a cool, dark room with your heart pounding due to both the onscreen thrills and the sugar rush of Reese's Pieces mixed with a quart of watery Pepsi. It offered conflicting feelings of wide-eyed wonder in its opening scenes that were quickly replaced by feelings of gut-churning terror as night fell and the treacherous Nedry set events into motion that overran the park with prehistoric predators.
Now, almost 18 years later, TellTale Games is bringing us back to Isla Nublar with Jurassic Park: The Game, a canonical tale set roughly parallel to that terrifying third act of the film, and before The Lost World forever tainted the franchise. How does Jurassic Park fare as a game? Well, that all depends on your definition of game.
Jurassic Park follows multiple plot threads all wrapped around the infamous Barbasol can filled with embryos that Nedry was attempting to smuggle off of Isla Nublar in the movie. There's a father and his estranged teenage daughter, a mysterious Latina tracker who knows more about Isla Nublar that she initially lets on, a pair of hardened mercenaries, and an animal rights activist turned scientist all trying to survive long enough to get off of the island.
The writing, typical of all of TellTale's output, is absolutely fantastic. The characters are surprisingly nuanced and a few moments of the game lay out some surprisingly subtle hints. Everyone has a distinct personality, and they all mesh—or clash—in near-perfect synchronicity. Everyone has histories, hang-ups, and hopes driving them and their actions, and it shows in the game's pitch-perfect writing.
It's not just about the people, either. TellTale has also released a handful of new species of dinosaur to threaten our plucky protagonists, as well as parading out our old favorites. The T-Rex is still one hell of a threat, with his inability to track still prey providing some nerve-wracking moments, and the devious velociraptors and their uncanny problem solving abilities are still some of the best monsters of the last 20 years. The new threats, like the marine-based mososaur, provide some welcome new thrills as well, even if their presence on the island is a bit jarring. You think Hammond would have mentioned an entire aquatic exhibit…
As cinematically sound and fantastically written as Jurassic Park: The Game is, there is the question of how it plays. The game was designed for a wide variety of platforms, including PC, Xbox 360 (the platform I played on), Playstation 3, and the iPad 2. As a result, the gameplay had to be simplified to be played on all of these various platforms. What we're left with is a very rudimentary adventure game punctuated by quick time events. While it lacks in the depth of TellTale's other adventure releases, like the irreverent Sam & Max or universe-expanding Back to the Future, its accessibility adds immeasurably to the cinematic experience. It's very 90's in its "interactive movie" ideal—possibly by design—but with such phenomenal writing on display, it's easy to forgive a simplistic game mechanics.
Jurassic Park: The Game is not the normal sort of title I would recommend or even play. Its thin interactivity elevates it to little more than an interactive movie, a genre that was miserable and uninspired all those years ago with the advent of CD-ROM. However, TellTale has taken the formerly stale genre and energized it with a franchise that itself had been driven into the ground by a pair of inferior sequels. It's the sort of thing that should be a recipe for disaster, but TellTale manages, almost impossibly, to pull it off. I feel like I'm twelve years old again, except without the pubescent awkwardness…and that's definitely a great thing.