I’m a big fan of Telltale Games for two reasons. First of all, their adventure games have been simply excellent almost throughout the line, and secondly they are the only company that has really made episodic gaming work. Nevertheless, now I think they had their first big miss: Jurassic Park: The Game.
One of my favorite things to do is to download the new episode of a Telltale game, go to a bar or a cafe, and enjoy a great adventure with a side order of a good beer or coffee. This is how I approached Jurassic Park: The Game – I went to my favorite watering hole, ordered a pint of excellent Franziskaner Hefe and a bowl of salted nuts, and got ready for a relaxing evening of adventure gaming.
Five minutes later I was blinking at the screen and gathering scattered beer nuts, hands still twitching. Instead of an atmospheric point-and-click adventure the game started with a fast paced and a rather challenging quick time event where one of the main characters was running away from unseen dinosaurs.
With some bad premonitions I continued to the second scene, where two other main characters were at a sightseeing spot looking at dinosaurs. Going through that scene made the premonitions worse: the whole game can’t be just about quick time events and clicking on hotspots that are all marked with question marks, can it?
Yep. Indeed it can.
I understand the difficulty of creating an adventure game with fast paced action, and I get it how all the mental pathways when pondering this lead into a quick time event of some variety. The problem is, quick time events just don’t work as a gameplay element, at least not if they are overused. Why? Well, let’s see the following video.
Yup, whenever I play a quick time event, I can’t pay that much attention to what’s actually happening in the game, the only thing I’m paying attention to are the prompts on the screen. Okay, you can mitigate this by pacing it so that there’s first the QTE and then the action which you are supposed to watch, but it’s still distracting. I noticed I played long stretches of the game focusing just on the “foreground” where the prompts appear, and not paying attention to the action at all.
Furthermore, QTEs are a tremendously unsatisfying game mechanic, if they’re not implemented really really well. I loathe quick time events, but in spite of that I like Heavy Rain. So, how does that work? Well, Heavy Rain didn’t feel like it was bolted on a single set of rails. While you were playing it, you got the feeling that it mattered how well you did on the QTEs, and that really reflected on the game. Compared to this, the QTEs of Jurassic Park feel like they are either-or choices – as in, either you get eaten by the dinosaurs for the umpteenth time or not. The QTEs are also inconsistent: sometimes you have ages to press the buttons, sometimes the only way to get through an event is to learn it by heart by going through it five times.
Press up, up left, down for more story; repeat and rinse.
Okay, as I’ve understood it, there might be some variance in Jurassic Park, as in not managing to grab some items while running may make the next situation a bit hairier, and so forth. The point is, I have no idea if this thing is true, I never felt I had any choice when I was playing the game. And this makes things suck big time.
I could have lived with the bad QTEs if the adventure elements of the game were good – whereas now they were completely missing. The main satisfaction of an adventure game comes from picking up everything that’s not nailed down and figuring out how to use them to get out of a hairy situation. Doing away with the character’s inventory and highlighting all the hotspots removes the essential core of discovery and insight that makes a good adventure game. Furthermore the game has a really small set of areas to explore at any given time, which the clunky UI rubs on the player’s face pretty explicitly, so there goes the wonder of exploration.
Click all the question marks you see on the screen for more story; repeat and rinse.
Uh… no. Just no. I get why the QTEs were used (“We need more action!”) but not why the other gameplay was carved hollow (“We need to… umm, extract all the fun of discovery and insight from the game!”)
All this is a big shame, since the dinosaurs and the surroundings are beautiful, storywise the game is pretty good and well composed and written, and the characters are pretty well built – keeping with the slightly hammy stereotypes of the concept, of course. This does take a little bit of goodwill to notice, though, since the actual gameplay manages to be so bloody annoying.
If you take Jurassic Park: The Game as an interactive movie from the beginning, it’s passable, but those who are expecting an actual game will be sorely disappointed.
I’m feeling an old cranky fart, but I’m getting a bad premonition of how things have been going lately with point-and-click adventures. Telltale’s stuff has turned more and more clunky to play with a mouse and a keyboard combo as they have been tinkering with console friendly control schemes. Some of the UI problems of Jurassic Park seem to be due to the console controls, such as the lack of real movement and changing locations with what looks like a graphical representation of a console controller’s four way button.
When Xbox / PlayStation 2 came out I was livid because the crappy console ports ruined games like Thief 3 and Deus Ex 2. I’m having a slight deja vu, and currently I’m hoping the same won’t happen on the game genre I love the most, point-and-click adventures.
I’ve been blindly buying and preordering whatever Telltale has made just to support the company, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I guess in the future I’ll have to see the first reviews before I vote with my wallet.
(The screenshots were shamelessly stolen from GAMElitist.com – sorry about that!)