My only guidance was a few grainy images from in a well-thumbed issue of ‘Mean Machines Sega’, but as a child I had made up my mind that the Sega CD’s Jurassic Park Game was the definitive way to experience first-hand the wonder of John Hammond’s ill-fated theme park…
For those of you who havn’t picked up on the subtlety with which I’ve mentioned it in the past, ‘Jurassic Park’ is one of my favourite films. It’s enchanting, exciting, and mysterious, but most of all it is set in a world with blurry edges everywhere making it feel real and expansive rather than enclosed. The characters are all larger than life and caricaturish, each with a distinctive personality and matching wardrobe. Unfortunately it’s a franchise which has never really found its place in the videogame world to the loss of gamers everywhere as it is a setting that is more than ready. Arguably my favourite JP game was the recent ‘Lego Jurassic World’ which made both the ‘list of top 5 games I played in 2015’ and also my recommendation for ‘the best game for non-gamers’. Having said that, there were aspects to the flawed TellTale offering that I also found enchanting, mainly the devotion to the source material and plot (even if the gameplay was weak… to be super-nice to it…). At the time of writing that article, I mentioned the mysterious draw of the SegaCD Jurassic Park game, so one idle Friday evening I set out to play it.
As my opening paragraph alluded, this is a game that had been on my radar for some time; as a child the SegaCD was an enigmatic system where everything seemed to be FMV based (Full Motion video.. as opposed to what?… Half Motion Video?… No Motion Video?) relying on actors and grainy footage to cobble together some kind of game. I’m going to avoid criticising the technology too much, these early CD games were necessary for the development of the medium, havn’t stood the test of time (I think that the controversial ‘Night Trap’ is possibly the only one with any kind of following), but even by these standards, this is a pretty terrible game, so let me walk you through my experiences of it…
… Ooooh… Ahhhh… is not how it all started…
JP:CD’s title screen and ‘intro sequence’ are bland, they didn’t even get the font right; You know? The distinctive Jurassic Park font that was the first of the ‘1000 Fonts’ anyone installed from those boot-fair CD’s in the 90’s? The logo followed by a brief few paragraphs explaining that you are heading to the Island to recover dinosaur eggs… but ‘oh no!’… There is an explosion and your helicopter crashed… screen flash white. As openings go, for a console that Sega was trying to convince everyone belonged in a post 16-bit era, it is lacklustre at best. Immediately I began to wonder why I wasn’t listening to the distinctive Jurassic Park melody, or seeing any visuals lifted from the film (or at all)? For a system so pro-FMV there isn’t a single frame taken from the source material; and whilst that would have been a lazy choice, it certainly isn’t as lazy as the ‘text-on-blank-screen’ approach taken. Likewise, the plot continues in this half-hearted manner; the game is set after the events of the film, although it’s not really mentioned or relevant, with the park overrun with dinosaurs. The helicopter sabotage and subsequent crash has no impact on the plo and given that it doesn’t provide a visual spectacle at the opening of the game it is difficult as a player to see why it was included. The player is required to collect dinosaur eggs, take them to the incubator in the visitor centre, and presumably escape with them in tow. The awkward act of our faceless protagonist negotiating the island’s sub-tropical terrain with a hefty incubator slung over their shoulder is never addressed. Much of the who, why, and what is told through video messages that the player picks up in the park control room delivered by a lady in a white coat, so you know she’s a scientist (I always wonder what happened to actors from early FMV games, like the undertaker from ‘Mad Dog McCree’), but I got pretty bored of strolling back to the visitor centre every few minutes when I had another message from her so I may have missed out on some plot whilst I was collecting eggs.
“Dr Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler, welcome to Jurassic Park!”
From an underwhelmed start I was still relatively hopeful that the gameplay would be involved enough to make up for the shortcomings of the opening and story. Whilst ‘Point-n-Click’ isn’t everyone’s ‘leckere kekse’ I’m a big believer in it as a format, but even this enthusiasm for the source material and genre couldn’t hide some pretty tedious gameplay. The player awkwardly manoeuvres a cursor around the screen from a first person viewpoint (which in itself is a limitation of the era’s reliance on digital control pads) and points of interest offer a visual cue as they are swept over… but only if you currently hold the right doohickey to interact with it. This means that the player might ‘sweep’ an area, only to have to come back and sweep it again later once you’ve found a wrench or pliers or whatever. Given the difficulty of the control and that the screen pans around to give a full 360° view in most areas as you push the crosshair against the borders, it rapidly becomes an exercise in patience just to work out what can and can’t be interacted with. Graphically most scenes are grainy 16-bit panoramas which are attempting to be more photorealistic than normally associated with the era; again this is an odd choice as the jungle-like locations tend to mean it’s a mess of greens and browns. The only point this is switched up is in the visitor centre which took on a pre-rendered ‘3D’ vibe. In these areas the player is treated to a pause followed by first-person animation as they either move location, or simply look to the left or right. It was screen shots from these locations that jumped out of those 90’s magazine pages and, despite being a little flawed in execution, the visitor centre does have a more immersive feel than most of the game making me wish the developers had run with this pre-rendered technique for more of the game. Whilst I’m dishing out what little praise I can for JP:CD, the information boards around the park are a nice touch; they treat the player to FMV and audio of Dr. Robert T. Bakker (spared no expense) providing some dino-facts which guide some of the puzzle solutions, and the obligatory ‘educational’ aspect that it seemed every 90’s produced CD-ROM needed to contain.
“Must Go Faster”
Navigating the island is relatively straightforward; each species of dinosaur inhabits a different region and they’re handily signposted to guide the player through the different scenes. Collecting the eggs from each species requires the solving of puzzles which mostly fall into the category of ‘easy when you know how, but not always obvious’, except when they involve combat where they’re always just ‘painfully awkward’. In general the player needs to ‘deal’ with each species in a different way to move them away from their eggs so that they can be lifted, sometimes this involves shooting or stunning the creature and at these points the game spirals further into tedium. First the player must select the appropriate gun from the inventory and then, still using the clunky cursor interface, shoot. It’s not only a chore to aim using the cursor that crawls around the screen but one that is magnified by the need to turn around the deal with the dinosaurs attacking off-screen. There is no way you would be able to get through some of these sections without the several attempts needed to learn the sequences and to pre-empt the dinos as they pop into view. The combat difficulties are compounded as the game deals out harsh punishment for failure; ‘Game Over’ and no continues. The T-Rex section in particular involves knowing exactly where to click, when to click, and has no margin for error.
“Nobody could’ve predicted that Dr. Grant would suddenly, suddenly jump out of a moving vehicle”
It’s a strange experience overall and one that’s barely tied to the movie. In the final stages of the game the player needs to fight their way past some malicious interlopers to steal a helicopter; awkward combat aside, the idea of gunfights in a Jurassic Park game is entirely out of keeping with the series. The raptors are living in caves rather than their distinctive enclosure, and the linking visuals between areas consist of sped-up stock ‘jungle’ scenery with accompanying bongo music; only the region near the T-Rex paddock and the visitor centre evoke memories of the movie. Judging it as a ‘Point-n-click’ adventure it also fails to captivate; the interface is clunky, the puzzles are largely unimaginative and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) combat might actually be improved if it were QTE based. The final pile of triceratops poop is the unnecessary and constrictive time-limit.
So I’m still looking for the perfect Jurassic Park title; JP:CD failed to captivate or entertain and I’m left with childhood illusions shattered.
Did anyone play this game when it was released? Have I got it all wrong and it is an underrated classic… most importantly, which Jurassic Park game should I play next?