“Who better to get the children through Jurassic Park than a dinosaur expert” – John Hammond … to be said in a warm Scottish accent…
Who better indeed than Alan Grant? The embodiment of Good-Sam-Neil; as oppose to Bad-Sam-Neil that we all know and were terrified by in Event Horizon.
The latest in my very leisurely quest to explore the many Jurassic Park games goes right back to 1993 where it all started with the PC game released by Ocean software. Ocean were also responsible for the Nintendo (NES, GB, SNES) Jurassic Park games which all took a more top-down action approach when compared to the side-scrolling action of the SEGA games; but those are DNA strands to break down another day. The PC version is most similar to the SNES version with both isometric and first person segments, but they are two quite different games as I managed to complete the PC version whereas any time I’ve attempted the SNES version I’ve failed to make it more than one-hundred in-game meters from the opening screen.
… although I did refer to a walkthrough once or twice for the sake of my own sanity…
The player is thrust into Alan Grant’s khakis and blue shirt, but sadly not his trademark hat and red neckerchief, next to one of the flipped tour vehicles setting the game’s opening just after the first T-Rex attack. Alan must first find Lex & Tim… then find them again… before unlocking the iconic Jurassic Park gate to guide them back to the visitor centre. From here the view switches from isometric to FPS for the final third of the game as Alan battles raptors whilst trying to restore power and escape. Aside from roughly following the plot of the movie, and one very short FPS section early on, these two styles can almost be treated as separate games.
Dr. “Isometric” Grant trundles through levels armed with a stun gun, equipped with magically recharging battery, that blasts a bolt of electricity out in front of him for a few seconds every time he pulls the trigger. He can also pick up ammo that lets him fire a mystery gun that’s not sure if it’s a rifle or a shotgun, but that’s irrelevant as the lightning rod is the better choice with those extra seconds of zapping allowing the player to swing it into the path of the erratic enemies. For most of the game the player is crowd controlling gangs of compsognathus, dilophosaurus, and what I assume are juvenile pterodactyl (for those who don’t speak dinosaur that’s mini-saur, spitting-saur, and flying-saur) along with dealing with other hazards like poisonous plants and huge insects. The movement and combat have a functional retro feel with some combat frustration as Alan can only fire in eight distinct directions however I soon found myself in a comfortable gameplay rhythm knowing when to run past the enemies and how to best attack them without taking damage. As the player moves through the different paddocks they also encounter their bigger inhabitants with juvenile triceratops charging, gallomimus in a stampede sequence, pterodactyl dropping boulders (yeah, I was confused too), and stegosaurus smashing cliffs to bring a rain of rocks down on Alan. Looking back it’s a good mix of classic dinos that give the game variety and is punctuated by some pretty cool moments like distracting a huge triceratops with some wild berries and using road flares to flummox ol’ T-Rex.
The overarching gameplay style is one of exploration with many levels having a labyrinthine quality to them as Alan weaves his way between cliffs and plants mercilessly pursued by a pack of tiny-saurs. “Motion Detectors” are dotted around the park and provide the player with a terminal through which they can access messages that hint at the current objective, unlock doors, and view a crude map of the current area that can at provide rough guidance about the direction to walk in. Classic gaming elements “finding ID cards to open doors” and “pushing items to climb up ledge” also make numerous appearances; they’re cliche, but work to add challenge and variety.
That’s not to say that Isometric Park is without its share of flaws and sections that are just plain unfair. The pseudo-isometric view makes anything involving vertical movement awkward from the swooping in of flying enemies to exactly how far Alan is going to fall when he steps off a cliff … which ultimately governs if he walks away or becomes an awkward heap of broken limbs. The falling rocks in the stegosaurus paddock are both relentless and random meaning it’s almost impossible to avoid them; in the end I just learnt exactly where I needed to go and ran for it hoping for a lucky break. There are numerous moments where Alan can get trapped, usually by jumping down a ledge that he shouldn’t have making a restart the only option and the battle with the T-Rex requires that you “remember” to push a barrel off a cliff early in the level, something that there’s no way the player would know to do without having had a few failed attempts first. By far the most frustrating section is early on; remember in the film where Lex sits in a storm drain outlet whilst she waits for Alan to rescue Tim? Well Ocean took that and stretched it into one of the most tedious sewer sections I’ve ever played (which is an achievement). The player must enter the storm drain sewer system, search for Lex who is … injured?… then go and find a crate, push the crate into the water, very slowly push the crate to Lex who climbs aboard, before guiding the crate all the way back to the sewer exit. It’s just prolonged trudging around a maze with no distinguishing landmarks.
At the visitor centre the game suddenly changes pace and the player is put in charge of Dr. “FPS” Grant. Onscreen prompts from the other characters guide Alan from the visitor centre, past the raptor pen, into the maintenance shed to restore the power. Finally he must make his way back out through a network of caves to freedom. It’s quite a jarring transition from the sprite based isometric style although I guess at the time Doom-style was a big thing that everyone was trying to cash in on. The 3D engine is rough around the edges feeling both less fluid than the original Wolfenstein 3D, but more advanced as it contains some ramps and varying ceiling heights. The only enemies are raptors (who are weirdly cartoonish) which have viscous attacks and are liable to trap Alan in a corner until his health drains to zero. Despite being more “advanced” visually, this section feels like the more basic game; there’s not much more do than just “get to the end” and I quickly discovered that madly dashing past was much better than trying to engage in combat. Disappointingly the climatic moment I was hoping for never came and the game just sort of ends.
So as a retro game it is an average reflection of the time, but how does it stand up as a Jurassic Park game? After all, this is all about finding the best Jurassic Park game out there, right? All things considered it’s pretty Jurassic Park-ey. Importantly the game roughly follows the plot of the movie with some key moments and locations included; the player stumbles across the wrecked bathroom of Gennaro’s last stand, Nedry’s stranded Jeep, and those iconic gates. The main characters are all, at least briefly, represented (apart from Ian Malcolm unfortunately) and there’s a great variety of dinosaurs that are distinctive and placed in unique environments. The title screen, terminal visuals and in-game architecture all fit neatly in to the distinctive style created by the movie making this feel like a Jurassic Park game rather than just a game with dinosaurs. I can’t say that I’m enamoured enough to ever want to go back and play it through again, but it is a solid entry into the JP game catalogue.
Did you ever play this game? Any memories of it? What JP game should I tackle next?