A Walk in the (Jurassic) Park
Posted by ENKC , in Games 16 October 2011 · 2,388 views
You may or may not know it, but I'm a Jurassic Park fanboy. Perhaps I'm a docile hadrosaur compared to the big game tyrannosaur fanboys roaming the wilds of the internet, but I'm a fanboy nonetheless. Michael Crichton is a favourite author of mine and I must have read the book seven or eight times over my childhood and teen years.
The film of course is an elephant (apatosaur?) in the room of popular culture. But today I'm here to talk about one of the many, many games spawned by the franchise. One of those rare commodities that broke through the licenced game curse to be a worthy title in its own right. Now excuse me while I awkwardly shoehorn in a joke about how life finds a way.
When I first wrapped my mits around the box, to obtain a new game was a major event bestowed once every few months at the discretion of a parent. I recall I wanted something else they didn't have down at the Galleria (most likely a game featured on A*Mazing), but when I saw 'Jurassic Park' sitting there in its sleek black glory, I didn't take much convincing.
Remember kids, don't ever put "black glory" into Google Images unless your safe search is on.
Thankfully for me, the SNES milking of this cash cow did just about everything right when other licensed games did not. It was as close a representation of the "real" Jurassic Park as was technologically possible. Not only that, they designed it to have gameplay as well! Bonus!
So awesome was it in fact, that you could forgive the inevitable glaring logic holes. Like how you were in frequent communication with other characters yet there wasn't a single other human being, living or dead, to be found on the entire island.
Or how you started the game at the iconic entrance gates. In the middle of the island. Nowhere near ports. Or roads. Or buildings. Or the helipad.
Also a functional Stargate.
Some concessions to the video game format had to be made, however. In this incarnation, Dr Alan Grant showed a lot less of his wussy palaeontologist side and a lot more of his bad-arse gun-toting one man war machine side. And let's face it, when you're stuck in the middle of Jurassic Park, an arsenal of heavy weaponry is all you really want for Christmas.
You start out equipped with the world's nastiest "cattle prod" (read: lightning gun) which is useful for vaporising packs of compsognathus and operating gates and bridges. Yes, security systems in Jurassic Park are operated by shooting things.
Chalk that one up as true to the film, then.
But because balance and careful pacing are so 2000s, you are thoughtfully provided with the most powerful weapon in the game less than five seconds in. No, I'm not exaggerating. The bolas snare rifle instantly vaporises anything smaller than a triceratops. It's also a completely fictional weapon that so far as I know exists only in this game.
And in case you still desire MOAR POWER (Tim Allen style), you'll shortly thereafter stumble upon the second most powerful weapon in the game in the form of the missile launcher. This also instantly vaporises anything smaller than a triceratops but requires more careful aim.
Pictured: several things smaller than a triceratops.
By this point you'll be an entire half a minute into the game (video proof later) and already have as many weapons as you can carry, but if you fancy a bit of variety there are also lame tranquilizer darts, gas grenades and a pleasingly meaty shotgun. Which is item 1 of Game Design 101 successfully completed.
As for the gameplay itself, Dr Grant explores the island from a Grand Theft Auto-esque overhead view point. Whilst you're mostly free to roam around as you please, advancement requires completing objectives inside the various buildings on the island. It's here that Jurassic Park bumps things up a notch.
With a roof over his hat over his head, Dr Grant shifts into an FPS perspective to explore structures packed to the gunnels with velociraptors and dilophosaurs. It looks primitive now, but bear in mind this was released right alongside Doom for those fancy pants "Personal Computers" with their i486 processors. Some sources even suggest it may have been on shelves in the US before id's effort.
To a modern player, these sequences border on laughable. In place of AI, enemies possess a simple "make beeline for tasty looking human" attack pattern (and much the same goes for the overworld). That doesn't exactly enhance the challenge when you're already toting weapons that can remove any signs of life from a third of your screen in one shot.
This is not going to end well for one of us.
However, for its day it created an atmosphere of sheer terror that nothing that side of System Shock 2 could surpass. This was in no small part due to the excellent sound. Jurassic Park was one of the earliest games to feature Dolby Pro Logic surround sound; not that it mattered on old fangled inbuilt tv speakers.
What did matter was the context sensitive music which ranged from adventurous to spooky and foreboding to elevator musak (yes, really) to HOLY FRICK A TYRANNOSAUR. There were also a number of digitised voice samples that were on the borderline of intelligible. For me though the centerpiece was the suprisingly impressive dinosaur sound effects, and above all the blood curdling screams of raptors which struck terror into my prepubescent soul.
Oh and whilst we're at it, the indoor segments made use of the SNES mouse. I'm sure it was a hit with that niche market of SNES mouse owners for whom Mario Paint just wasn't hardcore enough.
Now that's a hardcore dinosaur.
There was one other design marvel up Jurassic Park's sleeve (that's right, SNES games had sleeves) in the form of touch screen computer consoles accessed in the first person. I've seen "computers in a computer game" done a number of times in the years since (Deus Ex, Fahrenheit and Mass Effect to name a few), yet this game still did a better job than most of making it interactive and semi-realistic.
Please don't be fooled by my earlier words into thinking Jurassic Park is a pushover. In fact, I've never completed it. This was one of the punishing breed of old school games with no save feature whatsoever, hence requiring that it be completed in one go. If you had a power cut then it sucked to be you. That's just how we played games in my day, in between walking to school without shoes in a snowstorm.
And mining our own coal to power our gaming sessions.
The soul destroying aspect of completing the game was the requirement to find every raptor egg spread across the island. Even allowing for memorising the locations, some of those blighters were not easy to find. Some years ago I played on an emulator (hey, I own the cartridge), determined to beat it once and for all. I still came up a couple of eggs short and gave up in frustration.
Just to add insult to injury, the game featured an arcade-style "High Scores" screen which of course reset with the console; as if you were supposed to leave it on long enough for multiple people to complete it and compare scores. Meanwhile, Wikipedia cheerfully says "The game typically takes 2–3 hours to complete".
To this I say no, Wikipedia. You are wrong, you are a bad person for saying that and you should stop questioning my masculinity. It also makes me feel conflicted between admiration and jealousy for this guy:
Strange to think that's still longer than a Half Life speed run.
Before I wrap this up, I'd like to offer a few words on some other choice moments from the multitude of Jurassic Park licenced games. My personal favourite is Operation Genesis from 2003.
Teletubbies love each other very much.
A 'Rollercoaster Tycoon' style park building/management sim was always an obvious use of the licence and it has been attempted multiple times. This is the one that really nailed it however. It was also graphically stunning for its time and doesn't hold up badly now.
My main criticism is that it was a little too casual friendly and didn't hold as much depth or challenge as it could have. It also suffered from severe limitations on the number of objects you could build, which curtailed my dreams of a gigantic park. You could only fill a fraction of the largest island map you could generate!
For sheer comedic value, I want to get my hands on a copy of Warpath, a Mortal Kombat-style fighter which has to be seen to be believed.
Dinosaur kung-fu? I'm okay with this.
Just to reiterate in case its mind exploding properties were not sufficiently apparent thus far, there was a licensed Jurassic Park game featuring a mouse-controlled FPS mode where you destroyed velociraptors using a variety of weaponry. In 1993. On the SNES. I defy you to tell me that doesn't blow your mind at least a little.
EN/KC likes dinosaurs.