Reviews From The Backroom: Jurassic Park - Trespasser
Jurassic Park has to be one of the most unfortunate movie-to-game adaptation bases in history. It's had games across the NES, SNES, GameBoy, the Sega Genesis, countless P.C. titles, a handful of releases on the PlayStation 1, and even more beyond that. Despite the possibilities that are provided by the franchise, almost all of these games fall flat on their faces due to either being extremely poor in game-play, storyline continuity, or even just the idea behind the game itself.
The biggest problem with this is that there is really no reason for a bad game to be based on Jurassic Park. The idea that you're fighting giant, flesh-eating animals in a jungle is a great premise; and the fact that a back-story already exists just makes it easier to write a game around it. As such, most of these games carry no merit beyond being a quick, sloppy attempt at grabbing some extra cash when the next movie is released.
Only one title out of the lot really stands out as an honest attempt at great gameplay, but how did it actually turn out?
Jurassic Park - Trespasser was released in 1998 as a P.C. exclusive title, and was meant to be a "digital sequel" to the Lost World movie. The game starts with a cut-scene explaining the origin of "Site B", the island featured in Lost World and Jurassic Park III. This opening scene is fully voiced by Richard Attenborough, who also provides in-game exposition throughout.
This is followed by another cut-scene showing the main character Anne (voiced by Minnie Driver), retching in the bathroom of a crashing airplane, after it is explained that she is on her way to a vacation in the tropics.
The actual game starts out with the player waking up on a small beach with parts of the crashed airplane lying about. This first level is spent mostly wandering aimlessly and interacting with the world, and this is an incredibly crucial step considering how this game was built, and how it plays out.
In 1998, Trespasser was slated to be one of the most technologically advanced game-play experiences to date. It was to be the first to include a full-world physics engine, open-ended enemy A.I., and open levels the likes of which weren't to be seen again until FarCry. The hype was astounding, and the anticipation for this game sky-rocketed. There were just two things that held this game back.
For starters, it was slated to be released at the same time the VHS of Lost World was released. The development team was put under enormous stress to release Trespasser on time, and many ideas, characters, and features were shelved. Besides that, there was little to no time to iron out all of the bugs present in the game. The A.I. often goes off the deep end, plants, textures, and buildings flash in and out of frame, and it's not uncommon for the player to get stuck in the world geometry.
The second thing that held this game down was the tech available in '98. Trespasser was an incredibly power-hungry title, and since it worked with the coding available for DirectX 5 and 6, it was very poorly optimized, and sucked all but the most powerful computers to the floor. To try and make up for this, the developers tried to cut down the graphics by cutting as many corners as possible. The world geometry appears flat until it is in close range, 3D objects such as trees, dinosaurs, and buildings are rendered as 2D images until they are in close range, and the maximum screen resolution was cut down to 800 X 600. While it did help to cut down the drain on the players machine, it made the game world look extremely ugly, and caused several issues ranging from simple clipping to having the player fall through the ground when the world geometry very visibly smoothed out at close range.
To make matters worse, the physics engine and A.I. were poorly programmed. At around 25-30 frames-per-second, the physics engine performed well enough, but anything above or below that range caused the engine to bug out. Normally this would just be a cosmetic flaw, but there are far higher implications to this issue due to one thing: the player character, and how you interact with her.
In order to interact with the world, the player uses the characters right arm, since Anne's left arm was reportedly fractured in the crash. When doing this, the left mouse button causes Anne to extend her arm out in front of her, while the right mouse button is used to grab and interact with objects strewn about. This is most often used for grabbing and lifting 500 lb. boxes, throwing rocks (with a separate key command), picking up firearms, and smacking key-cards against color-coded key-pads. All of these are frustrating, as controlling the rigid-yet-boneless arm is a matter of prayer more than practice. By far the worst example is using guns. Instead of having a cross-hair, the player is required to rotate Anne's wrist using the Shift key to line up the iron-sights on the gun itself. Whether it's due to the low resolutions, the arbitrary nature of how the individual gun-sights line up, or the blatant inability to line up the sight blades at all; the shooting element of Trespasser feels tacked-on, and becomes a lesson in ultimate frustration. Considering the fact that this game was converted last-minute from a puzzle-platformer to an action-FPS, this makes the game damn near unplayable.
It is still barely playable though, because the A.I. is incredibly broken. On the off-chance that an enemy is actually able to spot you, they will continue pursuit either to the death or (sometimes) until they are shot. Problem is, with the physics engine being as broken as IT is, the enemies are more likely to give up anyway due to not being able to get to you. Dinosaurs bounce around like they're strapped with moon-boots, they often get caught in plants and structures, and climbing hills is next to impossible for the A.I. to deal with.
Despite all of this, I can't help but think about what this game could truly have been.
The most obvious strong point in Trespasser is also one of the most flawed: the world itself. The levels throughout the game are actually an absolute blast to play around in when they aren't being frustrating. Every level has an enormous feel to it, with individual areas on the map having small details that make it feel complete and natural.
Areas that incorporate buildings and holding-areas look and feel as though they were actually designed for their intended purpose, and include things that you would expect to find inside. By far the best example of this is the fourth level, which revolves around a large town that was built by In-Gen. All of the buildings in the town have their own unique feel, personal items are strewn throughout, equipment and items lie in places where they would seem to belong, and buildings are placed around town in a logical manner.
Also, the challenges presented to the player throughout, though they are heavily complicated by the issues present, are seemingly well thought out and executed. Many areas will require the player to strategize when and where to go, how much ammo to use, even whether to use part of the environment itself in overcoming obstacles. Though it can sometimes feel like the game is feeding the player an answer to a given puzzle, many of them require fore-thought and careful execution.
Trespasser was a brilliant idea on paper, but when it was pushed ahead of time, cut down, and ultimately released unpolished and incomplete, it turned into a terrible disaster. Though one can occasionally see how good it COULD have been, the broken nature of this game makes it too awful to make it worth a play-through, let alone any kind of purchase.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!