Seeing the trailer for Jurassic World has left me feeling nostalgic about Jurassic Park, and wanting to write something about it. Not reviews for the first three movies; I want to save those for later – one of my plans for this blog next year is to do more movie reviews. Instead, I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the video games that came out in the late 90s, around the time The Lost World was released.
1997 was a good year to be into dinosaurs. With The Lost World coming out, there was plenty of merchandise to be had, including video games. The film’s official video game came out in 1997 along with Chaos Island; Trespasser followed the year after; and Warpath the year after that. I spent many long hours playing all four of them.
This was basically a side-scroller, and the cool thing about it was that as well as some human-based levels, you could also play as dinosaurs: specifically Compsognathus, Velociraptor and T. rex. The game started with the Compy, and with it being such a small dinosaur, this section got quite inventive in parts. In one level, the Compy has to walk through a herd of Brachiosaurus and avoid being crushed; in another, it’s being chased by an annoyed Carnotaurus; it even goes swimming at one point. In the second section, a human hunter takes over, taking on dinosaurs with guns, nerve gas and a grappling hook – but I can’t remember getting through his section via normal gameplay.
The main problems with this game were that it was too hard, and it wasn’t well designed in terms of going away and picking it up again later. When you completed one of the five character sections, you got a code for the next one, but you always had to start at the beginning of a section. If you lost all your lives, you had to go back to that character’s first level. There were many levels that I only ever saw by using a cheat. It was by this means that I was able to sample playing as the Velociraptor and T. rex, which were still frustratingly difficult; even the mighty T. rex takes a lot of punishment and will be killed frequently. So no, not the best game overall.
This one used Command and Conquer style gameplay, with you directing characters around and building structures on a map. The five main heroes from The Lost World – Ian, Sarah, Nick, Eddie and Kelly – were all playable, and even voiced by the original actors from the film; but the game only followed the plot of the film very loosely. You spent most levels opposing the hunters in their work to remove all dinosaurs from Site B – and the hunters were all too willing to kill you, even bringing tanks against you in later levels!
The game featured eight species of dinosaur: Parasaurolophus, Compsognathus, Pachycephalosaurus, Dilophosaurus, Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops and T.rex. Wild dinosaurs would generally try to kill you too, but by collecting and hatching dinosaur eggs, you could actually create your own army of controllable dinosaurs! (Though you couldn’t carry them over between levels – you began each level with a few pre-determined dinos, if any.) There was something quite satisfying in sending your own Stegosaurus or Triceratops into battle against the hunters – and the T.rex most of all, though you couldn’t get T.rex eggs until the last three levels. Sadly, there never seemed to be many raptor eggs lying around. And then in the last three levels, the hunters figured out how to make tame dinosaurs themselves, as if things weren’t tough enough! Chaos Island was a simple game overall, and fairly difficult late on, but still very enjoyable.
This is quite an infamous one. Trespasser was supposed to be a revolutionary game, with an open environment and a realistic physics engine. Unfortunately, the game ran over-budget and the developers repeatedly missed deadlines, with the result that the game was released a year after The Lost World and still in an unfinished state. The resulting product, needless to say, did not gain many positive reviews.
It’s a first-person game where you play as Anne (voiced by Minnie Driver), who ends up stranded on Isla Sorna after a plane crash and has to make her way to a point where she can call for help. Anne has one useable arm which you control with the mouse, and use to grasp and manipulate objects. Unfortunately, doing things with the arm is very awkward: it can be hard to pick up the intended object, it’s difficult to aim guns accurately, and the many puzzles which involve picking up crates (the single hand sticking to them magically) and stacking them up correctly for you to jump on them aren’t easy either.
There are seven species of dinosaur in the game: almost all your encounters are with Velociraptors, but there’s also T. rex, Albertosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Parasaurolophus and Brachiosaurus. The models aren’t especially impressive: the dinosaurs look very stilted when they walk, and fights between them consist of the aggressor bumping its open mouth against the victim and making threatening noises while spurts of blood gush. When you kill a dinosaur, it drops into a lying-down position, its eyes still open; the first time I made a kill, I had to nudge the body and shoot it some more before I was quite certain what had supposedly happened. Similarly, if you die, you don’t get a Game Over screen: you just fall over and find yourself unable to do anything except look around until you finally go to the Pause menu and reload. If you were killed by a raptor, you also get to enjoy the sound of it stripping the flesh from your body and then chewing upon it almost thoughtfully.
Yet for all its flaws, I still played this game a lot. There’s a lot to explore in the various environments and I enjoyed doing so. The music and the sound effects are great, as is the occasional narration by Lord Richard Attenborough as John Hammond. (Hammond’s opening narration revealed that he has the same birthday as me!) And it still allows you to test your shooting skills against dinosaurs. It’s a shame that Trespasser turned out the way it did; considering I still found it fairly fun as it is, imagine what a proper version would be like, particularly with today’s technology.
Nothing complicated about this game; it was basically Tekken with dinosaurs, fighting one-on-one until somebody runs out of health. Completing different modes with different combatants would unlock new dinosaurs, skins and arenas. The arenas themselves were generally recognisable from the films: you might fight in the Visitors’ Centre, or the T-Rex paddock, or in the Site B communications centre.
The dinosaurs weren’t all totally unique: most of them could be grouped based on how they handled and the style of their attacks – the T.rex and the Acrocanthosaurus handled pretty much the same, for example. Sadly, the Mega Raptor (referred to as such to explain why it was of comparable size to the other dinosaurs) was one of the weaker fighters; its attacks weren’t very damaging and it couldn’t sustain as much punishment either. The Ankylosaurus and the Suchomimus were most fun; these were the two dinosaurs which did have unique styles of attack, and both were highly rated in both attack and defence.
The arenas provided such obstacles as exploding crates and electric fences to stun your opponent; also, humans or smaller dinosaurs would occasionally run into the arena for you to catch and replenish a little health, though I only ever seemed to catch them by accident. One cool thing was that wounds would appear on dinosaurs corresponding to where they were attacked; if you turned your opponent over and gave him a big bite on his belly, he would spend the rest of the fight with a gaping wound there.
So all these games had their moments at least, but none were as good as possibly the ultimate Jurassic Park game, released in 2003 – Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. But I’ll talk about that another time.