I’m a huge fan of dinosaurs. I’m pretty sure I could pronounce Pachycephalosaurus before I knew how to read. I was the oldest non-paternal male in an audience for the live arena show Walking With Dinosaurs. And dropping Jurassic Park in conversation is a sure-fire way to grab my attention for at least twenty minutes.
All that said, I’ve never not been a fan of games that paint dinos as the enemy. It’s just common sense if I’m controlling a human avatar. Dinosaurs, confused by my presence, would most likely attempt to eat me (the carnivores, anyway). My mammalian fight-or-flight reflex would kick in and I, if armed with a firearm, would do my best to fight back.
Turok, despite its lackluster performance as a franchise, has somehow cornered the market on games about Dudes Who Fight Dinosaurs. (Did his being a Native American somehow excused the wholesale slaughter of these beasts? It’s not like he was using every part of them.) As a grade-schooler, I remember logging hours in a dinosaur safari game that was kind of like Cabela’s Big Game Hunter with dinosaurs – you haven’t lived until you’ve bagged a T-Rex. Oh, and then there’s Trespasser.
With none of these titles (including Turok, I’d argue) achieving long-lasting success, it’s confusing that a game like Jurassic: The Hunted exists. Even more obfuscatory, none of the major sites had really heard of the game until after it hit shelves (the industry equivalent to movies that aren’t given early screenings for critics). The whole situation is sort of comical.
But now there’s a demo on Xbox Live. Oh boy.
If Jurassic: The Hunted has anything to offer, you won’t find it in the demo. All that’s available is Survival Mode – a poor man’s Nazi zombie mode, except instead of fending off undead Germans you’re warding off bloodthirsty velociraptors. You start behind a stone fortification, armed with a pistol and a stationary turret. The raptors, apparently too lazy to simply leap or climb over your six-foot-tall wall, claw furiously at one of several boarded entryways. Your goal: keep the dinos at bay, keep your entryways boarded up, and hold out as long as possible. It’s all rather paint-by-numbers. There are plenty of games doing this, and they’re all doing it better.
What intrigues me about the game is all of the stuff not in the demo. I’ve managed to glean a lot from Internet research and a hilarious Giant Bomb Quick Look. Did you know that if you fly a plane into the Bermuda Triangle some kind of magical electric storm will transport you to some Island That Time Forgot? One inhabited by vicious creatures from the Cretaceous Period? It’s true!
I’m ironically enamored with two details of the J:tH universe. First, dinosaurs leap out of time portals. Allow me to elaborate. You’re not just some dude (named Craig Dylan, by the way…sigh) wandering around the Lost island bumping into dinosaurs. These fuckers spawn from holes in the time-space continuum. If anything has ever made less sense, let me know. Where are they coming from? I couldn’t dream this shit up. I played a lot of make-believe on the playground (yep, I was one of those kids), but I think if you’d asked me to pretend that raptors were climbing through tesseracts to eat me I’d call you an idiot and go join the football team.
Second (and I couldn’t figure out if this was available in the demo), using adrenaline grants you the ability to see a dinosaur’s vital organs, highlighting them for your targeting ease. Time slows down a la every game since Max Payne, and you get to pop a few caps in the animal’s liver. Honestly, it looks like a heartburn commercial, the way the organs light up in red and orange. I understand that developers use things like adrenaline to justify their Unique Game Mechanic, but I’ve never seen it give someone ultrasound vision. That’s just weird.
You may have guessed it by now, but Jurassic: The Hunted does not appear to be a good game. The wet paper bag of a story, the boilerplate demo, the glowing dinosaur organs. It’s a recipe for disaster, which may explain why Activision released at the budget $39.99 price point. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with how the industry’s pricing standards affect how a game’s content is judged (see Joystiq’s arithmetical Halo 3: ODST review), but it’s worth noting that Activision released this budget FPS day and date with its golden egg-laying hen Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Apparently, they’re not worried about competing with themselves.
Which begs the question: who is this game for? As far as I can tell, no one’s clamoring for a time-travelin’, dino-shootin’, Call of Duty-controllin’ mess. Anybody who wants to shoot dinosaurs is probably still playing Turok on their N64. Any kid worth his weight as a burgeoning paleontologist should be playing games like Dinosaur Adventure 3-D or Dinosaur Hunter. I’m fairly certain the only people who will buy this game sans irony will be holiday-shopping grandparents duped by the terrible title into thinking they’ve picked up something with the Jurassic Park license – the same people who are currently being swindled by the marketing geniuses behind Band Hero.
Kvetching aside, I’ll be purchasing this game the minute it drops below twenty bucks, which should be any day now.