Jurassic Park: Trespasser Retro Review

Year: 1998

Platform: PC

Contrary to what others thought at the time, and what they still think now, I love this game. What resonates boldly throughout a playthrough of Jurassic Park: Trespasser is the sheer ambition of the project, and the potential its mechanics had to become a pioneer of the FPS genre. The arm mechanic was a truly revolutionary gameplay feature for the time, as well as a completely hudless screen, but engine restrictions and bugs would mean that this would all go largely unnoticed as the game was universally a critical and commercial failure.

The story is considered to be the only redeeming feature of the game.

The story is considered to be the only redeeming feature of the game. The player is placed into the role of female protagonist Anne, who is the sole survivor of a plane crash on Site B [the island of Jurassic Park: The Lost World film]. As she wanders the island searching for a way to escape, we hear the voice of Richard Attenborough, narrating John Hammond's memoirs entries about the Jurassic Park project and its islands. These are the best moments of the game, and if we are to consider things holistically, perhaps the only good moments in the game at all. Some might call the story to Trespasser an earlier version of Bioshock, as you have all the basic elements in here after all: plane crash; mysterious location; strange, alien enemies; civilization in ruins; the final escape. What stops Trespasser from becoming a truly awful game, are these redeeming narrative features such as the memoir readings, that creates a tone which actually conveys a surprisingly tense and mysterious atmosphere.

The gameplay. Trespasser is perhaps considered one of the most poorly designed commercial games in history. How badly does it fail? In magazines leading up to the game's release, many features were quoted to have been in game, things such as advanced Dinosaur A.I, where they would get hungry, tired, curious, anxious etc. and all of these would simulate in real time over the game's playthrough organically. What we received at release was very awkwardly animated Dinosaurs [through poorly designed inverse kinematic based animation systems], and very stupid ones at that. Their basic functions were to move towards the player when the player reached proximity [sometimes regardless of their field of vision], and to attack each other if they were different species of Dinosaur; that was about as sophisticated as the A.I got.

[...] the arm mechanic for picking up and rotating objects was clunky and not fully fleshed out of bugs and problems.

Some of the Dinosaurs would simply stop suddenly when chasing the player indoors, since the dinosaurs weren't allowed in houses [the A.I system would completely break down along with collision problems] and thus the system could be taken advantage of when the player was weak or being pursued. The arm mechanic was truly revolutionary and might have been something truly wonderful with the most advanced physics seen in a game until that point, and the game did show potential. However, the arm mechanic for picking up and rotating objects was clunky and not fully fleshed out of bugs and problems.

Overlapping collisions was the main physics engine problem that Trespasser was unable to address properly.

As for the physics, as sophisticated as it was, it wasn't able to detect and deal with object collision perfectly. A common occurrence was for objects to be thrown into each other and for them to clip into each others' geometry, intersecting in strange ways, which would then cause them to slowly drift apart in a very strange and bizarre motion. Overlapping collisions was the main physics engine problem that Trespasser was unable to address properly. A patch later on would fix this problem with the main character at least, when Anne wouldn't engage in a jump unless she was well positioned on the ground without any overlap [which lead to failed jump attempts, causing falls to her death], the patch made it so that the tolerance for jumping and Anne's contact requirement with the floor was far wider than normal, to guarantee a player would make most jumps when they pressed the jump key.

Combat was worse, as it was dependant on the arm mechanic.

Combat was worse, as it was dependant on the arm mechanic. The player needed to rotate and twist the arm into a pose that would best aim the gun for when you would play normally as an FPS. The controls are very minute and precise, and the capability to have a great mechanic system with the arm is present, but as it currently stands there are far too many problems present to make this work. There is enough variety of weapons present but this doesn't help as the fact is they are all difficult to use for most people.

Perhaps by focusing on the puzzles and avoiding the dinosaurs in a combat setting [simply require the player to always avoid encounters as a rule of thumb], a better game might have been possible.

Walking becomes tedious. Whilst the sights are lovely to view, the walking takes up too much of the player's time in-game. With some interesting puzzles along the way, presented in ways which are truly rewarding when figured out, the gameplay switches between a long walk, an awkward combat scene, and finally a rewarding and intelligent puzzle. It's a shame the puzzles were not given more thought over the combat. Perhaps by focusing on the puzzles and avoiding the dinosaurs in a combat setting [simply require the player to always avoid encounters as a rule of thumb], a better game might have been possible.

With some tracks taken from the movies, and some arrangements changed | adapted for the game specifically, the music is very ominous and atmospheric. A truly wonderful soundtrack is present in the game. The graphical design is also of high quality, the graphics were considered state of the art at the time; a true Crysis of its day. This was let down by the bugs on screen which would pull the player out of the experience however. Also strangely enough, the game ran better in software mode than in hardware mode, which contradicted what was being reported at the time of Graphic Cards being the future of PC gaming. It simply didn't utilise hardware efficiently, or dare I even say; correctly.

If there's one good thing to go alongside the interesting puzzles and well paced narrative, it's the music that builds atmosphere including the design that amplifies the other and vice versa. It's a shame the gameplay and engine's execution couldn't match the same standard of atmosphere delivered by the game's environment and design.

[...] this is truly a perfect example of something that has so much potential and the best of intentions, but ultimately failed.

Overall, this is truly a perfect example of something that has so much potential and the best of intentions, but ultimately failed. Trespasser is most certainly a well presented game in terms of music, narrative, voice acting and visual design. It owes most of this however to the films, the voice acting comes from Attenborough himself, the music also largely has come from the films, alongside the visual designs of the logos and of Ingen themselves etc. Therefore if we are to remove all of the films elements from the game, what we are left with is a very clunky, buggy, and uninteresting video game.

I wish the gameplay could have matched the rest of the team's work, but unfortunately the arm mechanic was too revolutionary and too much of a step forward without having taken smaller steps beforehand that would have led up to its refinement and polish. Trespasser's ideas are not unimportant or failures on a broader perspective of the industry's grand timeline, but they are certainly failures in the context of this particular title. It is also important to note that this was one of the very few games to completely remove the hud, and again in many of these small ways the game had given the industry many new ideas to play with.

Personally, I still enjoy playing this game, the sense of atmosphere gained from it is very immersing. Even now the graphics stand the testament of time alongside the music and design, but this might be a form of nostalgia given from the movies and not particularly being given off by the game, but is still a part of the game in either case.

It's a game I recommend everyone play, not only to appreciate a very ambitious game that tried to be innovative and revolutionary, but to also play a game that is truly broken and barely fixable with any number of patches | mods. It simply didn't deliver on the design ideas and philosophies it initially set out with, and is a good example of how good intentions can turn sour.

[...] I believe that there is a niche audience for the game, which it does have, [...]

Forgetting everything I've said throughout this review again, I want to re-iterate that I really like this game. I find the arm mechanic fun and easy to use after some practice [again, personally]. I love how I have to aim my own weapon properly and how there are no icons or distractions on screen. I like everything about the game except for the broken A.I, the code not being completely bug free a lot of the time, and of course the length | pacing of the game. Otherwise, I believe that there is a niche audience for the game, which it does have, and there's an entire community dedicated to restoring and patching the game to a state of playability. 

[...] even Gabe Newell disclosed that part of his inspiration for heavily including physics based puzzles in Half Life was because of what he had seen tried in Trespasser.

Some elements of the game are worth remembering as lessons learnt or possible future ideas, even Gabe Newell disclosed that part of his inspiration for heavily including physics based puzzles in Half Life was because of what he had seen tried in Trespasser [source]. For most regular gamers however, this deservers to be forgotten and thrown into the dark corner of PC gaming.