Best of 2015: Rex Appeal

First Published: Nov 2, 2015
Voted For By: Lorna
Reason(s) For Vote:
“Who the fuck doesn’t love dinosaurs? And as arguably the biggest dino franchise around, that Jurassic Park has seen so few games is puzzling. Tim explores the subject in his usual thoughtful, in-depth manner and produces a very satisfying read. Anything arguing for more dinos is good.” – Lorna

rexappeal1Clawing in over a staggering $1.6 billion and counting, breaking numerous box office world records and becoming the third highest grossing movie of all time, Jurassic World has, hands down, been this year’s biggest, and arguably best, summer blockbuster. Although not as good as the 1993 original (which it was never going to be), the nevertheless positive critical reception and phenomenal commercial performance of Colin Trevorrow’s creature feature is proof positive that sometimes you can’t beat a good dinosaur flick (although I’m sure the nostalgia factor had a part to play). An enticing DNA mishmash of science-fiction, horror, action and adventure, set on a beautiful and secluded island resort that’s as much about the characters as it is the headlining dinosaurs, surely I’m not the only one who’s been reminded it’s a formula ripe for a decent videogame translation. Unfortunately, when it comes to contemporary games based upon Steven Spielberg’s defining blockbuster dino crises, or indeed dinosaurs in general, life is still yet to find a way.

Putting aside Ludia’s recent park-building mobile game, Traveller’s Tales’ Danish plastic brick makeover of the movies, and all the excellent looking fan projects to be found on PC (just check out the CryEngine-powered Trespasser remake, Aftermath), there’s not been a good, proper triple-A Jurassic game for quite some time, if ever. Games like Telltale’s Jurassic Park: The Game in 2011 and 1998’s The Lost World digital sequel Tresspasser were both dino disasters in more ways than one, and the construction and management simulation of Operation Genesis only fulfilled one half of the ultimate Jurassic Park gaming dream back in 2003.


Perhaps the last potentially great Jurassic Park game was one that sadly never saw release. Jurassic Park: Survival was set to accompany the arrival of 2001’s Jurassic Park III in cinemas, but was cancelled soon afterwards due to funding issues between publisher Vivendi and developer Savage Entertainment. In short, Survival was basically Jurassic Park does Resident Evil (Dino Crisis, then), and according to previews saw you take on the role of security officer David Vaughn on a secret third island, trying to prevent a shadow organisation from stealing dinosaur DNA for their own evil deeds – echoes of which can be found in Jurassic World’s plot. Described as “Die Hard meets Jurassic Park”, Survival was set to include eight species of dinosaur with advanced AI across twelve large stages, which would take in puzzles, platforming and shooting. Yes, tradition suggests Survival would have probably ended up as yet another “big pile of shit”, but, certainly at the time, you couldn’t deny the ambitious premise had potential.

rexappeal3Outside of the license, dinosaurs have had to get by starring in bargain bin fodder like Jurassic: The Hunted and the mediocre Turok reboot, with only the not-at-all bad King Kong tie-in and the re-imagined T-Rex boss battle in Tomb Raider: Anniversary their only notable appearances over the course of the last generation. Looking ahead, the highly ambitious ARK: Survival Evolved looks set to sate dino-hungry gamers next year, but its MMO-leanings, focus on all-out survival and inclusion of other non-prehistoric creatures muddying the waters means it might put some people off. Besides, after viewing gameplay footage, it’s hard not to think of John Williams’ iconic score and the films’ distinct dinosaur sounds and wish for an authentic and endorsed Jurassic Park game. And hot on the heels of Jurassic World’s success, with a sequel already slated for 2018, has there ever been a better time than now to bring John Hammond’s vision of a dinosaur theme park to virtual life?

It stands to reason, then, that someone somewhere is at least contemplating the idea of readying a Jurassic World tie-in for the 2018 sequel, and there are a few obvious paths the development could take, the immediate choice being another park building simulator. But, not to complain, we’ve already had a few of those as it is, and between Operation Genesis and Ludia’s duo of mobile games Jurassic Park Builder and Jurassic World, there’s not a lot left to do with the license in that particular genre. Part of the thrill of watching the films, however, is the chance of seeing these breath-taking, once extinct beasties up close and personal, without getting eaten. Surely, especially with today’s technology, it makes sense to allow us to roam a virtual Jurassic World and walk with these dinosaurs from the safety of our living rooms.

“World” is the operative word, there. More than any other genre, this generation has so far been obsessed with systemic open-worlds, from The Witcher III: Wild Hunt to the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn. Now, take a game like Far Cry, with its sprawling landscapes populated with an ecosystem of territorial animals that interact with you, NPCs and each other, only substitute the Rhinos, Honey Badgers and Vultures with Tyrannosaurs, Velociraptors and Pteranodons, and tell yourself you’re not a little bit excited at the thought of all the emergent possibilities that could arise from an open-world Jurassic game? Getting caught off-guard by a Stegosaurus stampede; being mercilessly hunted by a pack of Raptors; watching a T-Rex and Spinosaurus duke it out to the death, Jurassic Park III style.

rexappeal5Far Cry is an easy comparison to make here because it typically lends itself so well to Jurassic Park: an exotic island setting, a wealth of driveable vehicles, and a heap of homicidal animals hungry for your flesh. In fact, the series is so well suited for a prehistoric takeover that in a poll listing potential settings for a future Far Cry game sent out to players by Ubisoft at the beginning of the year, one of the choices was indeed a present day “Jurassic Park-style island of dinosaurs” (how’s Dino Crysis for a title – you can have that for free, Ubisoft). There’s something highly appealing about the prospect of exploring a fully open-world version of Isla Nublar or Isla Sorna, seeing all of the famous locations from the films without restriction, and even without considering those magic sandbox moments where dynamic systems collide, an island overrun with dinosaurs is brimming with set-piece potential.

Whether they’re inspired by the films, books or completely new, there are so many ideas for action sequences or otherwise that could be used for key missions, although there are few things left to match the coolness of Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside a pack of Raptors. Being chased by a T-Rex in a jeep, stealthily avoiding getting your face chewed off by Velociraptors in an abandoned complex, and fending off a variety of winged dinosaurs while scaling a cliff face (perhaps heading for a spot of hang-gliding?) are all no-brainers, and that’s just off the top of my (admittedly unoriginal) head.


What would help immeasurably, of course, is if these dinosaurs were driven by AI tuned to their individual traits. For example, if you were to find yourself too close for comfort with old Rexy, then you should be able to avoid being chomped by standing still. Raptors should hunt and coordinate in packs, adapting to and remembering your tactics from previous encounters, similar to Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph, and communicating with each other with their distinct call before hemming you in and closing in for the kill. And as for the Indominous Rex, God help us.

What might be interesting, also, is some sort of AI overseer, something akin to Left 4 Dead’s Director. In Left 4 Dead, the Director monitors the player(s) and dictates what enemies will appear, how many there will be and where they spawn from, as well as other variables, based on their performance, ensuring the game stays challenging, varied and, above all, exciting. It’s procedural generation in a sense, only cleverer you might say, and a similar system could be employed here. Depending on which region of the island you are on and how much health you have could determine whether a Spinosaurus or Brachiosaurus greets you around the next bend, and it could also make sure you don’t escape the jaws of one big hungry dinosaur one minute, only to walk into the jaws of another the next, providing a much needed breather between such ordeals and keeping them fresh.

rexappeal7Now for the Brontosaurus in the room – should there be any human enemies? An entire game where your only opponents are giant lizards that can’t always be killed might begin to grate by the end, so for variety’s sake, and maybe even plot reasons (there’s still merit in Survival’s story, especially considering Jurassic World’s events), it makes sense on some level to have opponents of the fleshy kind in the thick of it with you. Besides, their inclusion should further add to the emergent possibilities, such as the classic tactic of luring a hungry carnivore towards a group of armed guards blocking your way. So long as humans are the supporting act to the dinosaurs, and the game doesn’t ever descend into a shoot-out frenzy, it shouldn’t be as big a point of contention as it would no doubt first appear.

There also shouldn’t be the usual open-world gumf that plagues practically every other game in the genre these days; things like climbing radio towers to unlock icons on the map, such as races, outposts and other challenges, simply wouldn’t make sense in the context of the situation. Let’s be honest, most people wouldn’t appreciate you trying to shave a few seconds off of your lap time while they’re desperately trying to survive the dangers of a dinosaur-infested jungle. If the game has to include side-missions of some kind, they need to fit the framework: taking photos of dinosaurs for research, rescuing fellow survivors and escorting them back to safety, making supply runs to your base camp. They’re still a little on the generic side of things, sure, but they fit the bill better than running around collecting feathers, for instance.


Of course, a systemic open-word featuring driveable vehicles, dinosaurs powered by unique and intelligent AI, and a selection of side-quests that complement the main story is only one possible option for a Jurassic World game. Something more authored and tailored, along the lines of what Survival was getting at – Uncharted with dinosaurs, you could say by today’s standards – is an equally valid possibility, or even, dare I say it, an atmospheric corridor shooter along the lines of Doom 3 and King Kong. In any case, dinosaurs are back, big time, and while online-centric games like ARK: Survival Evolved, Primal Carnage and The Hunter: Primal have their followings, they’re not quite the Jurassic lark this particular dino fan is pining for. Be it a Jurassic World tie-in, a new Far Cry with dinosaurs, or the oft rumoured Dino Crisis reboot, it’s about time someone gave us a game worthy of the beasts that once ruled the Earth.

Last five articles by Tim


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