Re­vis­it­ing the most am­bi­tious Juras­sic Park game.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Andy Kelly

Tres­passer’s reach ex­ceeds its grasp.

Billed as a dig­i­tal se­quel to The Lost World, Steven Spiel­berg’s sec­ond Juras­sic Park movie, Tres­passer was both ground­break­ing and a com­plete dis­as­ter. The large jun­gle en­vi­ron­ments, pro­ce­dural di­nosaur an­i­ma­tion and real-time physics were im­pres­sive for the time, re­sult­ing in a lot of breath­less previews and overblown pre­re­lease buzz. But when it was fi­nally re­leased after a year-long de­lay, it was a mess of half-baked ideas, it barely ran on even the most pow­er­ful PCs, and it fea­tured a pe­cu­liar arm-based con­trol sys­tem that was so hi­lar­i­ously clumsy it came to de­fine the game.

Tres­passer is set on Isla Sorna, where John Ham­mond’s di­nosaurs were cre­ated in a se­cret lab­o­ra­tory be­fore be­ing shipped over to Juras­sic Park on nearby Isla Nublar. Fol­low­ing the events of The Lost World, the island has be­come a pre­his­toric na­ture re­serve, and is com­pletely over­run with di­nosaurs – from gi­ant, peace­ful her­bi­vores to ag­gres­sive car­ni­vores with a taste for hu­man flesh. And your plane has crashed there, leav­ing you stranded, alone, and at the very bot­tom of the food chain.

You play as Anne (voiced by Min­nie Driver), a woman cursed with an unusu­ally long, bendy arm. It’s with this un­wieldy physics-en­abled ap­pendage that you do pretty much ev­ery­thing in Tres­passer, whether it’s fir­ing a gun or stack­ing boxes to hop over a fence. You reach out with the left mouse but­ton, move your arm with the mouse, and grab stuff with the right but­ton. But it’s so un­pre­dictable, twitchy and dif­fi­cult to con­trol that you spend most of the game drop­ping things and flail­ing around hope­lessly.

To re­ally show off that physics sys­tem, Isla Sorna is scat­tered with thou­sands of crates. There are, in fact, more crates per square inch than di­nosaurs, and you’ll often find your­self hav­ing to make rick­ety stair­cases out of them to get past ob­sta­cles. Which would be fine if it wasn’t for that id­i­otic arm knock­ing them over. But it’s worth not­ing that Tres­passer was re­leased six years be­fore Half-Life 2 wowed us all with its crate-stack­ing physics puz­zles. So while DreamWorks didn’t quite nail it, it was some­thing of a pioneer.

The arm is so un­gainly that it’s ac­tu­ally com­i­cal, although it can be hard to see the funny side when a Ve­loci­rap­tor is charg­ing at you and

you ac­ci­den­tally throw your gun stupidly to one side in­stead of shoot­ing it. And be­cause ev­ery­thing Anne does is gov­erned by this silly, floppy ten­ta­cle she calls an arm, the whole game suf­fers. I ap­pre­ci­ate the de­vel­oper try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent, espe­cially in the late ’90s when most first-per­son games stuck to a pretty nar­row tem­plate, but the ex­e­cu­tion is laugh­ably bad.

Be­fore re­lease, DreamWorks talked up its di­nosaur AI, say­ing the crea­tures would be­have in­tel­li­gently ac­cord­ing to their mood and in­ter­act with one an­other. But there was a prob­lem with the code, the so­lu­tion to which was per­ma­nently set­ting them to angry. This re­duces them to lit­tle more than generic, ag­gres­sive FPS en­e­mies, mak­ing com­bat scenes bor­ing as well as clumsy. Although, ad­mit­tedly, en­coun­ter­ing a Tyran­nosaurus for the first time is a nerve-wrack­ing mo­ment. Be­fore you see it you can hear its foot­steps pound­ing loudly in the dis­tance, which is a nice bit of sound de­sign.


One thing you can’t fault Tres­passer for is feel­ing like a le­git­i­mate part of the Juras­sic Park fran­chise. Richard At­ten­bor­ough reprises his role as Ham­mond, and you hear ex­cerpts from his jour­nal as you play, giv­ing you an insight into the char­ac­ter far be­yond what is re­vealed in the films. They’re bril­liantly writ­ten and At­ten­bor­ough plays it per­fectly, with a touch of me­lan­choly be­fit­ting a man whose dreams are crum­bling around him. Ham­mond is one of the most in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters in the se­ries, and Tres­passer of­fers a rare op­por­tu­nity to learn more about him and his past.

“You could imag­ine a lesser ac­tor doing a card­board mad sci­en­tist per­for­mance, but Richard At­ten­bor­ough cre­ated this soul­ful, slightly sad, in­cred­i­bly hu­man in­di­vid­ual,” said Tres­passer writer/ de­signer Austin Gross­man in a 2014 in­ter­view with fan­site TresCom. “But the truly stun­ning thing was how at­ten­tive and re­spect­ful he was to us, a bunch of random game de­vel­op­ers. Here was this leg­endary ac­tor go­ing care­fully and thought­fully through ev­ery line of our script, treat­ing us like col­leagues. It was an


un­for­get­table les­son in de­cency and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

In the fi­nal level it’s pos­si­ble to walk across an in­vis­i­ble plat­form and hear At­ten­bor­ough give a stir­ring ren­di­tion of Shel­ley’s fa­mous Ozy­man­dias son­net, which fits his char­ac­ter per­fectly. “It was the end of the day and we had a lit­tle time left over,” said Gross­man, re­call­ing the day it was recorded. “It was an ex­tra, but I def­i­nitely wanted to use it some­where. Marvel used it in Avengers #57 and I never for­got how well it worked.”

Driver does a de­cent job too, de­spite the fact that Anne is a fairly non­de­script char­ac­ter and pretty much a blank can­vas. In fact, the most in­ter­est­ing thing about her is her, uh, un­usual health me­ter. Swing the cam­era down and you’ll see a tat­too on her cleav­age of a heart that, when you take dam­age, fills in with red ink. And when the tat­too is com­plete, you die. It’s preposterous and al­most cer­tainly aimed at snig­ger­ing ado­les­cent boys, but it is kinda imag­i­na­tive. I also like how Anne tells you how many bul­lets you have when you fire a gun, rather than hav­ing a counter on the screen.

This stream­lin­ing of the in­ter­face is re­flected in other parts of the game, which is sur­pris­ingly un­der­stated for a Hol­ly­wood movie spin-off. Even though this is partly down to con­tent be­ing cut over the course of its trou­bled de­vel­op­ment, it was also a key part of Tres­passer’s de­sign phi­los­o­phy. “We knew we wanted to strip things down and do a solo story,” said Gross­man. “No hu­man NPCs, no con­ver­sa­tion in­ter­faces to stop the action or take us out of the world. The same way Sys­tem Shock was de­signed, which I also worked on. The aban­doned island was the com­pelling thing for us, a mod­ern ruin that tells the story of the peo­ple who built it.”

Isla Sorna it­self hasn’t aged ter­ri­bly well, but I was sur­prised to dis­cover that, with the help of a fan patch down­loaded from, I was able to run the game on Win­dows 10 at 4K/60fps with no prob­lems. A very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from peo­ple who played it back in 1998, whose fram­er­ate would slow to a crawl if there was more than one di­nosaur on screen. The high res­o­lu­tion does make a tech­nique the de­vel­oper used to cre­ate those dense jun­gles ob­vi­ous, though. Trees and ob­jects in the dis­tance are flat, pix­e­lated sprites, only be­com­ing 3D when you get close. This would’ve been eas­ier to hide on a CRT at 800x600, but in 4K it’s quite jar­ring.

Tres­passer is far from a good game, but it’s an in­ter­est­ing one. In some re­spects it’s a faith­ful and worth­while ex­ten­sion of the Juras­sic Park uni­verse, adding fur­ther depth to the char­ac­ter of John Ham­mond and fill­ing in some pre­vi­ously un­seen back­story. But in al­most ev­ery other sense it’s a baf­fling, frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, ren­dered hi­lar­i­ous by the ab­surd, gan­gly arm of its pro­tag­o­nist. The de­sign­ers at DreamWorks In­ter­ac­tive (now re­branded as DICE Los An­ge­les) might have bit­ten off more than they could chew, but the re­sult is a fas­ci­nat­ing cu­rio of a game that, for all its deep-run­ning prob­lems, is an ex­pe­ri­ence like no other on PC.

Di­nosaurs rule the ru­ins of Site B.

That bus isn’t go­ing any­where.

The Tres­passer ex­pe­ri­ence summed up in an image.

Now that’s a low-poly Stegosaurus.

*Out of tune Juras­sic Park theme plays*

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