With the record-breaking box office success of Jurassic World, the Jurassic Park franchise has rampaged its way back to relevance. This got us thinking about Jurassic Park’s many video game iterations. We’ve seen side-scrolling games, brawlers, park-building simulators, light-gun shooters, and adventure games.
What the Jurassic Park franchise has not received, however, is a blockbuster video game that lives up to the cultural impact of the films. Here is what we’d like to see in a big-budget Jurassic Park game.
A massive open world with a living ecosystem
Jurassic Park is about the complexity and majesty of nature. This is never more apparent than during the films’ beautiful depiction of dramatic mountain ranges, verdant river valleys, and sweeping plains. These environments are embedded in the property’s visual language, so it only makes sense to go open world. And what would a huge open world be without the dinosaurs to fill it? One of the most fascinating aspects of Jurassic Park is the insertion of modern humans into a functioning ecosystem that’s 65 million years old. The game’s island should contain an interconnected network of plants, herbivores, and carnivores. Taking a page from Far Cry 3’s animal gameplay systems, the dinosaurs might interact dynamically based on a number of variables: hunger, territorial habits, general disposition, gender, and so on. For example, sauropods aren’t dangerous outright, but threaten their young and they attack. Similarly, hungry raptors could stalk prey (and even the player) using pack-hunting tactics. The developer could expand the day/night cycle mechanic by having both diurnal and nocturnal dinosaurs. Wandering the jungle during the day and at night might become two completely different experiences.
Some of the best moments in The Witcher 3 were the contract quests. Players use Geralt’s many talents to track, research, trap, and finally kill the game’s wide variety of monsters. After watching the team with nets, tranquilizers, and assault rifles get deployed in Jurassic World, it seemed clear that Geralt’s procedures could be applied to dinosaur hunting. The island could be filled with many species of dinosaurs, each with their own statistics, strengths, and weaknesses. You could step into the shoes of a big game hunter hired by InGen (think Robert Muldoon, but with less khaki) who has to capture or kill certain dinosaurs. Once accepting a contract, players track the dinosaur, research the species, take field notes, and then prepare for a confrontation. Should you use bait laced with a muscle relaxer to put the scaly beast to sleep? Maybe you can find out where the species likes to nest and risk a night raid. The options should be wide open, but players will have to make meticulous plans and choose the right tools for each specific dinosaur – otherwise, they just end up like that bloodsucking lawyer. Obviously, killing the targets is the easiest route, but capturing them alive should reap much bigger rewards.
Better with friends
Some dinosaur hunts might be too big or too dangerous to face alone. Evolve and Monster Hunter both have done cooperative beast-hunting very well. Defeating a Goliath or Alatreon by sheer teamwork is thrilling. Through precisely coordinated trap deployment and medic support, teams of hunters could take down the strongest dinosaurs the island has to offer: a gigantic bull T-rex, a swimming spinosaurus, or a pack of alpha raptors. Like Monster Hunter, teams would have to work together to target specific body parts. Taking out a pterosaur’s wings might be the only way to stop it from flying back to the nest and healing, for instance. A balanced loadout would also be important. Four net guns might not be the smartest idea, and running a party with exclusively ballistic weapons would leave very little chance of capturing the target alive. Just like in Evolve, sending four medics against a Kraken would not end well. Class-focused mechanics aren’t necessary, but a variety of lethal, non-lethal, and support weapons would bring a lot of flexibility to hunting groups.
Building a park
Jurassic Park isn’t just about the dinosaurs. It’s about the park, too. One of the big themes is humankind’s attempt to conquer nature itself – to package up and commercialize a force that is stronger than anything else on the planet. Similar to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, players might be a part of an expedition back to a dinosaur-infested island with the goal of colonizing it and re-establishing a park. The dinosaurs rule the remnants of the old park now, so the hunter and the small team sent there are perpetually ill-equipped and outnumbered. Players could be forced to manage resources like bullets and tranquilizers smartly, all while picking over the ruins and the natural environment to craft supplementary equipment. As the player learns more about the dinosaurs, maps the island, and generally “pacifies” the untamed world, the InGen presence on the island expands.
Using a base-building tactical layer similar to XCOM, players would build up their meager encampment from tents and fences to bunkers and towers. Zombie survival game State of Decay handles this mechanic well. The bases that our intrepid InGen team could build might clear areas of certain dinosaurs or change their movement patterns. Upgrading camps could create safe zones for your hunter where there isn’t any wildlife to worry about. Traps on the perimeter can serve as early warning devices or be rigged to explode and kill the more dangerous intruders. Barriers could be supplemented with barbed wire, searchlights, and gun emplacements as well.
Go darker than the films
Most members of the audience that were first wowed by the original films are not kids anymore. While Spielberg’s first was a surprisingly intense PG-13 film, some fans are craving a mature look at the reality of survival in such brutal circumstances. Visiting an island filled with previously-extinct animals should be a beautiful-but-harrowing experience for anyone. Surrounded by dangerous creatures and effectively cut off from civilization, this would be the perfect chance to infuse the world of Jurassic Park with a permeating sense of isolation and danger – a notion the films tend to shy away from. Such themes could also extend to the psychological effects on both our hunter and his or her team. Every time they leave the base camp is a big decision. Every second spent in the wilderness should be fraught with tension. Reaching for a mature rating could offer the level of violence that’s needed to drive the point home: This is a place unfit for humanity. The gore shouldn’t have to be over-the-top or sensational, either. Games like Shadow of Mordor, The Last of Us, and even Dead Space use their unflinching depictions of violence to build tone and atmosphere.
Don’t retell the films
Lego Jurassic World is a light-hearted romp through the franchise’s four films, but the best licensed games don’t simply re-tell the original property. The upcoming Mad Max game uses George Miller’s nightmarish vision of the post-apocalypse only as a jumping off point. The Arkham games, arguably some of the best licensed games of all time, work so well because they retain the core of the Batman property while doing something new. This Jurassic Park game should follow suit. Fans have seen the movies plenty of times. They can endlessly quote Ian Malcom and name every dinosaur on screen. Any attempt at re-hashing the films in video game form would only produce inferior versions of the movies themselves. Instead, introduce us to new characters, dinosaurs, and narratives. Using the established lore is fine (and a cameo or three from Jeff Goldblum wouldn’t hurt). The visual motif of ripples in water could not only be a slick reference to the films, but also a gameplay mechanic that alerts the player to big dinosaurs approaching. Red flares would be effective tools to distract dinosaurs as well as a nice callback. Those expensive night vision goggles that Lexi and Tim find in their truck might even be used as Far Cry-style binoculars. However, it would be important for the game to stand on its own clawed two feet while using these references carefully.
Don’t lose the magic of the films
That being said, deviating too much from the source material would risk making a generic product. Unlike Ark: Survival Evolved, this hypothetical Jurassic Park game would double down on player versus environment. Also, embracing the nuances of the Jurassic Park property would help to avoid the pitfalls of creating just another survival simulator with dinosaurs. Sticking close to Spielberg’s original vision and high concept is important. The director devoted so much screen time to showing the majesty and grandeur of a time gone by. The human characters are constantly awe-struck by the dinosaurs – alien beasts fundamentally incompatible with the world we know. Despite a more mature tone, the game should never lose focus on the sense of child-like wonder that Spielberg wove into every frame.