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The unfulfilled potential of Ocean’s Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park’s dinosaur-filled island is perfect fodder for video games. This works especially well for games where shooting and platforming are the main mechanics. Indeed, the majority of games based on the franchise put more emphasis on action. On the other hand, Jurassic Park by Ocean combines exploration and action into a top-down experience. Despite its reputation as a mediocre licensed game, I feel like it was close to making Jurassic Park feel like a survival horror game.

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The game begins with a first person camera moving over a map of the island. It stops and crashes into the island until the screen turns black. A transition occurs and a voice from nowhere welcomes you to Jurassic Park. It’s a dramatic opening designed to immerse you in the world. The game dumps you at the entrance of the park. Armed with an ineffective cattle prod and without a sense of direction, you have a series of objectives to complete and the freedom to go nearly anywhere. There are no shops and characters. It’s just you, the island, and one way to get out.

Jurassic Park is very difficult to complete. You have five lives, two continues, and no way to save your progress. That means you have to beat the game in a single session. Large flying bugs, velociraptors hiding in the forest, and environmental hazards make the island a truly dangerous and threatening place. This is accompanied by a pretty good soundtrack that definitely doesn’t sound like a warm welcome. The ocean theme sounds panicky. The menu music sounds grandiose and foreboding. The elevators’ jaunty track contrast with the sense of danger emanating from the park.

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The one thing that really makes Jurassic Park feel like a survival horror game is when you enter buildings. The camera shifts to a first-person perspective and your vision becomes limited. These areas are dark and feel claustrophobic. Without much space to move, it’s easy to be attacked by the dinosaurs that eerily remain still from a distance. Whether it’s the claustrophobic feeling or the slogging pace in which you move, you just want to be outside as soon as possible. The game’s final objective is tracking down your escape route. Getting off the island results in an unceremonious ending. Like many games in the past, a single screen and a small amount of text is all you get for completing the game. Congratulations, you survived.

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Perhaps just completing the game is enough as a reward. The indoor areas, music, and lack of saving creates a sense of tension for better or worse. Jurassic Park for the SNES is definitely not a fantastic game. It’s obtuse and difficult. However, I feel like there was potential that unfortunately wasn’t fully realized. Mysterious, atmospheric, and nearly fully explorable. If the game were better, it could’ve made Jurassic Park a terrifying place to be in.

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