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Trespasser: Jurassic Park (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Jun 12, 2005

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Minnie Driver Simulator

The Good

Ah, this kind of thing comes around once in a blue moon. It's a good, old-fashioned disaster of a game, modestly hyped before release, accompanied in pre-release with some slightly misleading screenshots, a brave stab at innovation which failed in a spectacular and interesting way. It was going to revolutionise the gaming world, with its physics engine. And like Tesla, it has its fans. I actually enjoyed it; but then again, one of my favourite films is 'Zardoz', a pretentious sci-fi film in which Sean Connery runs around in a red nappy.

You play a character called Anne who is voiced by Minnie Driver stranded island dinosaurs Richard Attenborough wise - but misguided - man voiceover escape keycards big levels run about raptors rat-a-tat! And that's the plot. Driver has a passable American accent and Richard Attenborough, star of 'Guns at Batasi' and director of 1978's 'Magic' cannot help but sound commanding. The musical snippets are effective, although they don't seem to have been done with a real orchestra.

The crux of the game was its physics engine. You pick things up, throw them about, stack them and so forth, and they act like real-life objects. When you pick up a gun, you have to aim it with the gunsights, rather than an imaginary heads-up-display crosshair; this innovation has subsequently appeared in some of the more serious action games, viz 'Operation Flashpoint' and 'Hidden and Dangerous' etc. You can carry something on your back and something in your hand, and no more. You interact with the environment by using your right arm, and if you want to press buttons you actually have to make your on-screen hand physically press the buttons, rather than just using a 'use' key. All in all it was an iconoclastic game, designed by people who wanted to make something innovative and different. The game is ahead of its time, in fact, but things which are ahead of their time are nonetheless still out of their time, and Trespasser suffers from being a pioneer.

Trespasser takes place in a set of mostly outdoors locations, all of them large; there is an effectively creepy atmosphere, and the game is reminiscent of old-fashioned exploration games such as 'Damocles', 'Myst' and so forth.

Furthermore, when Minnie Driver hurts herself or falls off something, she moans, and I like that. I like that a lot. Minnie Driver is a nice lady. I like her. She is good and pure. She wasn't famous when this game was made, but she is famous now. An actor, and a singer. Or, more accurately, an 'actress', because she is a woman actor.

The Bad

Imagine a game designed by a physics professor who has never played a computer game in his life; a games designer who was impressed with Tomb Raider but who can only contact the physics professor by post; and a man who likes guns a lot and will go to great lengths to model guns and make them have the right amount of ammunition, fire in the right way, etc, but who is again only barely in contact with the others. And there is a further man who designs monster AI, but he was off sick and could only provide his input by posting some sheets of paper with machine code written on them, in pencil. Voila! Trespasser.

The graphics are very poor. They give the impression of great size and distance, but look very poor; trees and buses are blocky and ugly until you get close to them, and walls tend to flicker in and out of existence as you approach them. The textures are small and repeat in a grid-like fashion. Even in 1998, the game was ugly; reminiscent of 'Delta Force 2' in its combination of ugliness and extreme system requirements due to the great quantity of ugliness that the engine has to render. Nothing feels substantial, and you often fall partially through the floor, or witness dinosaurs doing the same. The dinosaurs rampage around as if drunk, approaching you before running off to the side, running away, slowly approaching you again, falling over(!), running into objects and killing themselves. They slur around like drunken bums.

The press screenshots masked an important factor; the arm. You interact with the environment with your right arm. In the screenshots it looked relatively ordinary. But in the game it is like an elephant in the living room; huge and hard to ignore. You have no left arm. When you hold a rifle, you hold it at arm's length, directly away from your chest (a chest which you can see, if you look downwards; a tattoo on your left breast acts as a health meter(!)).When you are running around with a keycard or rock in your hand, you hold it at arm's length, your arm flopping around like a Dalek's eye-stalk. Your arm is clumsy. Your body is clumsy. The impression I get is that the aforementioned physics professor had some clever ideas, but was either too blind to see that they did not work, or too much of a megalomaniac to care. God damn, he must have thought, I am right and the doubters are wrong; but *I* will have the last laugh! The arm could have been taken out, and Trespasser would be no worse; Trespasser should have been about running and hiding from dinosaurs, achieving substantial things with clever tricks, using objects in novel ways, killing the dinosaurs with hard-to-find weapons; instead, it is about using an arm to manipulate things, as it it was 'Trespasser: The Robot Arm Simulator'. Do deep-sea explorers, as they explore the deep with their submersibles, do they think of their work as deep-sea exploration, or arm manipulation?

The environment is interactive, in that you can pick things up and throw them. But no more. If you find a helmet, you cannot wear it; instead, you can throw it, and I managed to kill a dinosaur this way, by throwing a helmet at it. If you find boots, you cannot wear them. Apart from keypads and card slots, which you must tortuously operate with your remote-controlled arm, there is nothing in the game with which to interact significantly. You can hold door handles, and try to open them, but it does not work properly.

At one point you can shoot a car, which is stuck at the top of a canyon wall, and the cars fall onto the head of a dinosaur and kills it, thus saving you a shot; the reviews made much of this moment, as if the game was filled with them. But it is not, there are no other moments like that. Sometimes you are allowed to operate static machine-guns, but you cannot; your arm flops around aimlessly, and you cannot see to aim anyway, because your head flops in the wrong direction.

Essentially, everything in this game fails. It is ugly. The AI does not really work. Things fall into the floor, get stuck on doors. Your arm is ludicrous, ridiculous, an autistically literal mistake.

Guns. The game's main gameplay element is the pursuit of guns; they are the only technological items in the game's world that you can pick up and use. There are lots of them, and they seem out of place, as if a gun fetishist had infiltrated the design team in the dead of night. The pistols aren't too bad, but the rifles and shotguns - particularly the shotguns - are almost impossible to aim beyond a few feet, as you have to line up the tiny sights, which you are holding at arm's length. In the screenshots, the guns were show in a standard action game pose - emerging from the bottom-right of the screen, pointing towards the middle - but in the game itself you have to aim them by holding them at right-angles to your chest, as I have mentioned. You end up staring at the weapon's butt-plate, as you hold it with your right arm fully extended. It is ridiculous to see.

The Bottom Line

As I recall this game topped the software charts in the UK for the briefest period of time, on pre-orders perhaps, before being scrubbed from history. It's a fascinating failure, and the atmosphere of being alone on a big island is effective; the feeling of being stalked by dinosaurs works, or rather would work if they were not so stupid (when you are far away from them, they stand stock-still; when you kill them, they all die in a strange belly-down position, every single one of them). The physics engine is very clever, and if the designers had been able to finish the game - and show it to some people who had played computer games before - it might have been a legendary hit. It could have been a classic. Instead it is memorable for other reasons.