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Jurassic Park: Trespasser – Fascinating failure

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Trespasser is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious PC games in the 90s. Several Looking Glass Studio developers have worked on it. Steven Spielberg was even involved in the development. It featured a full physics engine in 1998. The scale of the world and the character animation were unparalleled. Several design elements in this game were never even attempted before. However, due to it being 'first', the development had a lot of problems, which resulted in releasing the incomplete mess of a game the time has forgotten. Its unconventional gameplay and technological ambitions have gained a cult following and have become a huge inspiration for games like Half-Life 2, Octodad, and Surgeon Simulator.

For the record, I have played the game with a fan-made patch which fixes the technical shortcomings of the original release. Some of the game-breaking glitches still occurred, such as crashes, save-file corruption that forced me to use the level select cheat, and several physics bugs. Controls are not that bad once you change some of the keys on the options.

22 years later, Trespasser is still a unique beast. I have rarely played other FPS that attempts to immerse the player through gameplay to this extent. Here are some of the things this game does that shocked me. There is zero HUD. Literally, nothing, except for the heart tattoo on your boob. When you fire a gun, your character will inform the player how much bullet has left on your gun. There are (awkward) environmental storytelling and puzzles not so different from The Last of Us Part II. You do not hold a gun or an item, rather you control your hand to hold an object. Bullets do not come from the hitscan point from the screen, rather bullets are shot out from the actual gunpoint of your gun object. When you pick an item, the item does not magically disappear into your pocket. You have to physically carry that item. When you type a keypad in the game, you actually have to control your hand to touch the numbers on the keypad. No animation from this game is pre-animated, every movement of dinosaurs is generated automatically through the physics engine and inverse kinematic. All these are done 6 years before Half-Life 2 and Far Cry, and 10 years before Dead Space and Far Cry 2.

One game that constantly reminded me the most throughout this game was Peter Jackson's King Kong video game, which shares many of the gameplay features. Not only you fight dinosaurs, but there is also similarly the lack of HUD that forces the player to deliberate in combat. Weapons being more of one-time usage rather than a part of your arsenal.

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The worlds are comparable, maybe bigger than the levels from Halo: Combat Evolved. One memorable moment was one of the last levels, where I saw a huge mountain as a landmark to guide the player until I realized this mountain is not only a set-dressing but the place I have to climb to progress. The immense scale of this world dawned on me. There is a constant sense of progression like Half-Life, except there is no brief loading screen to split up a level. These large levels offer the player freedom to enemy encounters. For example, one level featured a monorail, which offers the player an alternative route from hostile enemies on the ground. It is up to the player how to progress this level, whether through platforming or combat. Or the InGen town full of buildings and hidden weapons that gives huge freedom in engaging raptors.

There are reasons why Trespasser has become a cult classic still beloved by some fans. There is nothing like this on the market to this date. However, there are also reasons why the game has still remained as a 'cult' classic rather than just a straight-up classic. A lot of unique ideas here are either half-baked and unfulfilled.

One of the biggest flaws with this game is it does not know what it wants to be. Apparently, this game was initially conceived as a survival horror game until they shifted the direction to the action game, and it really shows. There are many of the design traits that would work for the survival horror game. The game does excellent job conveying your character is just an ordinary person stranded in the hostile world. Each dinosaur is lethal and can kill you in seconds. Some encounters force the player to run rather than fighting the enemies. The combat is designed to be deliberate and difficult. However, there are action-friendly elements that harm this direction.

First, there is no inventory. You can carry only one object at once. You do not obtain a keycard and take it out whenever it is needed. Every object, items, weapons, you pick up is treated as its own vacuum. Does my character not have a pocket? Why can I not carry more than one object? And you always drop whatever you are holding whenever you try to open a door because you drop an object if some kind of force applies to your hand, which gets irritating. All these could have been solved if the game had an inventory where the player can put an item down.

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The player has a regenerating health system, which makes the game just easy and removes health pick-up items. There is no weapon-reloading, meaning no ammo. Every weapon is treated as one-time usage. The player health and weapon return to default when you enter a new level, meaning every item is a short-term supplementary rather than a long-term supplementary. Not only this removes all depths the survival horror genre needs, it removes exploration. Despite the large levels asking the player to explore, there is just nothing much to find other than a few guns, which are just not needed since the weapons are abundant. There is also no enemy in the buildings in this game. There are some of the closed urban environments the player has to go, and I always prepared some kind of enemy dwelling in corridors or rooms like Resident Evil, but all the enemies reside in the outer environments.

Does it work as an action FPS? Not really. The enemy variety is seriously lacking. There are only two enemy types in the game: raptors and T-Rexs, and their patterns remain the same. The problem is that their AI is so bad that the player can ignore them and proceed if you bunnyhop, and they cannot catch you. T-Rexs are laughably easy to deal with because they for some reason ignore the player most of the time. Enemies get stuck or fall off the cliffs because their pathfinding AI is atrocious. And turrets in this game are the worst turrets I have ever controlled.

Does it work as an adventure game? Not really. Every area looks the same with little diversity. The platforming is horrible. Your player character also has problems with collisions. Jumping does not work whenever you are on a slope. The player gets stuck on things, which at times forces the player to restart the level or outright kill you for no reason. Terrains are awfully textured and bad pop-ins are everywhere. Environmental objects are misplaced and floating.

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Hammond's voice over is welcoming, but really weird in its placement. Is he supposed to be in her thoughts? Then why does Hammond says things your player character would never know, like where the lab is and the secret history of the park? What is even weirder is how there are some of the recordings of Hammond, and they play as a continuation of imagery Hammond inside your character's mind…? So, is he supposed to be just an arbitrary voice-over separated from your character's experience? No, because your character literally responds to what Hammond says. So, which is it? Is Hammond a figment of your imagination or just a voice-over narration?

While I cannot call Trespasser a good game, I still enjoyed my time with Trespasser and recommend playing it once just because it is such an odd experience. Its jankiness can be a charm with the frailing arm becoming an unintentional comedy. I hope someone to do a modern take on this concept. An Alien Isolationesque survival horror Jurassic Park game is just a match made heaven and I have no idea why no one else has tackled this ever since.


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