Can there ever be a more impressive failure of a video game than Trespasser: The Lost World - Jurassic Park? Released in 1998, a year behind schedule, DreamWorks Interactive's ambitious open-world FPS survival game was nevertheless way ahead of its time.
Originally commissioned to coincide with the release of Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, Trespasser had a lot of buzz before release. When it was showcased at the previous year's E3, it blew people away. Graphics had not looked like this before. Open world environments had not been done like this before. A physics engine had not been programmed like this before. The ambition was astonishing and turned out to be just too much for the developers to handle. Those graphics were ultimately downgraded so they could actually run. That open world proved too much for all but the most expensive PCs at the time. That physics engine was buggy as all hell. Trespasser, as noted by games journalists at the time, had officially become the 'Worst Game Of All Time'™.
While it's hard to argue with that assessment, at least on its original release, I still feel that this is one of the most fascinating games to be released. Even as you struggle with the game, you can see the effort (and money) that went into it.
Some dinosaurs are nice and docile, while others will come straight for you.
You're in luck if the two meet as a predator will be pre-occupied with its natural prey.
The game takes place a year after the events of The Lost World. You play as Anne, voiced by Minnie Driver, whose holiday is cut short when her plane crashes on John Hammond's notorious Site B. You have to traverse the island to reach a rendezvous point and return to safety. It's a barebones story but along the way recollections from Hammond's fictional biography add depth to the Jurassic Park universe. Richard Attenborough reprises his role in what proves to be one of the best aspects of the game.
When you awake, you find yourself on a beach. You can explore freely, but this area also acts as a tutorial. Further along the beach, a few decaying buildings are strategically placed to teach you the game's mechanics. This is where problems start, and they rarely let up 'til the very end. As the game tells you, holding the left mouse button holds out your arm which can be swung around in all sorts of ways. Right-click and you'll grab onto an object, whether it be a rock, a gun or a baseball bat. To attack with whatever you're holding, press the spacebar. This is not just incredibly awkward and unintuitive, but borderline broken. Although admirable, their attempt to up the realism distracted them from the all-important gameplay. While a lot of other unique elements have been co-opted and improved in other games, there's a reason why this arm-flailing has not.
Being more of a survival game, you can often sneak past the more dangerous of dinosaurs so gunplay can almost be ignored if you want. What's unavoidable is the jumping. You'll encounter many platforming sections but the physics engine doesn't allow for accurate or predictable jumps. In the tutorial section, clambering up to the rooftops is more difficult than leaping over gaps. If you're on a small platform such as a crate - and they appear regularly in this game - you're likely to slide off with the slightest of movements. To make matters worse, you'll often have to place them in very specific ways to get anywhere. What would not bat an eyelid in better games can take half an hour or more of hair-pulling here. There are many necessary jumping sections so it's not like you can ignore them.
The codes to enter into keypads are usually very near the device.
Physically entering them in is the more difficult part.
Once you open the door in the fence after the tutorial section, the rest of the island opens up in varying degrees of linearity. It does have designated levels which do directly follow on from each other, but one gets the impression that this was a technical necessity than a design choice. One of the best elements of the game is exploring the lush landscapes that would've been a sight to behold back then. It is quite wonderful witnessing your first brachiosaur and triceratops. Even some of the AI is OK at times (though not always). For example, there was a surprising moment when a couple of raptors ignored me completely for the tasty looking triceratops hanging out at a waterhole. At that moment, as the predators were nipping at its prey, it really did feel like I was an interloper in their habitat. On the other hand, not far away was a Pachycephalosaurus having trouble standing up, turning himself inside out while tripping over a T-Rex thigh bone. Sadly, the latter encounter is far more common.
There are also a few design choices that are more clever than they are practical. There's no HUD, so any info about your health or weapon is told in other ways. When you pick up a weapon, Anne will tell you how much ammo is left and will do so after every shot (machine guns are more of a generalisation than an exact number). It's not a big deal as weapons carry so little shots they're disposable anyway. Your health, however, is displayed on your left boob. Look down and you'll find a nifty heart tattoo etched on Anne's ample bosom. It will gradually turn red if she's hurt and, in another example of this game being a first, will regenerate after a period of inaction. The problem here is that in order to check your health, you have to take your eyes off the enemy so you're at a disadvantage in tight moments. Couple that with the fact that raptors can kill you in no time along with damage dealt in long falls being highly erratic and you get a feature that's basically meaningless.
Some of the better puzzles has you searching an area
for keycards, while the worst will always involve crates.
On your journey, you will encounter several puzzles. They would be basic and easily solvable were it not for the control scheme. Try entering passwords using your floppy mouse hand. Or keeping hold of a keycard so you can swipe it to enter a facility. Or navigate one of the many see-saw type obstacles. Any one of these will test your patience.
There's one partcularly troublsome physics-based puzzle that is sure to stop people in their tracks, if they got that far that is. In the level called The Town, you need to get to the upper floor of a building. The stairs are completely out so you have to manipulate three crates to make a sort of makeshift stairway. If placing crates correctly isn't painful enough, jumping over them is a nightmare. I've already said that you tend to slide off smaller platforms like crates, but when said sliding reduces your much-toiled-over creation to a precarious Jenga tower, it's excrutiating.
This traumatic situation takes place in Hammond's mansion in stage called The Town, one of the best levels in the game by the way. Unlike the jungle levels, this area has scenery recognisable from the film. You are free to explore the open area searching for keycards to open different buildings, which actually becomes a lot of fun. It also helps that dinosaurs cannot enter buildings so there's a lot of safe spaces too. You can also marvel at the potential of the engine. There's a pool to swim in, many places to find weapons and a basketball court to shoot some hoops in! The other levels aren't exactly devoid of stuff to do, but there's much more variety here.
That heart tattoo on your breast is your health (left).
You can try your hand at basketball in one of the later levels (right).
Somehow, Trespasser has quite a fan community. An upgraded fanmade patch called Trespasser CE fixes some of the minor bugs in the game like textures and a couple of graphical glitches though sadly not the major ones like everything else. It improves some of the graphics, ups the resolution and gets it running on modern systems. The community at TresCom have also spent time creating custom levels, not to mention one fan's ongoing remake and another's port to VR devices. Even big name developers have been inspired by it with Valve themselves taking note of the physics implementation for Half-Life 2 (they did it way, way better, obviously). It has quite the legacy for the 'Worst Game Of All Time'™.
Trespasser is a game so high on ambition, they lost sight of what makes a game a game. Yet, somehow, this is what resonates with me and a lot of its fans. I can't argue with the negative reviews (though they are a point or two too harsh in my opinion), but I'm simultaneously unsurprised by the ongoing love it gets. I highly doubt people would still be talking about it had it been just another shooter, and for that reason alone it's more than worthy of a revisit. Just don't stay too long.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer runs natively on Windows using the fanmade Trespasser CE patch. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 546 Mb. Install Size: 675 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Trespasser: The Lost World - Jurassic Park is © DreamWorks Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me