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Review by: David Laprad
Published: November 11, 1997
High concept ideas are a dime a dozen in the entertainment industry, but when they hit the right nerve, can earn the masterminds untold wealth. The best ideas are those that cross a prevalent component of popular culture with an appealing twist. For example, the film Star Wars is a “mythic western in outer space.” The inspiration behind DreamWorks Interactive’s Chaos Island is, “Let’s cross Command and Conquer with Jurassic Park.” While the concept sounds promising on the surface, the actual execution fails to offer the depth real-time strategy fans have come to expect.
Licensing popular films and television shows is a way of squeezing additional profit from a franchise. Star Wars has earned more money from licensing royalties than box office receipts, and the same can be said for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. When done right, a game license can actually expand the universe created in a film or television show, as is the case with the brilliant Dark Forces series from LucasArts. Unfortunately, this is the exception to the rule. Generally, games based on films are slabbed out with little or no concern for quality; the name of the game is capitalization. Anyone out there remember the infamous Atari 2600 version of E.T.? While Chaos Island is not quite as dismal, I can’t imagine anyone, especially devoted real-time strategy gamers, giving this title more than a quick, cursory glance before running the uninstall program and marching it back to the store, receipt firmly in hand.
The story will be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Players control a team of gatherers and scientists stuck on Isla Nublar, an island packed with prehistoric animals. The ultimate goals are survival and escape, meaning players will need to explore the island, set up camp, and organize the tools and strategies needed to survive among the dinosaurs. The title provides some conceptual leeway by assuming the scientists can breed full grown dinosaurs which can then be controlled. Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch, but it is necessary within the scope of the story and gameplay. (The best part of the game involves building an army of Tyrannosaurus Rexes and Raptors.)
At the beginning of each mission, the player must gather supplies to build the structures necessary for survival. The supplies are represented by yellow boxes; send someone to pick them up, return them to base, and whammo, you’re in business. Gathering supplies gives you a score that all team recruitments and activities, such as building structures and making repairs, are based on. Run out of points, and you run out of luck. The base camp is necessary for gathering eggs and supplies, and the tool shed is necessary for making personnel upgrades. More sophisticated structures, such as a science lab, play critical roles later in the game. Because the skills of the various dinosaurs are essential for solving many of the game’s puzzles and tactical dilemmas, players must also gather dinosaur eggs and hatch them in artificial nests.
As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult. Hunters, who also inhabit the island, grow more dangerous. The dinosaurs become tougher to avoid and kill, and attack in greater numbers. Some explorers are better marksmen than others, some run faster, and others have better vision, so it is important to know each character’s skill level before sending him or her into battle — or the unknown. These characteristics can be upgraded; if the player has the supply points, team members can be given better vision, greater defensive strength, more carrying capacity, and faster speed. The two most important skills to build first are speed and carrying capacity. Speed will enable inexperienced team members to run past the game’s early enemies, and increasing their carrying capacity means players won’t be forced to make multiple trips to gather supplies and eggs. Physical barriers, such as wide bodies of water or high hills, limit the team’s ability to move about, so their movements must be planned to follow trails and low-lying terrain. The locations of structures must also be carefully planned; build a base camp near the trails of hunters and you are begging for trouble. In this sense, the game provides a very basic level of strategy that can help ease new gamers into the genre.
Accompanying the game’s human characters are celebrity voices, including those of Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vahn, Vanessa Lee Chester, Richard Schiff and Richard Attenborough. To be honest, I’m surprised some of these actors are associated with such a low-grade product. Perhaps it was part of their contract for doing the film. With the exception of Goldblum and Attenborough, the actors generally have very few lines, even fewer of which are used effectively, so the voice acting adds nothing to the product except a blurb on the outside of the box intended to increase sales.
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