Trespasser was ahead of its time, a fact which basically destroyed the game’s reception when it was released. It promised a revolutionary new physics system and an engaging adventure set in Jurassic Park. However, it demanded ridiculous system requirements and offered dysfunctional gameplay in return. Trespasser’s ideas were also ahead of its technology, resulting in a half-working physics showcase with little actual entertainment value.
Trespasser has you playing as a crash survivor named Anne. You’re flying over “Site B” when you have engine trouble (natch) and crash. According to the novels, Site B is a separate island from tourist-friendly Jurassic Park, and is where the dirty research and dinosaur creation actually takes place. Your surroundings thus include various dinos roaming free from fences or cages, a lot of rubble and discarded equipment, and a few buildings and complexes eternally under construction. Your overall goal is to work your way from the coast to the main compound, call in a rescue chopper, then gruelingly climb the tallest fucking mountain in the world to get to the helicopter pad.
Minnie Driver voices Anne, and mumbles clues to herself about what you should do. She has apparently memorized park designer John Hammond’s autobiography, and Sir Richard Attenborough reprises his role to frequently read relevant passages. Through this narration and the various sights you’ll pass by, you’ll learn a little extra about the history of Jurassic Park and the genesis of Hammond’s idea. Fans might get a kick out of this, but whether this adds value to the price of admission is ultimately up to you.
Gameplay, however, isn’t a standard adventure. It sells itself as a sandbox – asking you only to call in the chopper and escape – but there’s precious little to interact with along the way. There’s no survival aspect going on here, aside from collecting weapons to protect you from errant dinos. Aside from the occasional keycard or broken trash to examine, there’s not much reason to poke through the environment. The majority of your time will be spent wandering through rather barren island levels, solving physics related mini-puzzles that block you from proceeding.
Trespasser sells itself on two main gimmicks. The first was, arguably, the first meaningful physics system in a video game. Objects tumble realistically, boxes topple when they’re hit, items can be picked up and stacked, etc. Considering its contemporaries, it’s neat to nudge the scattered decoration of a typical FPS and have it actually react. In terms of gameplay, though, it has little effect.
The only areas where you’re directly required to interact with the physics engine are in pre-baked “tech demos” that have been set up for this explicit purpose. These are cornball challenges where you have to roll a barrel to make a seesaw, make a staircase out of boxes scattered nearby, or push a crate on top of a dinosaur. Using the environment to kill or make a path is a cool enough idea, but these situations never just occur on their own in the game. There’s also actually support for striking enemies with logs or planks, but you’ll be eaten before you can determine if you’ve done any damage.
The physics system also appears to be a little incomplete. Objects tumble and fall, but most give the impression that they have no weight to them. You can one-hand and heave large wooden crates like you were going for the shotput record. Stacking boxes takes great difficulty, as they seem to have no friction associated with them. Objects touching each other (and you!) tend to push apart forcefully – likely to prevent them getting stuck – so stacked boxes slip and slide unnecessarily. As said, there will be areas that rely on physics to proceed, but don’t be surprised if you’re ignoring objects entirely once the novelty wears off.
The second gimmick is the game’s choice of interaction method. In a move to make the game more immersive, you interact with everything through use of a 3-D hand controlled by the mouse. Combinations of keyboard keys and mouse movements allow you to bend your arm, rotate your wrist, etc, but these are just for show – though it does allow you to shoot weapons sideways, gangsta-style. Mouse buttons control picking up and dropping items, which ends up working like one of those quarter-operated arcade cranes.
Controlling your arm is far more clumsy than it needs to be; an interplay of loose grip and broad movements with lack of fine control. Physics also affect both your arm and the objects you’re holding, and play hell with whatever you’re trying to do. Guns will get knocked out of your grip, you can push items with your fingers as you’re trying to grab them, sending them tumbling away, and more similar hassles which I will leave to your imagination.
The rest of the controls are fairly erratic as well. You have one key to run, but not very fast, and one key to walk, which seems useless considering the amount of ground you have to cover. The jump key will work every single time except when you need it to. I can’t explain this, but it seems to flake out if you try jumping while running. The catch is that having to jump across gaps is fairly common, so you’ll spend time away from the gap setting up and practicing your jump, nail it every time, then run toward the gap and the jump will suddenly fail to register. It’s endlessly frustrating. Folds in the terrain can also cause you to get stuck, and you can easily get wedged between the ground and a boulder. These frequently occur when you’re meant to jump from a rock onto higher ground – so your jump key won’t work, you’ll fall in between the two, and get stuck to boot. Peachy.
Weapons are plentiful across the island, and scattered about in both logical and unlikely places. There are no ammo indicators, instead, Minnie will helpfully shout out the number of remaining shells, or guess “half-full”, “almost gone” on automatic weapons. They cannot be reloaded, so once you’re out, it’s time to find a new weapon. The weapons act as objects in the game world, and are affected by the rules of the physics system, so you must fumble to try and pick them up. Once a weapon in is your hand, you stick it straight out in front of you and hold it there, making it easy to get knocked away.
Aiming is done by maneuvering the mouse and awkwardly trying to aim down the sights. Remember now, she’s not holding the gun against her shoulder to actually line up a shot down the barrel, she’s holding a shotgun, one-handed, at full arms-length away. You’ll just have to “guess.” However, one benefit of the physics is that, should you be caught without a weapon, you can slap a dinosaur across the snout.
The game allows one item to be stored in your belt, and one to be held out in your hand. This allows you to keep a backup weapon, and sounds good in theory. However, items also take up this slot, so you have to toss your backup to hold on to a key, for example. Also, you can’t store both weapons on you at the same time, so if you’re trying to explore, but want to hold on to that shotgun, you better be prepared to have it waved around in front of your view and dropped frequently as you bump into things. Frustrating further, you lose everything you have after a level change. This is more annoying than just about anything in the game, as you save up shots for the most powerful rifle in the game, lose it on the level change, and find yourself amid a nest of raptors on the other side. Many verbal questionings of the designers’ families and parental background were illicited by these situations.
There are a few various dinosaur types on the island, but you’ll only need to be concerned with two – the Velociraptors, and the T-Rex. Raptors are your main foes throughout the game, and the Rex only makes special appearances to create “terrifying,” but really just frustrating, situations. He’ll arrive in areas with plenty of places for you to hide, and storm around outside until you figure out another path. He’ll never break through the walls or be a serious threat, he’s mostly just a great inconvenience. Raptors themselves don’t have enough foliage to creep up on you or display any pack techniques, so you basically see one coming, blast him with the gun of your choice, and move on.
The dinos are supposed to be driven by an advanced AI that replicates varying and changing moods such as hungry, angry, curious, frightened, etc. I truly don’t know if this effect is fully implemented in the game, because it’s basically impossible to tell. In practice, it simply means that the dinos will either attack you, or they won’t. It doesn’t involve the unpredictable nature, and ability to watch fascinating dinosaur behavior, that it claims to. Dinos don’t appear to communicate with each other, and if there’s more than one on screen they usually attack in turns like a side-scrolling brawler.
Graphically, the game’s biggest knock is its poor optimization. There’s a software driver which will get you by, though without much speed or the benefit of real transparencies. There’s Voodoo 2-level 3D card support, which adds some speed but not detail. The engine is indeed 3-D, but quite basic. Only a few polygons make up your enemies, and the game will draw in different, more detailed models as you get closer. This extends to objects as well, which start as flat sprites and spring into levels of 3-D models as you approach. Texture work is low-res across the board. The engine can’t really handle indoor areas, but that doesn’t stop the game from throwing them at you. These appear as a few connected, vacant square rooms with little dressing or detail. Even without objects to bump into, your character will still find ways to get caught on chairs or twist her wrist around a door frame.
The game is marginally better at outdoor areas, and the “levels” the game is broken into are actually quite huge. The central compound area contains 30 or more multistory buildings, all without individual load times, all that can be entered. Unfortunately, the engine uses extensive draw-in to help it chug along. You can see perhaps 50 feet ahead before items on the horizon start popping in, including your enemies. Yet, as if to make things fair, dinosaurs don’t actually “activate” until you get about 40 feet away. This means dinos won’t be jumping you from out of nowhere, but it also means that if you’re moving slowly, you can walk around a dino at the edge of your vision, and it will stay frozen in place the whole time.
As part of the intended “virtual reality,” the game contains no indicators or a HUD. We’ve covered how they adapt for this for the guns. A limited “body awareness” system fills in the rest. You can see your own arms, shoulders, and torso. Your health is displayed as a heart tattoo, that fills to red as you take more damage, and fades as the damage heals. This gives some cheesy benefits since you’re playing as a woman, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Anne is fairly stacked. Unfortunately, only your right arm is functional. It looks odd to palm entire crates, and your left hand offers no support to guns, extra storage, or is even visible at all.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the ideas here. I think I would really enjoy this kind of realistic adventure if it worked as advertised, and the idea is probably worth revisiting (though it kinda-sorta was to better effect with 2001’s Operation Flashpoint). Trespasser had some good ideas, but suffered from trying to do too many of them, too soon. The physics system as it related to your character wasn’t quite where it needed to be, 3-D technology was still a little too ugly, and the hand interface could have used some intuitive and user-friendly adjustments. Still, most of its ideas – especially the proliferation of gameplay-related physics – have been used with more success in modern games, so they were on the right track. Worth checking out if you’re interested in the evolution of technology, but that’s all it really is. The game underneath is neither supported well by its technology, or enjoyable enough to play despite its flaws.
Some interesting new ideas that are commonplace nowadays – physics, body awareness, etc.
Intended to be revolutionary. Fell on its ass in a wholly un-revolutionary way.