Life found a way. Sort of.
Title: Jurassic World Evolution
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Price: PC: £45/$55
Release Date: Out now
TL;DR: It’s basically a Facebook game, but with dinosaurs.
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Like a lot of small children, I had an obsession; some little girls wanted ponies, ballet lessons, or gymnastic classes, but no, I wanted dinosaurs, the scalier and uglier the better. My dad gave me a copy of this game’s predecessor, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis when it came out in 2003, and I spent an ungodly amount of time digging up fossils, hatching dinosaurs, and being absolutely terrified of the tornadoes that decided to pop up every once in a while.
So, when a sequel emerged fifteen years later, I was absolutely thrilled; I’m a longtime player of The Sims 3, so simulation games when they involve absolute carnage and mayhem are right up my street. Sadly, Jurassic World Evolution is an incredibly shallow park sim, with frustrating mechanics and quests that involve a lot of sitting and waiting. But there are some pretty badass dinosaurs.
So the concept? Dinosaurs. The objective? Run a bloodthirstier version of Rollercoaster Tycoon and try to keep the death lawsuits to a minimum. There doesn’t seem to be an underlying plot to the game, following the movies or otherwise, but you are handed various contracts by one of three divisions; Science, Entertainment, and Security, which will be your main sources of income. Fossils are another one, since you’ll end up unearthing a whole bunch of precious minerals along with specimens, and, of course, fleecing your visitors for as much money as you can get, because they really want that dinosaur onesie.
Straight off the bat, though, it becomes clear that when actually building your park, you’re pretty limited, though thankfully not with the choice of dinosaurs, with roughly fifty species thanks to the Fallen Kingdom update (though I was secretly hoping for some plesiosaurs or something). You can only add shrubs, forest, or pools of water to your terrain, with the option to raise, smooth, or flatten stuff out; that’s it. There are only small handfuls of buildings for guests, whether that be shops or attractions, and there’s very little scope in the Research Centre to make more. Powering buildings is a new mechanic, and one that’s been made as frustrating as possible; first, build a power station, then a substation, then pylons, then figure out how to link them all up. Bonus points if you can figure it out without Youtubing a guide.
Along with this, the park guests don’t add much to the experience; Operation Genesis had them classified into certain categories, which you could then fill certain requirements to please, and click on each individual guest to hear their thoughts and comments; an easy way to know if your prices are too high or dinosaurs from the wrong period are grouped together. They now feel like faceless swarms roaming the park – there’s not even any crowd chatter!
All of these lumped together make for a poor building experience, especially when you factor in the constraints of the islands themselves. There are five separate ones, all with various strengths and weaknesses (size, weather, habitats etc), but are awkwardly shaped and cramped. You can only build on certain flat areas, rather than the whole terrain, forcing you to cram in as many buildings as you can, in increasingly odd positions, just so you’ve got enough space. I wonder if this could possibly be rectified with a snap to grid system rather than free placement, because it would save the hassle of patiently making ever weirder shaped paths to link them all together. That being said, each island looks vastly different, and they’re gorgeous to look at, with all the lighting effects and various storms. Make no mistake; graphically, this game is gorgeous. We’ve got some very pretty (and clever) girls.
The other particularly annoying thing about the missions from all three divisions is that they feel very generic; there could have been some sort of story implemented here, where depending on what faction you favour, your park could potentially turn out differently. You can either request them, or they’ll pop up on their own, but if you favour one over the other two, there’s the possibility of your power going out or fences failing thanks to sabotage, which can be absolutely deadly under the wrong circumstances. A lot of them require quite literally just waiting around for ten minutes to not have the power go out, or four minutes with no deaths, and since there’s no fast-forward button, you just… wait. Maybe watch a dinosaur or two.
You can accept other missions in the meantime, but early on, the lack of money really hampers this. Isla Muerta is the second island you unlock, and by the time you’ve repaired all the fences, you promptly realise that there’s no Research or Fossil Centre on the island, and they have to be built, and oh, guests are complaining because there’s too few dinosaurs and stuff to do, so the park is losing money. Quick, request a contract! Okay, I’ll dig out some fossils – no money for that. Build an ACU Centre, no money for that either, put this dinosaur in the park, but it costs a couple of hundred thousand, make $50,000 a minute? Nope, I’m hemorrhaging money! And then a storm shows up, wrecks the place, and you’ll have to tranquilize your dinosaurs to put them back in their pens, at £20k a go. And thus, I was broke. While you can make money by digging up fossils on other sites and selling them on varying islands, this is more of a cheat than a gameplay feature; when your shops are bugged and you can’t charge entry fees for the park (which was how early games in Operation Genesis ran), you’re stuck with few options but to watch your park go into the red.
Ultimately, it’s a lot of small, annoying features that lead to a stunning looking game becoming ultimately frustrating. The fact that literally everything costs money, from moving dinosaurs to healing them when they get sick, and even extracting fossils, means the early game is a struggle. When you do manage to find a foothold, some of the mechanics aren’t well explained (like the aforementioned power), and the dinosaur comfort levels. I spent hours throwing more trees at the goddamn diplodocus, only to find out that grassland is actually space. Which of course lead to rampages. And of course, moving dinosaurs or building new hatcheries are expensive, so a bunch of dinosaurs who don’t like each other are now forced to live with each other, which at any other time would make a decent sitcom.
Then there’s stuff like why rangers can’t move and tranq the dinosaurs, why they insist on entering the parks in jeeps, through gates the huge lizards can run out of if they so please, why feeders have to be manually refilled, and how the path system is awkward and fiddly. Lack of speeding up time, more detailed guest facilities, ease of moving dinosaurs… it becomes frustrating, and quickly.
However – I will say that this isn’t a game I dislike. It has the scope to become a lot bigger and more fleshed out, and with Frontier already giving us the Fallen Kingdom update with a bunch of new dinosaurs for free, I do remain hopeful for more support for the game, or even expansion packs. Right now, it’s a fun game, but an exhausting game, because when you have to pay hundreds of thousands to fix your park after five minutes of smooth gameplay, it becomes more of a chore.
Now, Operation Genesis, on the other hand, is an absolute gem. So it’s a pity it’s going for about $300 on eBay right now.
- The dinosaur designs are beautiful, unique, and detailed
- Environments and weather effects are top notch
- Good variety of dinosaurs
- Cramped, weird island shapes make designing an aesthetically pleasing park difficult.
- The missions feel generic and bland
- Frustrating gameplay mechanics
Jurassic World Evolution is rated PEGI 16 for moderate violence, and ESRB T for Teen for moderate blood and violence. Honestly, I’d say this is pretty suitable for most ages; if they know dinosaurs eat people, they’ll know what to expect.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for the purposes of this review.