I’d be willing to lay good money on a bet that most people, if not all people, have in some way experienced some part of the Jurassic Park or World films at some point in their lives. It’s just one of those things we can all get together on and agree is pretty damn cool. Dinosaurs just have that effect on us easily amused, wide-eyed humans. Well, now we have Jurassic World Evolution from Frontier Developments, the latest entry in the video game side of the famous franchise. Jurassic games have had a rough time finding their footing in the past, often because of questionable genre choices, so it was with great excitement that we were finally getting the type of game this franchise was begging for, a sim. The potential was huge, and while there’s a lot that Evolution gets right, it doesn’t fully deliver on its premise.
“Life always find a way… to wreck everything I’ve built. Again. And again…”
Jurassic World Evolution is a business management simulator, plain and simple. Like many theme park games before it, your single task is to make your enterprise of parks successful. Then there are the dinosaurs. Arguably the ONLY reason one would ever need to visit one of these parks (like, who goes to a zoo to play in the arcade?), they are a fantastic addition to what is already a pretty reliable and time-tested formula. Where other games would have you building rollercoasters or zoning out residential areas, Jurassic World Evolution is all about breeding these prehistoric jaw-droppers and parading them out to the public to make your bank accounts explode. With all this in place, the game delivers on its promise of running your own park, despite the limitations it imposes on you.
Starting out, I want to praise the single best part of this game, which is undoubtedly the dinosaurs. They’re hands down one of the most lovingly recreated and accurate representations of these beasties that we’ve ever seen. Incorporating the most recent and relevant scientific information we have on prehistoric life with the distinct visual flair of the films, Jurassic World Evolution scores pretty high marks for its design structure alone. The way the Brachiosaurs or Ankylosaurs plod around, how the Giganotosaurus or Ceratosaurs lean forward into their runs, the twitchy bird-like movements of the Struthiomimus or Galimimus, and the show-stopping way the Tyrannosaurus Rex plants its feet and lets out a bellowing roar, it’s just all kinds of awesome. It’s quite enjoyable just to zoom in and watch them go about their day. The attention to detail is all the more incredible due to Universal granting the developers access to the actual film versions of the dinosaur models and even the audio assets to correctly nail that Jurassic feel we’ve been loving since we first entered the park in ’93.
“I’m gonna eat you, I’m bigger than you, I’m higher in the food chain! Get in mah belly!”
Okay, the park. Guess I have to talk about the business management part of this business management game at some point. If you think I’m stalling, you’re right. Jurassic World Evolution does everything regarding its source material so well, it’s somewhat disappointing that it doesn’t innovate in any significant way regarding everything else in the game. Newcomers to the game assume the role of operations director after the last one left or was eaten, or whatever, who knows. The goal is to establish profitable new parks on the islands of the Las Cinco Muertes Archipelago, colloquially referred to as The Five Deaths, a series of islands a little ways off from the larger main island of Isla Nublar, site of the first park.
Beginning on Isla Matenceros, players learn the core rules of construction, how to genetically engineer the dinosaurs and in the most basic ways, how to start making a profit. Progressing to Isla Muerta, weather effects are introduced, your dinosaur roster increases and your upgrades and improvement options expand. Isla Tacaño flips the model by challenging you to turn a financially bankrupt park profitable again while still progressing all your research. Isla Pena, the tiniest island, follows by cranking up the storms further and encourages you to focus on high-value attractions to make the most of your severely limited space. Then finally, you progress to Isla Sorna, the location of Site B from The Lost World, where you cap out your abilities and complete your dino roster. Employing everything you’ve practised on other islands, Isla Sorna is the most abundant building space you have in the archipelago. That is, aside from Isla Nublar, which in Jurassic World Evolution, exists as a sandbox with unlimited money separate from the career mode. Everything you unlock in the archipelago, you can play with on Isla Nublar, to construct your dream park and show old Hammond just how it’s done.
“Aaaaand ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your right, you’ll see the two escaped herbivores responsible for multiple deaths this afternoon. What a lovely day we’re having.”
Unfortunately, this is where my biggest issue with the game comes to light. I enjoy how the game progresses you through the various islands, but as each one is separate from each other, the continuity is both there and not there. Take this, for example. I was determined to get Isla Matanceros to five stars, just as a point of personal pride before I even considered moving onto the next island. After finally getting the place snazzy and scoring that delightful fifth star, I continued on to Isla Muerta. It was then I noticed the hundred-something million I had spent hours accumulating on Isla Matanceros was isolated to that island, and I was expected just to do everything all over again. Repetitiveness at its finest, it seems, but then my next issue completely breaks it all apart.
As I said above, Isla Tacaño is a financial disaster when you arrive, designed to push you right to the edge of bankruptcy, but you can completely nullify that by selling everything, building your research structures and hopping back to your prosperous islands to do all the expensive research. I pretty much set up a small pen of dinosaurs and operated a craptastic dinosaur amusement park barely better than a travelling puppet show until I slowly accumulated enough money to begin rebuilding. The broken nature of the game lets you share benefits, like research and unlocks, but not cash, yet its the cash that buys those things, so why not just share that too? Not to mention each island is frozen in time from the moment you leave it to whenever you decide to return, making this too easy to pull off. I would adore it if each of the islands were active at the same time, facilitating the need to optimise automation and delegation, ensuring that adequately focussed players end up flitting from one island to another, keeping everything up and running. Imagine a big storm on Isla Muerta hits while a bunch of Dilophosaurs break out of their paddock on Isla Pena, then the power goes out on Isla Sorna due to sabotage. It’d be frantic but damn, it’d be fun!
You’d think we’d have learned our lesson the first time, but nooooo…”
One of the things you probably noticed is that old Jeff Goldblum is back for this one, lending his ums and ahs and chaotic ramblings to the world. I was pleased with his performance, and it definitely adds an air of authenticity to everything. Alongside Jeff is Bryce Dallas-Howard and B. D. Wong, returning to their roles again as Claire and Dr Wu respectively. They all do an excellent job, with Dr Wu especially providing a particularly sinister counter to the irrepressible Dr Malcolm. As for the rest of the cast, they’re alright. Notably absent is Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, the role instead going to A. J. LoCascio, who you might remember from his spot-on Marty McFly in the Telltale Back To The Future game. Here, it’s not so spot-on, unfortunately, and it kinda breaks the immersion when you hear Owen pipe up after one of Malcolm’s rants. The other chaps form your core team of advisors and chime in with some often repetitive dialogue, commenting on things, offering new contracts and ways to improve your park.
On their contracts, though, it’s a mixed bag of weirdness. Usually one of the teams, namely Science, Entertainment and Security, will recommend a task that benefits their division, but oddly makes the other two displeased. I don’t understand this because the jobs are at times very focussed and seemingly would help everyone. Security guy asks me to incubate and release three new dinosaurs. Surely Entertainment would approve of that and Science has more subjects to study, right? Nope. Progress too far with one division over another and then the neglected division will straight up sabotage your park, opening gates, killing the power or any other act of downright stupidity. It’s annoying, and it distracts from the gameplay heavily. It’s like the developers tried to take the Dennis Nedry character, who single-handedly wrecked Jurassic Park in the first movie and spread him across the whole game. It’s unnecessary, and there were way better ways to have this kind of human-centric conflict interfere with the park.
“Keep your head up man. Yeah, it’s all about genetic military dinosaurs now, but we were the first on screen in ’93. They can’t ever take that from us.”
After all that, it’s not like the park needs any help royally screwing itself over for literally the most ridiculous of reasons. The dinosaurs are all amazing to play around with, but like the rest of the game, are extremely simplistic in their presence in the game. Stick one in a paddock and then look at its stat bars. Not enough forest, make some trees. Wants more social interactions, release other dinosaurs. When you get the numbers right, they’re all happy, and they even move in herds. They do move in herds. The only problem is those stats are so finicky, and almost everything unbalances them. If one of your dinosaurs kicks the bucket, the population of your paddock will usually start to freak out and attack the fences before you’re done incubating a replacement. My Indominus Rex once lost its mind because it stood under a tree too long, upsetting its desire for grassy fields. Seriously. Then they break out, people get eaten, guest satisfaction goes down (OH REALLY?), and you lose tonnes of money (presumably lawsuits and lost profit) until you sort it out. Even more perplexing, after all the running and the screaming, once the dinos are tranq’d and the walls are fixed, the guests actually come back, and it’s business as usual. Oh, it hurts my brain.
The chaos in this game is not a selling point, I think, no matter how much you have Ian Malcolm go on about it. While I could just continue ranting, how about I suggest some changes? Active islands is a must, for the above reasons. Adding air and water dinosaurs would be sweet. Expanding customisation options to buildings and such instead of just the dinosaurs would also be great, as well refining the placement systems. And then there are just the plain silly things, like rangers needing to enter paddocks to refill feeders. Ever heard of automation? There are carnivores out there, and you look mighty tasty. On top of that, give ranger and helicopter teams the same guns, so they can both do each other’s jobs. One is quicker than the other, for responding to guest hazards, but it makes no sense to restrict them. Guest death counts should be nearly catastrophic, with total park closure a result of dinosaur-related fatalities. In our current world, even one person dying would be worldwide news and a PR disaster, let alone the twenty-something that got eaten as a result of my I-Rex standing under a damn tree again. None of these are too out of this world to fix, and some patch updates or a customisation menu would do it all nicely. Being stuck in a box is precisely what Ian Malcolm warned Hammond about in the first movie, except us players will just break out and play something else.
Just as in the movies where Jurassic World succeeded where Jurassic Park failed, yet still succumbed to the same problems, Jurassic World Evolution outdoes its predecessors while still having a lot of the same core issues. The dinosaurs are glorious to look at and are worth the price alone, but in a game with so many other problems and odd decisions, it’s almost annoying to have to plod through it just to unlock the next creature. With a robust, fantastic set of source material to draw on and a legacy of some really outstanding business management games to refer back to, Frontier Developments could absolutely tweak things and make Jurassic World Evolution a game to entirely break the mould. Until that happens, though, we’re just gonna have to see how this one shapes up, because right now it feels like it needed just tiny bit more work on its DNA before it was brought to life. Fingers crossed this game eventually finds a way.