When I was a kid, I spent a lot of hours with a particular game on my PlayStation 2 – Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. It was a Jurassic Park simulator; you’d send research teams out to excavate fossils, extract their DNA, then incubate one of a variety of dinosaur species to release into enclosures for the amusement of guests. You could control the ranger vehicle or chopper to tranq, medicate or terminate dinosaurs. You had to be weary of storms and tornadoes that could hit your park, and throw things into chaos. There was even characters from the movies to help guide you!
Overall, it was a pretty fun game that really scratched my Park Sim itch.
And I mention all that because Jurassic World: Evolution is almost a remake of it, to the point it’s hard to believe it’s actually not made by the same developer. But no: This title was made by Frontier Developments, a current darling of the industry due to its well received Planet Coaster title. And instead of coming out circa 2003, Evolution released on June 12th of this year for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and my personal platform of choice, the PC.
I mean, you can certainly tell its not a 2003 game – The graphics are crisp, clean, and the menu options for them are plentiful as they should be.
The plot of the title is basic; you’re the new manager of Ingen’s Jurassic Park revival in the Las Cinco Muertes Archipelago (Apparently, the events of Jurassic World are yet to unfold), and your task is to create successful, thriving parks on each of the five islands.
And it doesn’t need to be any more than that – Infact, the game assumes you know how to go about achieving the main goal, too: it trusts you to make pens, fill them with different dinos, feeders, and build the appropriate management and guest facilities for the constant stream of visitors to wander between and spend their cash. There’s no real hand holding, and the little ‘tutorial’ there is is almost entirely relegated to images that pop up when you first try to do things. It’s refreshing to see a game have such faith in its player’s intelligence.
Speaking of intelligence, the Dino AI in the game is pretty awesome, too. After you research their DNA to a viable level, and artificially grow them in pens until they’re ready for release, dinosaurs will manage their own needs to the best of their abilities, and react appropriately to whatever situation they find themselves in. Little herbivores will run in terror from your ranger vehicle, whilst medium-sized carnivores will attempt to pursue and attack it (in vain; it doesn’t seem your vehicles can be damaged). Choppers tend to freak out everything but the biggest and baddest, and many dinosaurs seem curious about the viewing galleries overlooking them. Just pay attention to who you’re grouping with who, access to food and water, if there’s appropriate fencing, and you should have dinos that are happy and content for years to come.
Well, assuming you leave them as is, of course. This title places heavy emphasis on the genetic splicing factor; normal dinosaurs are good, but why settle for good when you can do better? Instead of mere frog DNA filling in those gaps, you can research and uncover a variety of things to shape your dinosaurs for different purposes. More aggressive carnivores can be more of a danger, but they can also put on a better show for your guests; pump them with the DNA of a shark, strengthen their bone density, and build entertaining, efficient killing machines (Which you can, coincidentally, also sell as a way to earn money on the side). Want to save costs by making small herbivores live longer and have better resistances, pump some bat into ’em, and why not genetically tailor their skin to something prettier to boot? The more you alter a base species’ DNA, the greater the possibilities, and the greater the risks: these are new waters after all, and sometimes things don’t go to plan. Sometimes these new designs are at risk of failing to create viable dinos. But there is an awful lot you can do to create a variety of different dinosaurs from the same base species.
And there’s loads of dinosaurs in general, really: thirty-seven different species (plus five more if you pre-ordered/buy the inevitable DLC). And unlike a stupid limitation in a particular PS2 game, you can actually have them all in your park at the same time, once you’ve unlocked the appropriate dig sites and analysed enough fossils to recreate their DNA.
Which would be great, if they could all feasably fit. One of the title’s few, but glaring issues, is the small map sizes; whilst maps do get larger and more geographically diverse as you progress and unlock new islands to work on (old islands continuing on in the background for you to resume at your leisure), you never get control of the whole island. You are told to build in select areas of it, with the rest being blocked off by artificial barriers. This can be even more frustrating when these no-build sections are inexplicably located inside your park – take the very first map, for example. There’s a small mountain on it that’s inside your build zone, but you’re not allowed to affect; you can’t build on its base, you can’t level it, you’re just told ‘no’. And considering the game has some amazing terrain sculpting tools, it’s hard to figure out why this is a situation at all.
The sandbox island, Isla Nublar, which you unlock after achieving a four-star park, also suffers these problems. Considering the island is supposed to be THE island, it’s a shame that sometimes things feel a bit cramped. Perhaps some diversification of buildings and plopable props could have helped alleviate this issue, too – all buildings of a particular type share the same model, and the only decor your can really add are trees. Even Genesis had benches and trashcans, and considering Frontier Development’s work on Planet Coaster, the absence is all the more baffling. As is the absence of a pause button – It’s never really needed, but it still feels kind of like an essential?
And whilst that Dino AI is on point, the staff might have needed a little fine tuning. You will be competing for the attention of three factions as you play – the Research, Entertainment, and Security Divisions – Which all have their own designs on what Jurassic Park should be. And placating their demands will reward you with money and unlockables. Which sounds good. But sometimes what they’re after makes little sense; entertainment wants fences improved, which annoys security for some reason; security wants herbivores researched, which annoys research for some reason. Why does it annoy those factions if it helps their own goals? It’s just as if, outside the five scripted special missions each division offers, every division blurs together.
Though that all being said, everyone’s voice acting is pretty good, even the bickering division heads. People talk to eachother, and you, with real emotion, and little side-plots develop in ways that feels natural. It certainly helps that some of the cast are reprising their characters for the game: Jeff Goldblum reprises Dr. Malcolm Reynolds, B.D. Wong comes back as Dr. Henry Wu, and Bryce Dallas Howard returns as Clair Dearing. Owen Grady’s there too, but it appears Chris Pratt was unable to return to voice him (Though the replacement is a very good stand-in).
And the Rangers are competent, too – Jeeps and helicopters will fly out to resolve situations as soon as you inform them. I suppose they don’t automatically respond incase you’re staging a dino rampage intentionally, though. That being said, if you do inform them and you want things resolved now, you can always control the Jeep or copter directly. You can tranq, medicate, and take photos of dinosaurs, as well as activate gates and restock feeders. Including a live bait one that uses goats, just like in that one scene from the first Jurassic Park film.
Indeed, this game is very much proud of it’s heritage – From little references to previous events and characters, to small bits of characterisation and even stupid skins to slap on your ranger Jeep (Why on earth would you EVER bring back the 1993 design and remind the people visiting your park of what happened back then), there’s a lot of stuff that makes this game feel Jurassic Park. Even the music has that gentle, inspirational tone the quieter parts of the movies had.
And honestly, letting open the enclosures and seeing your dinos rampage through hapless park visitors is just as enjoyable as I remember it was way back on Genesis, too.
Overall, Jurassic World: Evolution is a pretty neat game, marred by a few bad design decisions. Although not the deepest park simulator out there, building your own Jurassic Park is too good of a temptation to pass up, and as more content is added over time, the experience is likely to improve more and more. Certainly a fun way to waste a few hours here and there. I give this spiritual successor to an old favourite a 8/10.