Jurassic Park remains one of my favorite movies and books of all time. My dad gave me his copy of the Michael Crichton novel at the tender age of nine, thus beginning a trend where I re-read this genetic thriller once every two years right up until… you know, I’m actually due to read it again this year.
Of course the film was a landmark event with audiences and critics alike showering it in praise for its special effects, story, and studly Jeff Goldblum appearance.
It would take exactly no time for the video game industry to get in on the dino-wrangling fun too, with dozens of Jurassic Park video games being released for everything from the original Nintendo to the PC to the 3DO. You guys remember the 3DO?
Anyway, there have been a ton of Jurassic Park games, and almost none of them gave me exactly what I’ve been looking for when it comes to the franchise for years: the opportunity to pull a John Hammond, spare no expense, and play god with my own park full of murder reptiles.
Jurassic World: Evolution sought to change all of that.
Developed and published by Frontier Development in June of 2018, I had incredibly high hopes for Evolution. Frontier is the developer who brought us Planet Coaster, that picked up the amusement park sim ball right where Roller Coaster Tycoon dropped it. If anyone could properly translate the fun and danger of owning your own Jurassic Park, it would probably be these guys.
Sadly, while Jurassic World: Evolution has some fun ideas and gameplay to offer, a lot of missed opportunities, shallow design choices, and day one DLC that nobody needs keeps this from being as great as it could have been.
Okay, first things first: the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Evolution are just so freaking cool. Whether you’re filling your pen with swarms of tiny Gallimimus or pairs of lumbering longnecks, seeing them go about their day and feed and occasionally (ahem) kill people is just too amazing. The first time I had enough DNA to create a Tyrannosaurus, I was a little kid all over again. If this is what you’re here for, then you’re in luck. Evolution has a nice variety of dinosaurs to unlock and develop, and choosing who goes where adds a great sense of aesthetic for any prospective park owners out there. What I’m really hoping for is an expansion that adds aquatic dinosaurs to the park: I need a Plesiosaur in my life.
The entire process of opening your own park is an exciting one, and Frontier did a great job of including more than a few bells and whistles. The genetics portion of the game comes to mind immediately here. As I said, there are countless dinosaurs for you to discover and unlock, and even more different ways to genetically modify them, whether its cosmetically or to increase their statistics. You send out expedition teams all over the globe to uncover fossils and dino-DNA, and slowly fill your park with the most authentic dinosaurs that you can.
Of course, you’ve got to make your guests happy in the usual way: restaurants, gift shops, and hotels are all available: not to mention the more practical needs like emergency shelters to protect people from tropical storms or the odd velociraptor escape. The customer amenities are pretty basic: there isn’t much upkeep you have to worry about with them. You can’t upgrade a fast food spot into something bigger or fancier as more guests start coming in, you just need to build another one.
And you’ve got to keep your dinosaurs happy too. This was a frustrating but also fun aspect of Evolution. Beyond whether they’re meat eaters or veggiesaurs, you have to know just what sort of an enclosure you’re going to keep them in. Brachiosaurs require huge tracts of land with lots of forest to keep them happy, while some dinosaurs will only be happy they’re around others that they can socialize with. An unhappy dinosaur will lead to broken fences and dead customers. And it’s hard to convince people to visit your park when you’ve made it clear that you don’t care if they end up a vague smudge outside of the T-Rex pen.
Actually, I take that back. While your overall guest satisfaction numbers might suffer from the odd moment of being chomped on, it’s actually kind of hilarious how quickly the guests get over it. Hell, there was a moment in game when I realized I had missed a tiny piece of an enclosure, and suddenly guests were just flooding into the Ceratosaurus pen like they were offering themselves up as a sacrifice. Those folks got eaten by the handful, and then I had to pay money on lawsuits from their families, and that’s stupid. Those people clearly wanted to die in a creative way and my park provided it! I ought to add a euthanasia wing next to the raptor pen for people who want to die like Muldoon.
While you’re keeping your guests and dinosaurs happy, you’re also fulfilling missions for three different wings of your park: Science, Amusement, and Security. Taking care of these side quests will net you some money, and eventually lead to larger quests that will unlock research and dinosaur upgrades. Oddly, finishing a mission for one of the three branches tends to decrease your standing in the eyes of the other two, which doesn’t always make a lot of sense, considering that many of these quests are identical to each other: it just depends on who’s making the request.
The storyline such as it is involves you attempting to recreate the Jurassic Park experience on the forebodingly named Islands of Death, which… Come on guys, there had to be a place with a better name. Was the Island of OhMyGodI’mBeingEatenByAFreakingDinosaur taken? I’m not a superstitious guy, but come on.
Each one of the islands has their own challenges and issues to begin with, and that could be interesting. But what I really wanted was a sandbox mode. It’s there, but sadly you have to unlock it by getting a four star rating on one of the islands. And that’s not too much of a pain, but it just feels like that ought to be an option straight out of the gate. I don’t give a shit about trying to fix all these crappy islands: I wanna make my own park right the hell now! My main complaint about the Islands of Death is that they’re surprisingly small. I know the idea is to the make the most out of the space you have, but there’s very little opportunity for really stretching your legs and creating something epic that will just grow and grow and grow as you go on.
I played more than my fair share of Jurassic World: Evolution, and if I’m being honest, I really did have a lot of fun with it. I’m going to finish this up and go play some more of it. It’s a great park sim, and when it comes to what I’ve wanted in a Jurassic Park franchise game, it comes damn close to nailing it. There are just a handful of problems scattered throughout, though, that bog it all down. A lack of interesting contracts coupled with just how repetitive they are gets old really fast. The actual park building interface takes some getting used to, and there were plenty of moments that I couldn’t build the way I wanted to, and also couldn’t figure out why. Also, Frontier released alongside Jurassic World: Evolution a day one DLC for 11 dollars. It has five new dinosaurs to unlock and that is all and it is a complete waste of your money, unless you’ve got a serious personal hardon for the… Archaeornithomimus over here.
Jurassic World: Evolution is far from perfect. Your average gamer who’s looking for the thrill and excitement of being hunted by raptors or chased by a T-Rex might not need it in their collection. But for all its flaws, management sim fanatics who also have a soft spot in their hearts for dinosaurs might just see this as a must own. And after dozens of hours playing it myself, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with that.