Life finds a way!
For as game-ready a concept as Jurassic Park would seem to be, the history of games actually based on Michael Crichton‘s definitive work is mostly disappointing. For every modestly enjoyable release (Operation Genesis) there were at least two or three that felt like lazy cash-ins. The latest developer to try its hand at fashioning something enjoyable from the IP is Frontier Developments with Jurassic World Evolution, a business sim all about running your own park.
Assigning real-time strategy controls to console controllers has long been a dicey endeavour, but Evolution handles it deftly. Things are smartly mapped, and it’s relatively painless to cycle through the game’s various reports and tasks. We had some issues here and there with getting the exact viewpoint for laying down straight roads and rotating structures the way we wanted, but it’s all relatively minor.
Beyond the macro elements of overseeing the park, you can also take direct control of jeeps to drive around or helicopters to hunt down escaped dinosaurs and tranquilize them back into a docile state. While it’s fine as an occasional distraction, targeting the faster dinos is dicey at best, and as soon as you can assign the A.I. enough tasks you’re apt to just let them handle it.
Without question, the most endearing aspect of Evolution is its dinosaurs. They’re nicely detailed, move well and are enjoyable to watch interact with the world you create around them. Buildings and other design aspects look good, too. The islands themselves are a little disappointing, however, as despite being lush and green, the lack of environmental variety makes everything start to feel the same regardless of which island you’re on.
There’s a modest amount of voice work here, including Ian Malcolm (actually performed by Jeff Goldblum) and other movie characters such as Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), and it’s a mostly solid offering — although where did they find the guy to read the Chris Pratt lines? Yikes. Sound effects are good, particularly the dinos, and the music is unobtrusive.
You’ve been hired to oversee the construction of a new Jurassic Park, starting on a single island and eventually expanding to four additional ones (along with a final sandbox island). Along the way you’ll build new enclosures and structures, research and create new types of dinosaurs, fulfill contracts for various departments and oversee the day-to-day operations with the goal of making money and keeping customers happy.
Although that sounds like a Herculean task, Evolution is surprisingly threadbare when it comes to content. All five islands look about the same, and the area you have to work with often feels constrained. There’s at least a decent amount of building variety, but the problem is it doesn’t feel like it matters very much outside of straightforward ways (e.g., more hotels equals more guests).
Minus the need to really micromanage guest experience there are big swaths of time that feel nearly empty as you wait for money to accrue — in a significant misstep there’s no option to advance time. With power as the only resource you really need to manage and an overall star rating as the lone meaningful metric for park success the business sim side’s offerings are quite shallow.
Thankfully, this game includes dinosaurs, more than 40 of them, and they’re the best part of Evolution, even if unlocking them can be painfully slow at times. You dispatch teams to dig up fossils, sort through them to separate viable samples to research and increase each dino’s genome structure. Once it gets high enough you can try to create a dinosaur, but again, you can’t speed things up, and there’s a chance you’ll fail. Ugh.
Once you have a thriving park full of dinosaurs, you can look forward to all manner of disasters leading to creatures on the loose happily devouring guests. Those moments are the most enjoyable moments of Jurassic World Evolution as you try to corral the rampaging dinos before they eat too many paying customers. Again, though, your guests are extremely forgiving, and they’ll soon shrug off dozens of dino-related deaths.
There’s also a guided element in which three departments (science, security and entertainment) will vie for your cooperation, offering rewards for completing various goals. Following one group’s wishes will anger the others, leading to rudimentary acts of sabotage that are usually easily corrected. It isn’t great, and the goals are often things you’re doing anyway, but it’s still nice to have some direction.
Caring for your dinosaurs is a mixed bag. It’s undeniably cool when they come roaring into existence, and they can be interesting to watch as you try to maximize their habitat. You can also set up the kind of dino battles you dreamed of as a kid.
Unfortunately, the fun is undercut by two factors: (a) the outcomes are governed by a random element that allows weaker critters to defeat stronger ones; and (b) you’re paying to grow all of them, so you lose time and money no matter what. Plus, regardless of how much you obsess over ratings and invest in their care, the dinosaurs age and die off quicker than you’d expect.
There’s a good bit of fun to be had in Jurassic World Evolution, even though it’s dogged by issues like excessive down time and a feeling that some of your decisions don’t carry much weight — areas in which a few savvy post-launch patches could go a long way.