Jurassic Park has had mixed success when it comes to videogame spin-offs. The franchise had a run of action adventure tie-ins in the 1990’s, Telltale weaved their point-and-click magic in 2011, and more recently LEGO Jurassic World hit consoles and PC in 2015. One particular fan favourite always stood out, however, which was 2003’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. That game let you build your very own version of the titular theme park, complete with dinosaur battles and escapees. Jurassic World Evolution takes a similar approach, and being developed by theme park simulation legend Frontier Developments there has understandably been a lot of hype surrounding this release. While the game is fun and will appeal to dinosaur buffs, there’s a lack of greater refinement which may leave park simulation fans a little disappointed.
Jurassic World Evolution features a campaign where players must build and maintain parks on five fictional islands collectively known as the Las Cinco Muertes Archipelago. The islands are owned and operated by Ingen, and you are not only tasked with managing the parks but also completing side quests to boost the Security, Entertainment and Science divisions of the company. Your ultimate goal is to increase the star rating of each park to five. Each island has various challenges to overcome, including stormy weather which damages property and inflated operational costs which you need to turn around for profit. So, there’s varied scenarios here to maintain your interest and slowly introduce you to the in-game mechanics. Characters from the films also appear to guide you and provide commentary; with Jeff Goldblum, Bryce Dallas Howard and B. D. Wong in particular reprising their roles. You will eventually unlock a sandbox mode set on Isla Nublar (where the original Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films are set), letting you create your own theme park without having to worry about finances and where you can freely set the weather and day/night cycles. Disappointingly most content has to be unlocked via the campaign, so it’s going to be dozens of hours before you can build your dream version of Jurassic Park.
For those familiar with more recent theme park and city management simulators, such as Planet Coaster, Zoo Tycoon, Tropico 5 and City Skylines, you should feel right at home here with the general gameplay and UI. On the Xbox One version which this review is based on, menus are navigated by pressing the D-pad and shoulder buttons, and placing objects is handled with the control stick and face buttons. While certainly not intuitive as a keyboard and mouse combo, it’s still easy to grasp and works well on consoles.
In Jurassic World Evolution, you have complete control over setting the footpath and locations of buildings throughout the park, and even more options when creating dinosaur enclosures. You can choose different fencing options for the enclosure including the size of the paddock and layout of the fence, if it is an electrical or heavy steel boundary and the locations of gate entries. All enclosures require a few elements to keep the dinosaurs comfortable, including a water source, forest area, grassland and a food source. Some dinosaurs will also require social interactions with their own species, and in the case of carnivores they will not get along with species other than their own and will attack and kill rivals. In situations where a dinosaur’s comfort tolerance has not been met, they will actively try to break out of their enclosure and run amok throughout the park. Dinosaurs are also prone to illness and will eventually die of old age. It’s very appealing at times just to focus on building the perfect enclosure; playing around with the designs, making sure all the dinosaurs are happy and even placing viewing platforms for guests to enjoy.
Of particular note is the amount of effort put into the aesthetics of the dinosaurs. Their detailed scales and colour tones occasionally make them look more realistic than some of the digital work in the films! Your ears are in for a treat as well thanks to a wide range of iconic roars, grunts, and even thunderous stomps and vibrations from the heavier beasts walking around. Playing on Xbox One X and a 4K TV will give you enhanced lighting effects, which I have to admit had me in awe a few times particularly when my first dinosaurs appeared on screen. Sadly, animations are reused between similar dinosaur species and there is a lack of greater dinosaur behaviour. You are treated to a few cool moments such as the raptors gathering together and communicating with each other, but usually dinosaurs just aimlessly walk around their enclosures and stop only for water and food.
To look after the dinosaurs you need to build a Ranger Station. This lets you call in rangers to refill food sources in enclosures, administer medicine for sick dinosaurs and carry out repairs to other buildings throughout the park. There’s also the ACU facility which lets you tranquilize escapees from the air, as well as transport dinosaurs to new enclosures and remove dead bodies. You can take control of the jeeps and helicopters these facilities utilise, and there’s even a photo mode that can only be accessed while manually driving the jeep. The controls for each vehicle get the job done – it isn’t as tight as a proper flight simulator or a racing game, but it’s there and it offers some extra insight into how the crews operate. Even the dinosaurs themselves will react to the presence of crew members, either running away or actively ramming into the vehicles. Ultimately however, these are repetitive tasks which grow tiresome and you’ll happily order the capable AI to handle the situation.
Other notable buildings within Jurassic World Evolution include Power Stations which power the park and must be connected to all buildings via substations. Research Centres let you develop new tech and buildings, vaccines and genes for the dinosaurs, as well as upgrades such as increased output for Power Stations. Expedition Centres and Fossil Centres are particularly important as they unlock all of the 48 currently available dinosaurs (including paid/special edition DLC). The way the latter two buildings work is you send an expedition crew to a dig site and they will come back with fossils of dinosaurs and other minerals that you can sell. The fossils need to be analysed at the Fossil Centre, which decodes the dinosaur’s genome. Only once the genome is 50% complete or greater can you actually clone the dinosaur for your park, with a higher percentage giving the clone a greater chance of surviving its egg incubation. Herein lies a significant issue – each fossil will only unlock a small portion of the genome, so several repeat trips will be required to gain access to the desired dinosaur. As most dig sites contain more than one dinosaur fossil however, it feels like a lucky dip if you’re after a specific specimen. It gets frustrating and hurts the overall pace of the game, locking content behind what is essentially a massive grind. Also there’s too much backwards and forwards between the two facilities – surely it would make sense to harbour it all under the one roof?
As briefly mentioned, there are side quests which help boost the Security, Entertainment and Science divisions of the park. These range from taking a photo of a dinosaur, incubating and releasing a certain species, completing a genome sequence to a certain percentage or obtaining a certain amount of income per minute. Completing quests will unlock new upgrades and buildings to research, as well as reward you with in-game monetary incentives. You do have to focus on balancing requests between the three factions however, as if their rating is too low they will sabotage the park’s power grids which will then have to be repaired. The missions tend to get repetitive, and are often recycled between the three factions. During the early game stages though you are almost completely reliable on these missions as a source of income.
A large part of Jurassic World Evolution is also maintaining guest happiness (and by doing so, gaining profits), and yet this feels disconnected. You can build and set prices for restaurants, arcades and gift shops to appeal to the needs of guests, as well as build hotels to avoid overcrowding and increase park attendance. Yet apart from a vague stats screen tucked away in the menus highlighting what the park needs, there’s no actual interaction with guests. Other theme park sims let you select individuals so that they tell you what they would like to see, or better yet overhear the crowds mention “I’m really thirsty” or “this place is really expensive” as your cursor hovers overhead. It would make a big difference in bringing the park alive and fully immersing the player within the experience.
There are plenty of customisation options in Jurassic World Evolution. Depending on the percentage of genome you have decoded, you can customise the genes of a dinosaur to make it a different colour, make it less vulnerable to diseases and increase its lifespan. There are also different footpath options, the ability to create lakes and forests and change the shape of the landscape. However, there is also a lack of greater customisation options – you cannot change the colour of buildings, create custom signs or change the lighting in the park. It prevents the game from giving players that personal touch and reflecting their imagination and personality.
For theme park simulation fans in particular, you may be disappointed that this game is targeted towards a more casual audience. You won’t have options of hiring staff to fully automate jobs. There aren’t as many building options that are present in games such as Planet Coaster. You won’t be able to apply for a loan to give you a quick finance boost. And weirdly, Jurassic World Evolution lacks overall challenge and doesn’t punish the player enough when things go wrong. For example, when when there was a dinosaur escape in my park and a couple of people were killed, apart from a momentary reduction in income flow there were little to no other consequences. Also, the maps are considerably small compared to other simulation games, forcing you to compact park designs and limit the amount of attractions you have. It’s a shame as you can actually fly the helicopter outside of some the build areas, so the 3D space is there but presumably due to system resources the developers had had to shrink the available area.
Jurassic World Evolution is a fun experience that is let down by a lack of greater depth. It’s genuinely fun to create your own enclosures and bring dinosaurs to life which will definitely appeal to Jurassic Park fans. However, there are repetitive missions and grinding involved to unlock all of Jurassic World Evolution‘s content which hurts the flow of the game. Also, the lack of greater customisation options prevent you from giving your park that personal touch.
- Fun building enclosures and looking after dinosaurs - Visuals look amazing - UI and controls works well for consoles
- Fossil collecting and analyzing is a grind - Repetitive missions - Lack of greater customisation options