Jurassic World Evolution is the dream we’ve all had - running our Jurassic Park. Only we wouldn’t let a techy steal the embryos. We wouldn’t invite guests during a monstrous storm. And we wouldn’t be so daft as to genetically modify a hybrid dinosaur designed to be even more dangerous than the 10-ton, kitchen knife-toothed beasts already lumbering around the park. Only, in Jurassic World Evolution you’ll probably succumb to all of those things, if only to greedily watch the money roll in as you parade out another new breed of dinosaur.
It’s park management, in the vein of that rogues gallery of theme park games before it, only it’s a park that isn’t on the brink of spreadsheet chaos but rather guest eating disaster. Fences can break, storms can roll in, and dinosaurs can chomp on terrified guests and use their spines as tooth floss. It’s absolutely magnificent to behold, a living approximation of our Jurassic Park dreams. Players can even hop into the iconic jeeps and drive around their parks up close and personal. Operation Genesis fans’ eyes will literally melt into the back of their skull.
Things aren’t all rosy though. In terms of the management side of things, the Jurassic World license undoubtedly does more harm than good. This a massively stripped down affair for tycoon fans coming off Planet Coaster. It’s very easy to forget there are even guests in the park at all, and any statistics on earnings and pricing is tucked away in a manner that suggests that the money-making elements have been designed to be ignored. There are a token number of buildings geared towards guests, such as a clothes shop, a restaurant, and a hotel, but they have fixed designs and the economics behind their running is basically insignificant. Players don’t oversee employees, the guests don’t have opinions, and there’s no hugely noticeable effect to switching the clothes shop from selling hats to t-shirts, for example.
Instead, it’s all about the dinosaurs. The glorious, leathery-skinned dinosaurs. They absolutely carry this experience. Should you have little interest in dinosaurs, it’s difficult to envisage Jurassic World Evolution having any pull whatsoever. But for those, like yours truly, who worship at the altar of the terrible lizard, this is a fantastic tribute. The 40-odd dinosaurs all look magnificent. The Triceratops trundles slowly around, the Gallimimus run gracefully in flocks, and the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex has that ear-splitting roar and stronger jaw muscles than Dennis Nedry at KFC.
The major caveat to the dinosaurs is, for now at least, it’s land reptiles only. There are no flying or aquatic dinosaurs, meaning the very movie reboot this game is based on cannot be replicated. The nagging feeling at the back of my mind is that these dinosaurs are being stashed away for potential DLC expansions.
Dinosaurs are discovered by sending out expedition teams who bring back fossils from dig sites. Each fossil that’s unearthed for a species improves their genome and enhances the chance of a successful incubation. It can be a painstaking effort getting the species up to a nice reliable 70% genome, with each trip taking multiple minutes while the fossil examination takes longer still. Once the genome’s been cracked though, the dinosaurs can be incubated at a lofty cost. Again, there’s a lot of waiting, particularly for the more expensive dinosaurs. Read: meat eaters. Once that slog has been completed though, Jurassic World Evolution treats the player to a lovely little cinematic that shows the dinosaur emerging into the enclosure for the first time, typically joined by a roar.
If it wasn’t abundantly clear just yet, Jurassic World Evolution is a painstakingly slow game. Frontier seems intent on letting players know to take it easy, particularly when the park’s money is updated only once per minute. It’s park management at a crawl, and a lot of the time will be spent just driving or flying around in order to waste some time until the next research is complete or enough funds have been earned. It will not be to everyone’s tastes, the dinosaurs are tasked with entertaining not just the park guests but the players themselves.
At its core though, this makes Jurassic World Evolution an incredibly relaxing experience. Far more than any game about managing 90ft lizards has any right to be, but it’s so in tune with the license that it’s a joy just to sit and bathe in it. Occasionally it does get boring, and it’s a clear downfall, but before long the likes of Dr Ian Malcolm, Chris Pratt and B.D. Wong will be along with a new challenge. These seem to be a mix of pre-made and procedurally generated, tasking the player with hatching specific species, earning a set amount of money, unlocking upgrades or building specific structures such as hotels.
With time, the park rating goes up, and once it reaches a set number of stars the next island will unlock. Known as ‘The Five Deaths’, it features a few of the islands from the movies plus a couple of extras. Each island demands a specific strategy in order to succeed, such as one that’s besieged by storms and forcing tight security on the dino paddocks. There’s a pleasant clip to the unlocks and the islands can also be switched between at will. You could head to Isla Sorna, for example, and then head back to Isla Matanceros to equip the upgrades and new species you’ve since earned. It leads to a giant park split between five islands that each have distinct dinosaurs based on what you’ve unlocked up until that point. There’s plenty for players to get their teeth into as well, with the campaign comfortably stretching on for 25-30 hours.
The downside to the setup is the sandbox-style Isla Nublar is locked behind requirements. Once it is unlocked, Frontier restricts the island to only the buildings, dinosaurs and upgrades that have thus far been unlocked during the campaign. Sandbox mode is going to be a big draw for a lot of players, and having to put in dozens of hours of legwork isn’t going to sit well with some folks. With any luck, the PC community can do the business and mod a fix in.
In all, Jurassic World Evolution doesn’t offer a simulation quite deep enough to appeal to the more hardcore management fans. The depth and creativity on offer absolutely pales in comparison to Planet Coaster. But for those in love with the Jurassic Park franchise, it can be an incredible time. Jurassic World Evolution is incredible to look at, bizarrely relaxing, and a true homage to one of the cinematic greats. Despite this, it comes with a pang of disappointment. The management elements are too simplistic, certain dinosaurs are conspicuous by their absence, and sandbox mode is a time sink to unlock. It succeeds. Just. But after Planet Coaster we were hoping for a little more.