Dinosaurs are bloody awesome and if anybody tries to tell you otherwise, they’re wrong. So when it was announced that Frontier (the developers of the awesome theme park builder Planet Coaster) were working on a park sim based on the Jurassic World franchise I was 100% on board. Jurassic World Evolution is based on the new films with which it shares its namesake and tasks players with building a series of new parks on a set of islands on the Las Cinco Muertes archipelago. As the game opens on a version of the seminal Jurassic Park theme and Jeff-bloody-Goldblum himself narrates an introduction as Dr Ian Malcolm, things look positive. In fact, if nothing else, this game really nails the grandiose nature and atmosphere of the films throughout.
I’ve dabbled in the ‘economic sim’ genre in the past, particularly in the more light-hearted theme park style franchises like Zoo Tycoon and the aforementioned Planet Coaster, so I immediately felt comfortable jumping into Jurassic World Evolution. On beginning, the game goes straight into playing the first of five islands in the campaign and slowly introduces its core mechanics. If you’ve played one of these games you’ll know what to expect: build a park full of attractions to bring in visitors, keep them happy with appropriate facilities and look after your infrastructure and finances to keep things running smoothly. Of course the key difference here is that those attractions are muthaflippin’ dinosaurs, and a lot of them. Evolution’s catalogue of dinos is comprehensive and impressively realised. Each creature is beautifully rendered and, as becomes evident as the game goes on, imbued with convincing personality traits that make them really come alive.
Oh man, this is good grass, man
So how to get these dinosaurs into your parks? By cloning them, of course! First you’ll send expedition teams (after you’ve built the appropriate facilities) out to recover fossils. Each fossil contains DNA information that contributes to your ability to clone a particular species, which you’ll extract to gradually build a genetic profile of the species. The more DNA you have, the more viable that species is and the better chance you’ll have of success during the incubation period. Each step in this process requires a certain amount of waiting, usually not for more than a minute or two, but swapping between the different facilities and interfaces to get to each step can quickly become tedious. The same goes for accepting contracts, which are the primary means of building reputation between the three different departments — science, entertainment and security — which in turn opens access to the three primary missions on each island. Contracts usually need to be requested from a menu, with a maximum of three active at a time, but also require a one or two minute wait between requests for seemingly no reason, meaning lots of jumping in and out of the menu screen to stock up on contracts. Again, the wait times aren’t overly egregious but their implementation contributes to an overall sense of repetition and tedium, especially when they’re tied to the only means of pushing the game forward (plus there’s no function to speed up time like in similar games).
Running things in Jurassic World Evolution is pretty straightforward. Although there are a number of things to be mindful of when trying to build and maintain a successful park: running your science centres, keeping things (safely) powered, accommodating guests, caring for dinos and generally keeping profits high, the game tends to push players in the right direction with its contract and mission goals. Most tasks given by the various park divisions are things that are ultimately conducive to success, which is great for newcomers to the genre but potentially stifling for those that just want to get their hands dirty and build the Jurassic Park of their dreams. In fact, it’s pretty hard to do badly at all. There’s nothing wrong with offering a more gentle sim experience but between the mission structure and the limited visual variety in environments and buildings, there’s very little sense of player agency in Evolution — a big no-no for this type of game.
Not a particularly insightful screenshot, just wanted to share my amazing clothing store pun
The only real challenge and slightly unpredictable element in are the dinosaurs themselves, which have big personalities that often clash with each other or the surprisingly weak walls of their enclosures, resulting in plenty of fights, disease and breakouts. Learning about each species’ needs and habits is actually pretty interesting, despite a lack of clear information making it a mostly trial-and-error affair. It’s even possible to splice dino DNA with other genetic code to fill gaps in their composition or enhance their traits, which is about the deepest mechanic in the game, even if it’s not particularly necessary. What’s not fun is the constant upkeep required when things do go wrong, tediously issuing orders to different departments who very slowly do their jobs while your dinosaurs tear each other apart and terrorise your guests. You can jump into a ranger car yourself and carry out recovery tasks in real time (or just hoon around the park in a jeep while waiting for things to happen) but often so many things go wrong at once that it’s best to just give orders. Thankfully, when you unlock and upgrade facilities on one island it carries over to the others, so your ability to deal with issues gets better over time, but a more streamlined or autonomous method of handling emergencies would have made for a more enjoyable experience.
Hurry guys, the queue for the dinosaur feeding is building up!
Once any of the parks has been built up to a good enough star rating, a freeplay island is opened up that allows casual, unadulterated building and management without goals or obstacles. This mode is the best way to set about building a real dream park, but it’s frustratingly limited only to what’s already been unlocked in the main game, meaning the only way to get the full freeplay experience is to finish and unlock everything in the campaign. By the time I’d done this I found I had pretty much had my fill of Jurassic World Evolution, so I didn’t bother in the end. While I understand the desire to lock things away until players had dealt with them in the main mode, there will absolutely be those who just want to make cool parks and look at dinosaurs and aren’t interested in story or challenge. Neutering the campaign’s freedom and challenge in the name of accessibility while still forcing everyone through it is a frustrating design choice that is indicative of the game as a whole. On a more positive note, I expected to struggle at first with the controls on the Xbox One X (always the bane of a good RTS-style game on console) but instead found them to be pleasantly simple and intuitive. So there’s that.
Jurassic World Evolution gets as much right as it does wrong. Wonderfully realised dinosaurs and a gentle learning curve aren’t enough to offset an inevitable sense of repetition and some annoying mechanics. There just ultimately isn’t enough here to please either hardcore sim fans or casual dinosaur enthusiasts and so it’s hard to recommend to either. That said if the source material appeals to you and you don’t mind a more guided experience, you could do worse.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher