If you asked pretty much anyone involved in gaming what the next Jurassic World game would be like, they probably wouldn’t have imagined what Frontier has come up with for Jurassic World Evolution. Quite why they wouldn’t have is a mystery, though. After all, building and managing the parks in which the franchise takes place is an obvious fit. Throw that on top of the fact that the last real attempt at this sort of thing – 2003’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis – still has fans creating mods for it to this day, and it’s a no-brainer.
Frontier has experience of this sort of game of course, with Zoo Tycoon and Planet Coaster being well-constructed and enjoyable affairs. As soon as you set foot on the first of Jurassic World Evolution’s five islands, that pedigree is clear to see. An easy-to-use interface provides quick access to most of the game’s features, allowing you to shape your park as you want it, take care of the dinosaurs, and build attractions for your guests to enjoy. You can even get up close with the exhibits, taking direct control of vehicles and making your way around the park, deploying medication for sick dinosaurs, refilling feeding stations, and taking on financially lucrative photography challenges.
Without dinosaurs though, nobody is going to visit. So, your task is to send expeditions out around the world to find fossils from which you can extract dinosaur DNA. Once you’ve extracted half of a specific type of dinosaur’s genome, you can have your team fire up the incubators and attempt to breed a living, breathing version. If you’ve extracted more than the minimum amount of DNA, you can even take part in a little genetic tweaking to make changes to your new attraction so that it has a different skin pattern, better immune system, or, erm, harder teeth. Modifications can make the breeding process more prone to failure, so you do need to be careful when you’re trying to create a black and white Struthiosaurus that can outrun a cheetah and masticate its way through to the core of the earth.
A full campaign runs through the entire game, with Jeff Goldblum’s beautifully sarcastic tones being applied liberally to the whole thing, alongside some other famous names. But not Chris Pratt, whose character is played by someone who apparently has never even seen an episode of Parks & Recreation. That aside, these voiceovers do add to what is a relatively repetitive campaign system. Three divisions of the company – Science, Entertainment, and Security – seem to be all in business for themselves and trying to usurp the other two. By completing simple contracts, you raise your profile with the relevant division. When they’re happy enough with you, they allow you to take on their main mission, with the goal being to complete all three missions on each island. The three divisions are constantly fighting and trying to sabotage each other, so you need to be on your toes.
They also don’t pay much attention to what’s going on at the park. On several occasions, you’ll be given contract challenges that you’ve already beaten. Being tasked with getting 700 visitors through in the park when you already have 845 of them roaming around is baffling. But hey, the rewards help to pay the bills. The game’s occasional inability to pay attention to what you’re doing is a bigger problem when you come to the main missions. On the second island for example, I had just quadruple-fenced an enclosure in which to keep the park’s newly hatched Velociraptor (named Derek, obviously.) Upon starting the next mission, the goals were to have a Velociraptor, Ankylosaurus, and Dilophosaurus all housed in the same enclosure. Only, poor Derek didn’t count. The only option was to wait forever and a day for the walking wallets (sorry, I mean “valued guests”) in the park to buy enough T-shirts so that I could fund the hatching of a new Velociraptor. Derek, unhappy with having to share a bathroom with the newly-born Duane T. Toothypegs III, went postal and ate his face. Poor Duane didn’t even have a chance to claim his coat-peg in the cloakroom, poor chap. Mission failed. This is relatively early stuff. As you can imagine, as you unlock the bigger and angrier dinosaurs, the potential problems get bigger.
A less-than-stellar tutorial means that the next step of that particular mission was no better. When a power station is damaged, you can’t command your rangers. So, when someone – I’m lookin’ at you, Science Division – sabotages the power right after you’ve got your three angry dinosaurs housed together, your only option is to jump in a ranger truck yourself and fix the power stations manually. No, I don’t know why you need electricity to walk up to a ranger and say, “Hey, Bob, you think you could maybe go fix that power station?” but there you go. Introducing this feature halfway through a pretty important mission that has likely cost you millions of dollars so far, is not ideal. Your electric fence is down, Derek is eating people left and right, and it just turns into a whole thing. Oh, and the mission is now failed because you had to keep all three dinosaurs in one enclosure, and Derek is just the freakin’ worst.
It’s these minor oversights – along with not featuring any Pterosaurs or prehistoric aquatic creatures – that keep Jurassic World Evolution from being a truly outstanding game. But, the fact that you’ll fail a mission like that and then carry on playing anyway suggests that they’re not enough to stop it from being a very good one. There’s more than enough going on here to keep you interested, and as with any of the best management titles, there are times when you’ll sit down for a quick hour of play in the evening and only stop when you see early morning’s light peeking through the trees outside your window. The contracts keep coming, and there’s always just one more thing that you could do to your park.
Doyouthinkhe…no. We’re not doing that.
The secret to the game’s success is that most of the included features have optional layers of depth. Not everything works perfectly, but after a few hours of play, nothing is outside your grasp, and you can delve into things as deeply as you’d like. If you want to build a monorail that runs all the way around the park and gives visitors an aerial view of every single inch of the grounds, it’ll boost your income and park rating. But if you don’t do it, it isn’t going to kill you. If you want to play around with modifying the genetics of the dinosaurs, you can do that, or you can just create the basic creatures without making any changes. You can create one enclosure solely for the spectacle of making dinosaurs fight each other or decide to keep your park happy and friendly. Altering staffing and pricing in the gift shop could increase your profits, but the baseline set up will still get a few bucks rolling in.
If you’re bored of managing things, you can jump in a ranger truck and see if you can get snap a photo of a Chungkingosaurus beating a group of T-Rexes at poker. Well, maybe not, but you might find a Corythosaurus hitting up the salad bar, or if you’ve failed to secure your fences correctly, a Spinosaurus cheating on his diet and grabbing a bit of human sushi.
Jurassic World Evolution is – in many ways – the game that you make it. Fans of the franchise will jump for joy as they stumble across the classic original movie skins for the ranger jeeps while Dr. Ian Malcolm explains his theory on the meaning of life in a voiceover. They’ll be so happy that a lot of the flaws can and will be overlooked by those people. For those who maybe only have a passing interest, there’s still a solid and overly addictive game to be found, but they’ll have to look past a fair few missed steps.
Jurassic World Evolution review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.03 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.