Dinosaurs are cool, it’s a fact. Maybe I’m biased because I was what you would call “a dinosaur kid”. Hours were spent looking at dinosaur picture books and playing with dinosaur toys. Then I got older and I was allowed to watch Jurassic Park. It blew my mind then and it still does! Do you know what else is cool? Zoos and theme parks! Jurassic Park was originally a book based on a combination of all three of these elements. This then spawned a franchise of five films, with a sixth on the way. A major plot point of the series is that it’s not easy to run a dinosaur zoo. It always results in people getting eaten by the attractions. Jurassic World Evolution gives you the chance to try and do a better job.
A Game 0.000025 Million Years in the Making
A dinosaur version of Zoo Tycoon was inevitable. There have been loads of Jurassic Park games since the first movie’s release in 1993. Overall they’ve had a mixed reception. They include weird premises like a platforming game where you jump around as a velociraptor and a Mortal Kombat-style fighting game.
Jurassic World Evolution is the second attempt at the park management genre. Operation Genesis was released in 2003 and I remember being very impressed by it. It had much better graphics than other zoo simulators at the time and was very popular with fans. There was a website dedicated to modding the game that was active until only shortly before Jurassic World Evolution was released in 2018.
Simulation games like this are mostly found on PC, but they are becoming more common on consoles. I was sceptical of using a PlayStation controller because these games can require you to navigate around quickly to manage lots of gameplay elements at once. This usually is easier with a mouse and keyboard. However, I was willing to make an exception for a Jurassic Park game, and I’m glad I did.
That is One Big Pile of Fun
I’ve found almost every task to be smooth and satisfying. It’s been enjoyable enough for me to spend hours painstakingly trying to construct a movie-accurate version of the park.
The key to this game being a success for me is the dinosaurs themselves. The animals are beautifully coloured and animated, with incredible detail in their skin patterns and subtle, realistic behaviour. There are multiple colour patterns available for each dinosaur. There are faithful recreations, as well as some more garish ones for variety.
Breakouts and Outbreaks
It’s fun just watching the dinos go about their business, however as park manager you are responsible for keeping them happy and healthy. Each species has requirements that need to be met including the amount of space, vegetation, water and number of other dinosaurs in their enclosure. If their happiness drops below a certain level they may try and break out, even the seemingly chilled ones like a brachiosaurus. It’s quite a sight watching one of these giants slamming her entire weight against a fence until it smashes, and then just wander around aimlessly, not knowing what to do as a free dino.
The dinosaurs can also contract diseases, ranging from common colds (as seen with the disgusting sneezing in the first film) to more serious conditions like rabies. When dealing with incidents in your park, there are a couple of approaches. You can send out ranger teams to deal with it, but you also have the option to try yourself in a helicopter or car. It adds a cool cinematic element. However, trying to drive a car close enough to a panicked dinosaur to vaccinate it with a dart gun in the middle of a jungle is tricky. However, you can give up any time and delegate to your computer-controlled staff.
The Meat And Bones
There is a story mode, which consists of missions that also serve as tutorials. Personally, I just wanted to get to the sandbox mode, where you get unlimited money to build a park however you want. However, you have to play through quite a few of the story missions to unlock it. Even then you don’t unlock every dinosaur species and buildable object until you complete specific objectives.
It’s a strange choice from the developers. Yes, you will probably get more out of the sandbox mode if you know how to play the game properly, however they should leave that up to the player. Let us mess up on our own, watching our guests get eaten while we struggle to work out how to fix the fence that a rogue T-Rex broke through. Then we can decide whether to come crawling back to the story mode for help.
I suppose it’s interesting to be given some goals to aim for when breeding your dinos. After a while, the missions feel like box-ticking exercises. Often the aim is to gain approval from different divisions of park staff (security, science or entertainment) by completing tasks they assign you. Examples include breeding a specific dinosaur species, increasing profits and even forcing dinosaurs to fight each other. I don’t think the manager of London Zoo would get away with that last one.
I've Got a Bone to Pick With You
Some missions involve tedious micro-management like setting the prices of Dino Slop (the real name of one of the drinks you can sell) or trying to find the space to squeeze in another hotel. That kind of stuff could be appealing if you were playing Pub Simulator or Hotel Tycoon. Not so much when there are dinosaurs to play with.
On the plus side, the story mode involves a fair amount of voice-over work from Jeff Goldblum, reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm from the movies, and he’s as entertaining as ever. He pops up here and there to convince the other, cheaper voice actors that building another dinosaur park in the same location as the previous one, a hurricane hotspot, may not be wise.
Life Finds a Way (to Make You Pay)
There is a good amount of content in the base game. There are 37 dinosaurs species, including all of the most recognisable ones from the movies. As expected in a modern game, there has been plenty of DLC made available. The DLC offers up to 20 other species and some new missions and features.
I know DLC is controversial, with game companies being accused of releasing unfinished games, then asking gamers to pay for the extra content when it’s finished. I agree somewhat with this, and will only buy DLC that I’m really keen on. Jurassic World Evolution fell into this category for me. When I bought the base game it was on sale, and I also stumbled upon regular discounts to the add-on packages, costing just a few pounds each time. In the end, I managed to get all of the DLC I wanted without spending more than the typical retail price of a new game.
My favourite DLC is the Return To Jurassic Park pack. Jurassic World Evolution even adds a hypothetical story scenario. All the chaos and death was of the first movie was just seen as a minor setback. So the main characters (Alan Grant, Ellie Satler and Ian Malcolm) are brought back in to consult to make sure that fewer people get eaten this time. Impressively they got Sam Neill and Laura Dern back to voice their characters in addition to Jeff Goldblum. It adds a couple of new species but also adds different colour schemes to the dinosaurs already in the game Probably not something that everybody will be willing to splash out on but essential to the biggest JP heads!
They Spared Some Expense
We’ve already addressed that this game isn’t perfect, and that’s coming from a very forgiving Jurassic Park superfan. I’m going to rattle through a few other gripes I have for some balance.
The Jurassic Park music is iconic, even by composer John Williams’ high standards. There are the main themes that everybody knows. There are also other music cues that add so much to the experience of the movies. But for some reason hardly any of it is featured in Jurassic World Evolution. The main theme greets you on the menu page. But most of the actual gameplay is fairly quiet, with occasional short and generic pieces of score.
Of course, the air is punctuated with the roars and cries of the dinosaurs. I found myself playing the movie soundtracks through my phone to get the atmosphere right. On a more positive note, one of my favourite details in the game is that the park ranger cars play tropical Latin music on the radio as you drive around, as a nod to the Costa Rican setting of the series.
Bad to the Bone
Playing Jurassic World Evolution with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard does cause some frustration with the finer details of park building. Typical zoo management gameplay like building pathways, fences and adjusting the terrain, can be fiddly. Arguably these are secondary features in a game about dinosaurs, however, many players will enjoy having an organised and neat looking park. When making little tweaks like flattening a path, I often ended up making it more hilly. Good workout for the tourists I guess.
There is less detail in some elements than you might expect from a simulation game released in 2018. Guests don’t have individual identities and appear to swan about aimlessly. Even Operation Genesis had different categories of guests, who would rate your park differently based on their preferences, so you had to manage accordingly.
If you zoom in on a guest entering a building in Jurassic World Evolution, you will see them just walk through solid doors like they’re trying to get to Platform 9 ¾. Also, they have a bad habit of running into the enclosures when dinosaurs break the fences. This never does your park rating any favours.
Room to Evolve
Overall, I really enjoyed Jurassic World Evolution. It’s a great Jurassic Park game and a pretty good management game. However, it left me wanting a bit more content and detail. If you are a fan of the films, I definitely recommend this game!
It just so happens that while I writing this review, a direct sequel was announced for 2021! It will be released on the current generation of consoles which implies better graphics and hopefully deeper gameplay. I’m keeping my claws crossed.