Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
As a young human being back in the 90’s Jurassic Park was a film I watched countless times. I can vividly recall countless scenes from it, like the ripples in the glass of water, the way the T-Rex was sniffing around the cars and the initial wonder of seeing dinosaurs. And like so many kids the film was responsible for making me love dinosaurs. So the idea of a game that lets me make my very own Jurassic Park has my undivided attention. Oh, it’s Jurassic World now? My Bad.
It seems Frontier love the dinosaurs just as much as me because whenever you release one into an enclosure you’re treated to a lovely low-down camera shot of the beast emerging into its new home. The attention to detail and animations are superb; the vicious Velociraptor charges out, ready to attack anything that moves; the plodding Diplodocus uses its long neck to peer out before stomping into the paddock; and the mighty T-Rex simply strides out, sniffs the air, roars and proceeds to be fucking awesome. Watching the dinosaurs meet and interact is fascinating stuff, and while there might not be enough varied behaviors to keep you watching them for more than a few minutes the child in me can’t help but delight in getting to see these ancient behemoths brought to life.
It’s just a shame that the rest of the game sometimes doesn’t feel like it has had the same attention paid to it. In truth, it could be because of the Jurassic World license that Frontier wanted to keep things relatively simple and devoid of the often insane amount of things to think about in this genre, but Jurassic World: Evolution is quite a shallow game at times. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to start at the beginning.
You get put in charge of a small island to start with, and over time you’ll progress across a chain of five islands, each offering different challenges. The second has severe storms that rile up the dinosaurs, a problem that can cause them to break out of their cages and go on a rampage, including eating your customers. Another island is small and narrow, forcing you to consider the layout more. The key is that the funds you’ve accrued always stay on the island, thus each time you move on you’re basically starting from scratch despite the millions in cash you’ve got sitting at you’re other parks. Don’t worry, though, you can hop between islands as you see fit, and thus go back and use new technology and dinosaurs to improve prior parks, too.
Getting these islands up and running is just a case of placing down various buildings. You’ll need some power, some pylons and some substations to deliver that power, and then from there you can move on to making your first enclosure which requires a special building designed to incubate dinosaurs. Around that you can stick down a gate for rangers to get access and some fencing, as well as some viewing areas and feeding stations. A bit of added water and trees and you’re ready to go!
Well, almost. You also need to get the dinosaurs, and that means building an Expedition Center from which you can dispatch dig teams to fossil sites. In a Fossil Center these preserved remains can then have the DNA removed from them in order to begin constructing the dinosaurs genome, although this can take a while and a lot of fossils. The better the genome the higher the chance you’ll be able to successfully incubate a dinosaur, and the higher the rating the animal will have as your guests value authenticity, which is a tad funny since this game goes for the traditional Jurassic Park look versus the fact that we now know dinosaurs like the Velociraptors were covered in feathers.
The point is building up a bank of dinosaurs genomes takes a bit of time, especially since new dig sites are only unlocked by building new Expedition Centers on each island. It’s a bit like playing Pokemon but with the immensely satisfying reward of getting to watch a beast that has been dead for millions of years step out into your custom enclosure.
Of course, in keeping with the new Jurassic World movies, you don’t just have to be content with creating the most authentic version of a Triceratops possible. Oh no, no, no, now you can genetically modify the beasts via pouring cash into research, letting you alter their skin patterns, spice in shark DNA and more, all in the name of making them looking better or making them tougher or just making them able to more effectively digest food. T-Rex? That’s so last decade, how about a T-Rex that’s even angrier and has tougher teeth!? Clearly us humans are not a species with good survival instincts.
You need to keep the dinosaurs happy by monitoring their comfort level, because if it dips below the threshold they’ll try to break out, and that usually spells disaster for your guests. I mean, funny disaster to watch, but a disaster nonetheless. Every dinosaur has a preferred amount of space, grassland, trees, water and population to keep an eye on. Herbivores, for the most part, like having company from their own species and also don’t mind sharing their space with other types of dinosaur, so you can easily fit a bunch of dinos in a single enclosure. The Ceratosaurus, though, prefers having just a single friend, doesn’t like anything else and will happily munch on the goats released from the live feeder. The point is, you’ve got to keep them happy and some are trickier than others. Velociraptors are probably the hardest since they like to be in large packs but also get pissed off very, very quickly. A single tropical storm and you have a bunch of them somehow busting through your newly researched steel fences and eating the guests, and then the guests – obviously not the dead ones – can even file a lawsuit against you.
You can combat this in a few ways. An ACU Center is capable of launching helicopters that will tranq escaped dinosaurs so that they can be safely transported back to their enclosure, but you can also construct special shelters that can be opened in an emergency so that your guests can hide from the incoming teeth. The downside to these shelters is that it displays the dumb crowd A.I. as they charge directly toward the giant T-Rex because the shelter is down the path. But then, at least you do get to watch a T-Rex eat a bunch of people which is just delightful.
So, the guests. You’ve got to keep the tiny squishy humans happy, too, since they are the ones buying the tickets fuelling your profit margins. Like the dinosaurs, there’s not much actual depth here, and indeed keeping the humans happy is actually easier in some ways. You can’t click on a group of people in order to bring up details about what they like or what they don’t like you can with the dinosaurs, instead you’ve just got a rather vague menu that’s hidden away which tells you whether folk want more shopping or more food and things like that. So that’s exactly what you do; clothes shops and fast food joints can be popped down, and you can unlock more a few more options through research or as rewards, and you have some light control in terms of how many people each place employs, what it sells and how much it sells those things for. You can also add a hotel, as well as a monorail system so that your customers can travel around faster.
And that’s really it. Considering Frontier launched Planet Coaster last year, a game that may have been light on content but heavy on creative freedom, there’s very little in terms of customization. There’s only a small selection of buildings to stick down, and both the people and the dinosaurs are astoundingly easy to keep happy. Provided you have a dinosaur and nothing else you’ll be making money, and it’s practically impossible to run a failure of a park. Even with a low star rating you’ll make money, which I suppose makes sense because I’d probably still go to a crappy park to see a dinosaur. I mean, it’s a dinosaur!
The point is if you were hoping for a deep management game AND a game about dinosaurs you’re only going to get the former. Too much time in Evolution is simply spent doing nothing, just waiting for the money to pour in so you can buy the next building or incubate the next awesome dinosaur that will in turn increase profits so that you can do it again.
So the game tries to artificially introduce busywork, firstly in some small ways. Why can’t you check how food is left in a feeder by hovering over it? No idea. And why do you have to stop whatever you’re doing so that you can select the ranger station and then click “add task” and then click on each feeder so that the Rangers will restock them? You can’t even assign more than a few tasks by default to each ranger jeep without upgrades. Having to remember to top up the feeders adds nothing to the game and should have been something you can automate, but Evolution has no such options. There are loads of little quality of life problems that can irritate you.
But it’s the contract system that really hurts the game. The concept is sound enough; you have the science, entertainment and security divisions, all of whom have their own priorities and ideas and who will offer you jobs. The happier a division in the more rewards you can unlock, but the trick is that for every job you do for one your reputation with the others will fall. See, isn’t that a decent idea? The problem is the entire system makes almost no thematic sense and trips over itself. Why does the security division want me to make more dangerous dinosaurs? Surely the entertainment division should want that while security would be happy with small, completely safe herbivores? Why does getting fossils for the science division make everyone else unhappy? Why am I being asked to go ten minutes without anyone getting eaten when I don’t even have a carnivore in the entire park? And why does that even matter to the science division anyway? Why does entertainment asking me to genetically modify a dinosaur annoy the science folk, when said science folk literally ask me to do the same thing just a minute later? And why in the blue Hell does one of the main missions involve security asking me to deliberately open the gate to the enclosure so a dinosaur can attack the crowds so they can test their safety measures? The contract system makes absolutely no thematic sense, a problem that the game has across the board already in terms of how money doesn’t transfer from island to island or how many of the main missions are a bit stupid.
The sandbox mode is a bit of an issue, too. By going through the regular islands you can unlock the final zone – which, in a nice touch, is actually the same island as the original Jurassic Park takes place on – where you can play with an unlimited budget. However, you can’t turn the unlimited cash off, so that’s a real shame. An update could easily fix this, though.
But while I do clearly have some issues with Jurassic Park: Evolution as a whole that didn’t stop me from becoming absorbed for hours on end, grinning when I released new dinosaurs into my park and enjoying the act of building my own little fantasy version of the movie I grew up watching, even if it doesn’t have the depth to keep you coming back again and again like other games in the genre do. Frontier’s last game, Planet Coaster, took a while to grow and really fulfill its own potential after release, and I’m hoping the same thing will happen here and that it doesn’t just get abandoned due to it being a licensed title.
Right, now it’s time to make a park full of killer dinosaurs and then let them run riot among the guests. Hehehehehehehehehehehehe.