Title: Jurassic World Evolution
Available On: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Genre: Simulation, Management
Official Site: https://www.jurassicworldevolution.com/en-GB
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Where To Buy It: Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Steam
When I was a wee lad, I had a little DOS game called DinoPark Tycoon. I would play it for hours: hatching new creatures, building stronger enclosures for them, watching my hard earned cash disappear when the Tyrannosaurus Rex escaped… It’s one of those nostalgic computer games that probably is nowhere near as good as I fondly remember. Jurassic World Evolution is that game’s fancy new revival. When everything clicks in it, it hits those lovely “where did the time go?” areas that all the best simulation games manage. Just like the real parks of the Jurassic series, however, not everything runs smoothly all the time.
Jurassic World Evolution is a business management simulation at its core, and you can lose a lot of time constructing your ideal dinosaur park and getting lost admiring it. All the dinosaurs look and sound great, and it is practically impossible to hide your smile when the familiar Jurassic Park theme slowly builds in the background while you are building. I found myself damning the mission goals at points to see what would happen if I released an ankylosaurus into the raptor pen. It plays on those childhood memories, both of the earlier films and of our imaginations, and our fascination with creatures that are no longer of this world. If you get bored of building, you always have the option to hop in an ATV and take photos of your park or fly around in a helicopter to explore the island.
It also does a great job of integrating a tutorial into the game. Each of the game’s islands presents a different “scenario” challenge to you. You start on a basic, small island to learn the ropes. The next island teaches you about inclement weather. The next about recovering from lack of resources. To truly succeed and build the dinosaur park of your dreams, each of these different islands needs to be built up so you can research more technology, collect more fossils, and unlock the DNA of every dinosaur the game has available. At times, it can be a little frustrating that the sandbox mode only has things you’ve unlocked in the main game, but a steady stream of tech and dinosaur unlocks never leaves you waiting.
Whether intentional or not, Jurassic World Evolution leans into some of the silliness of the most recent films. For example, there are three different branches to complete missions for in order to earn extra money and unlocks: science, entertainment, and security. Completing missions for one will boost your relationship with them, but strain it with the other two. I understand the idea of rival ideologies competing for the boss’s attention, but the idea that the entertainment group would destroy the power supply to the T-Rex pen because I hadn’t been paying enough attention to them seems a little absurd. “You didn’t build enough fast food restaurants, so now some of the park guests are going to be eaten by alpha predators.”
If you are into business simulation or construction games, you’re going to enjoy this one. It checks all the boxes that you want it to check, and it fills a niche that isn’t done very well in a big budget game like this. If you get it, you’re going to like it.
Jurassic World Evolution could have been so much better, and my biggest problem with it is that it sells for a full, AAA price ($55!), but it feels… cheap. Some examples:
- Everyone loves Jeff Goldblum, and the fact that he was voicing the iconic Dr. Ian Malcolm for Jurassic World Evolution is a great surprise. It certainly is Jeff Goldblum, and it certainly is not his best performance ever. I still enjoy his dulcet tones, but he’ll probably leave this one off the resume.
- Other characters from the two most recent movies appear, like Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt). Howard actually puts on a pretty good performance, but apparently Pratt was too busy to record Owen’s lines. A.J. LoCascio does a fine job voicing his character, but they keep showing Pratt’s character on screen, and the voice sounds nothing like him.
- There are some really bizarre rights issues going on in Jurassic World Evolution. Like many games, as you progress, you unlock data files that link the game to the past films. Some of the data files are from memorable characters, like Sam Neill’s Dr. Grant from the original Jurassic Park. Instead of showing a picture of the character, it shows a raptor claw. For Laura Dern’s character Dr. Sattler, it shows a stegosaurus. For Donald Gennaro, the lawyer who was eaten by a T-Rex while hiding in a porta-potty, it shows… well, not a picture of the character.
These are little details, but they certainly stuck out. While they aren’t huge detriments to the game, they raise a few questions. Why are you showing a picture of a stegosaurus while writing a bio about Dr. Ellie Sattler? You’re telling me Chris Pratt wouldn’t spend two days doing studio voice work for a character he is currently playing in theaters? It feels like a lot of the design decisions were made for budgeting issues, yet Jurassic World Evolution is still selling like a game where budget should not have been an issue. Maybe I’m naive to this realm of game creation, but there are several tiny things that, while not glaring on their own, added up to rub me the wrong way.
But man, I do love me some dinosaur theme park building.
Verdict: I know I’m not reviewing the price, I’m reviewing the game. That’s why I need to circle back: Jurassic World Evolution is a ton of fun. It checks a lot of the right boxes, and it is easy to lose yourself for hours playing through it. Looping guests through your park in just the right order, squeezing one last dinosaur pen into the tiny space remaining in order to grab a better rating, and sending out dig teams to finally unlock your favorite beast will all take a long time to get old. Several small design decisions add up, however, and conspire to break some of the immersion.
- Great use of the Jurassic Park theme song
- Looks really pretty
- Lots of things to do
- Sandbox mode takes a long time to open everything up
- Odd rights issues and VO work defeat some of the immersion