Everything was going so swimmingly. I’d taken a failed park and rebuilt it into a dino-utopia. Guests were happy. Profits were skyrocketing. I’d been almost incident free for three hours. Then something happened. An Edmontosaurus, upset that its fellow kind had died of old age and I’d yet to replace them, broke through a fence of my Herbivore enclosure. On the other side of that fence? A T-Rex called Earl. Earl, being a T-Rex, did what T-Rex’s do best. He had an Edmontosaurus buffet with a side serving of Struthiomimus and a Dracorex to wash it all down, all in the time it took my Asset Containment Unit to fly from one side of my island to the other. Poor planning on my part. While all of this was going on, the Security head George Lambert had asked me to collect 60% of the DNA required to make a new Dinosaur from a fossil dig site and, having far more important and deadly things going on, I rejected the request.
I’d been ignoring the Security division for a while now as I was trying to unlock new fossil types by pandering to the Entertainment and Science teams and they’d had enough. Just as a helicopter delivered the now tranquilised Earl back to his pen and a ranger patched up the broken fencing, the Security division sabotaged my Jurassic World by doing the most damaging thing possible. They opened up the gates to every dinosaur enclosure at the same time. They went full Dennis Nedry on me. A pack of Velociraptors went to work on turning my paying guests into mid-day snacks. A pair of Ceratosaurus’ wondered over and started taking chunks out of my Diplodocus. A Baryonyx immediately started a fight with Earl. Everything was flashing red and as I zoomed out, I saw that there were more dinosaurs outside of their enclosures than in them and there was, as Dr Ian Malcolm put it, “running and um, screaming”. I was a white suit and a fedora away from being John Hammond v.2.0. This is the challenge that awaits in Jurassic World Evolution, a game that finally balances the spectacle, world building and tension of the Jurassic World/Park films.
Jurassic World Evolution isn’t the first time that a team has tried to apply the Tycoon formula to the Jurassic Park/World franchise but this is, by far and away, the very best entry into this niche of a subgenre. At the beginning of the game, you’re handed control of an omnipotent eye in the sky on the first of 5 islands in the fictional Las Cinco Muertes – Isla Matanceros – where you’re only challenge is to get a working dino-zoo up and running. To do so, you have to build enclosures and fill them with enough food and water to keep the occupants alive while making sure the Hammond Creation lab (the facility in which baby dino’s are incubated and released from) has enough electricity and is connected to a path so the lab geeks can get in and out. Next up, you fill those enclosures with authentic looking, movie quality dinosaurs complete with the sounds and design of the iconic movie series. At the start of the game you’re granted enough of the DNA of a few dinosaurs to get right too it and bring those ancient lizards to life – but they’re none of the crowd pleasers or iconic movie murderers.
If you want to add new varieties of ‘saur to your park, you have to build an Excavation Centre from which you can send out a team to dig up fossils and a Fossil Centre which translates fossils into usable DNA. Once you’ve collected 50% of the genome from a specific species, you can then attempt to bring them to life – but be warned, starting the process costs money and the higher your DNA percentage, the higher the potential success an incubation will be. As you fill the park with Dinosaurs, paying guests will start to arrive and will start to rate your park on a number of factors including volume and variety of food and drink, the “fun” of your Park and the variety and well-being of the dinosaurs. The higher the rating, the more guests will arrive, the more money you earn and the more you can spend to improve guest experiences by adding fast food joints or Viewing Galleries or Gyro Stations, made famous in Jurassic World, so visitors can get a close up with the pre-historic beauties.
Then, of course, you’ve got to keep your dinosaurs happy. Each species has their own set of characteristics which you need to fulfil to keep them “comfortable”. Some Dino’s like to have plenty of forest to frolic around in while others prefer grass land. Some species’ like to have others of their kind to socialise with while Earl the T-Rex, for example, likes to be a solo act. Available space and the cost of enclosures mean that mixing up the species in each enclosure is essential but deciding which Dinosaurs play nice with one another is a different challenge entirely. If a dinosaur becomes uncomfortable they’ll attack the fences and if left unchecked, they’ll break free and attack the visitors. You have to prepare for this eventuality – this will happen, despite your best efforts – by installing emergency bunkers, an ACU Centre who can spring into action to tranquilise any roaming dino and a rangers station to fix broken fences.
As well as expansion, you have to maintain your park. Feeders will need to be restocked, you’ll need to research and cure illnesses that dinosaurs can contract, add more members of staff to restaurants and stores to ensure they can deal with visitor demand and fix any damage to your park. As your park gets bigger and more unwieldy, down time becomes a rarity in Jurassic World Evolution which, for a console gamer who’s more acclimatised to First Person Shooters than park builder simulators, is a welcome change of pace in the Tycoon genre. Combined with the capitalism of trying to keep the cash flowing in and keeping your guests happy, this makes for a neat little game play cycle that has you balancing a number of spinning plates that divide success from teeth filled disaster.
It’s not just the guests you’ve got to keep happy either. Throughout the game, you’re tested by 3 different departments of the Hammond Foundation – Science, Entertainment and Security – all of which have opposing goals. Complete jobs for one of these departments – say by incubating and releasing a required number of a specific species or housing 2 different types of dinosaur in the same enclosure to watch them fight – increases your reputation with that specific department while decreasing your standing with the others. Ignoring the demands of a department and letting their reputation bar drop to zero causes them to sabotage your park in various ways such as deactivating power plants to opening up all the gates in the park. Performing well with a particular department unlocks complex missions with big rewards like new fossil types or attractions you can build at your resorts which all work to improve your park rating.
Once you’ve reached a 3 out of 5 star rating for an island resort, you unlock the next. This system exists throughout Jurassic World Evolution until you’ve unlocked all 5 of the career Islands, each of which provide their own unique challenge whether it be fiscally, geographically or meteorically. One island suffers from periodic severe storms which damages buildings and upsets the dinosaurs, causing their “comfort” meter to drop. Another island is geographically challenging with slim pieces of land that restrict your building potential. Each of the islands provides something new and unique to deal with culminating in the final challenge – trying to tame the “lost world” of Isla Sorna, the setting for Jurassic Park II & III.
Achieving a 4 star rank on the first island of the game also unlocks a sandbox mode on the island of Isla Nubla. Here you get to use everything and anything you’ve unlocked or researched elsewhere without having to worry about the cost. With unlimited cash at your disposal, you can let your inner Hammond go wild.
There are, on occasions, some weird technical issues with Jurassic World Evolution. Play on a single island for long enough and some dinosaurs will start to act out of character and even glitch out entirely. Dinosaurs with plenty of food and drink will just stand still and starve or dehydrate to death and let me tell you, being lectured by Dr Ian Malcolm (voiced by the one and only Jeff Goldblum) for depriving the dinosaurs of the essentials is the most brutal yet calm scalding (for something I didn’t do I hasten to add) I’ve ever received.
The park building systems themselves can be a little stiff too. Terra-forming and flattening land doesn’t always result in flat land, especially around the edges of a map. Some placement have to be inch perfect and even a bobble in available space can prevent a build. The freedom to build however you wish without having to adhere to a grid base in Jurassic World Evolution is truly welcome but to accommodate this, it’d have been nice if the game was a tad more forgiving and intuitive to what the player actually wants to do.
Jurassic World Evolution doesn’t have much competition on the PlayStation 4 – in fact, as far as park builders go, Frontier Development’s other game, Planet Coaster, is the only game to come close in terms of quality – but that doesn’t stop Jurassic World Evolution from being a thoroughly enjoyable park builder that manages to make a decidedly “better on PC” genre very accessible on console. There’s a few missing iconic dinosaurs (what? no Mosasaurus or Pteranodon?), the building can be a bit clumsy at times and there’s the rare annoying glitch but none of these flaws come close to ruining the overall “game feeling” of this title. There’s a majesty to Jurassic World Evolution, when a new dinosaur struts out into the paddock for the first time. You can feel the love and care that was put in by the developers when making this game.
It’s when you’re not in control of things – like in the snippet that I opened this review with – that the Jurassic World feeling really kicks in during this game. When your T-Rex is fighting Velocirators and your guests are running scared from rampaging Triceratops’ and you’re trying desperately against the odds to put everything back the way it was. It’s sublime.
Like CEO turned failed helicopter pilot Simon Masrani said in Jurassic World, “The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.” and that to me resembles the joyful core of Jurassic World Evolution.
Jurassic World Evolution is available now on PS4 (review version, reviewed on base PS4), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For more information on our review policy, please head here.