There are moments during the first few hours of Jurassic World Evolution, the new theme-park simulation from Planet Coaster studio Frontier Developments, where it manages to capture the cinematic magic of the original 1993 classic - Jurassic Park. Perhaps it’s the John Williams score that underpins all major milestones, Jeff Goldblum’s narration as Dr. Ian Malcolm, or the simple fact that watching a dinosaur emerge from an incubation lab is every bit as awe inspiring as that sounds.
Then there’s being able to take direct control of a ranger team in a jeep to explore the park, re-stock a dino-feeder or two, or simply take a few snaps of a Corythosaurus taking a drink in some nearby water. Piloting a helicopter is also taught early on, where in addition to dishing out commands you can be in direct control, getting close enough to line up and shoot a few tranquilisers into a free-roaming Ankylosaurus. This is the sort of level of detail that naturally points to a best-possible outcome for the Jurassic World license in videogame form. A keen sense of the franchise’s history, in addition to the more current genetic-modification heavy version we find in cinemas today.
In Jurassic World Evolution, researching new dinosaurs is a matter of sending off dig teams to various sites across the globe, and then analysing different fossils to obtain viable DNA. Get enough DNA, represented by a percentage, and you can create your very own Velociraptor. Very cool. As a collection of systems in a theme park management sim, Jurassic World Evolution is often impressive. And if you’ve ever been a Jurassic Park fan or a lover of dinosaurs, watching what happens when you “accidentally” release a carnivore into an enclosure filled with herbivores will both entertain and upset you. #RIPVegiesaurus.
And it’s here with the inclusion of dozens of various types of dinosaurs, where Jurassic World Evolution succeeds. Where creating the right balance of water, grassland, forest, and social interaction is key to keeping your attractions comfortable and happy. Anything less will send them racing head first into the nearest fence. Unfortunately, most of the dinosaur micromanagement is kept out of the tutorial part of the game, and instead left up to players to figure out on their own. A glaring omission that inadvertently plays into Jurassic World Evolution’s biggest fault – in that it’s too much like the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World movies.
An oxymoron, but an apt description of what mostly ends up becoming an endless sequence of dealing with one unexpected park-threatening event after another. And when you don’t fully understand the intricacies of dinosaur well-being, building fences within fences to make breakouts less frequent than ‘every other minute’ becomes a viable strategy.
Outside of the long list of dinosaurs that are available to research and unlock for genetic recreation - and even meddling thanks to DNA splicing for things like a longer lifespan or funky camo skin – the variety of buildings and other sights for guests is limited. Retail-wise you get a handful of different types of shops, one restaurant, and one type of hotel. From the creators of Planet Coaster initially this feels like a disappointment, but when you’re able to shape the landscape and intricately design a new enclosure or setup a monorail system for visitors to use when traveling through your park – the brilliance begins to shine through. Albeit, briefly.
The lack of non-dino enclosure structures isn’t the main problem with Jurassic World Evolution. The somewhat boring campaign that has you island hopping across various parks that you need to build or rebuild whilst slowly unlocking new types of dinosaurs and attractions and upgrades – is. And that’s because after those first few brilliant hours it all slows to a grind. As does the process of unlocking new dinosaurs. The foundation is solid, where three different factions – science, entertainment, and security – offer you contracts and missions. But, choosing one over another causes “another” to get upset. Which in turn could lead to a neglected team sabotaging the power or even infecting a few dinosaurs with a disease or illness. #Harshosaurus.
The third island you visit, after the intro island and the tropical storm one, is the location from Jurassic World. And after the events of that film, it’s a park on the verge of bankruptcy. To succeed here you have no choice but to sell off most of the buildings and then slowly watch your income grow as you reinstate each facility. The same ones you built before. Twice. From a financial standpoint earning money in Jurassic Park Evolution is easy, but initially slow. In turn this leads to an emphasis placed on contracts and missions. Sometimes cinematic in their goals and presentation, but often randomised to the point where differentiating between the three factions is pointless when they all ask for the same thing – i.e. “Increase the DNA Viability of Dinosaur X to 60%”.
Having to rebuild your finances with each new island is broken by design. As new dig sites and research options are locked behind narrative progression, if there’s something expensive you’re after and you don’t want to sit there waiting for minutes while dealing with random diseases and free-roaming dinosaurs you can simply go to an earlier island that has more cash and spend it there. Because all research and unlocks carry over, but not money. The sandbox-mode, set on the original film’s Isla Nublar, does away with missions and contracts and money - and consequently becomes more enjoyable. It proves that with less of a focus on non-stop critical situations propping up everywhere, Jurassic World Evolution could become something truly great.
An experience that lives up to the wonderful visuals. One the Xbox One X, the version played for this review, Jurassic World Evolution is a technical marvel. With a solid frame-rate no matter the angle or zoom level, great animation, intuitive UI, and wonderful detail across both the dinosaurs and surrounding structures and plant-life. It’s a shame that the campaign gets bogged down by the little things. To put it in Jurassic Park terms, although you start off as excited as Grant, Ellie, Tim, and Lex as you experience a world of true wonder – where dinosaurs roam – you soon become Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson’s character) dealing with yet another one of Nedry’s problems. #Newman!