Review In Short
Ben says: "I really, really wanted to love this game. It does have its moments but the constant timers, frustrating missions, power management, poor voice acting, bad UI decisions, and lack of cohesion with the story and setting of the films make this, as Dr Malcom would say, "one big pile of shit". Play Operation Genesis instead as it is essentially the same game without the modern rubbish."
Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time so when I heard that Frontier Developments, the studio behind Planet Coaster1, had been given the license to build a Jurassic World park builder I was incredibly excited. A proper dinosaur themed park builder hasn’t been seen since 2003’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis and with such a well respected studio behind it I was confident this game was going to be a T-Rex sized success.
In some ways, it is. The game sold over a million copies in just 5 weeks and the number of people playing seems to be high with thousands of streams on Twitch every day. The problem is that it lacks imagination. Take a look at the Wikipedia page for Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis and you’ll see that nearly every sentence describing it applies to this game.
This isn’t an evolution; it’s a clone.
Another satisfied guest
Before I get into the numerous problems, let me run through the basics of Jurassic World: Evolution. You play as some management type who has been flown in to fix various parks on the islands that make up “The Five Deaths”. To do this, you’ll be able to build paddocks and guest facilities, research upgrades, perform expeditions, extract genomes from fossils, and finally build some dinosaurs that you’ll then need to keep contained. Throughout this is a drip-fed story surrounding recurring season character Dr Henry Wu (voiced by BD Wong), a number of missions and contracts from other characters, and a whole ton of timers and repeating tasks.
There are a large range of buildings to choose from (most of which are locked until various contracts are completed) including power stations, restaurants, arcades, monorails, hotels, viewing stations, and toy shops. The most important ones though are an ACU centre which can be used to tranquillise dinosaurs for transportation and the ranger stations which are used for medicating dinosaurs, restocking feeders, and taking photographs. Coupled with this is the expedition centre which allows you to send teams around the world to dig up bones and then a fossil centre which lets you take those bones and extract genomes from them. Finally, you’ll need a Hammond Creation Lab attached to a paddock in order to create and release your own dinosaurs. There are an impressive 49 species available and they can be customised with genome enhancements to make them stronger and faster or to change their visible skin and boost their life expectancy. Whilst the concept of mixing and matching DNA is central to the new Jurassic World series of films, don’t expect to be able to make your own dinosaurs such as blending a T-Rex with a Triceratops (Triceratops-Rex) or a Pterodactyl with a Brachiosaurus (Howdoesthatflyosaurus); you are strictly limited to single dinosaur genes with the exception of the Indominous Rex and Indoraptor hybrids from the films.
This dinosaur was a total pain in the neck
Whilst the basics of building a park and managing it are relatively simple, there are a few curveballs that will be thrown your way in the form of contracts and missions. The contracts are individual tasks that you’ll be asked to perform whilst missions tend to have multiple stages and can be failed (at which point you have to try again). Each one is tied to one of the three divisions that run the park — Science, Entertainment, and Security — each of which needs your constant approval. Each division has a rating which goes up when you do their contracts but goes down when you complete contracts from their rivals. This is crazy but not quite as crazy as some of the contracts themselves. For example, the Science department may ask you to build a Toy Shop (I wish I was making this up) and for some reason this pisses off the Entertainment and Security divisions! Upset a division enough and they’ll start to sabotage your park either by turning off the power, spreading disease to your dinosaurs, or just opening the gates and letting your carnivores dine on the nearest guests. Each island has a mission for each division and these will typically unlock some goodies in the form of new buildings or DNA upgrades. Whilst the missions have a story element to them and can be varied, they are also desperately unfair usually requiring you to house a dinosaur that will escape no matter what. For example, I had to keep a raptor contained for 4 minutes and whilst its comfort rating was 100%2 he would attack the fences until he got out pausing the countdown; once he was tranquillised and put back, the timer would restart and he’d go back to attacking the fence. That wasn’t a fun experience.
On top of trying to please your staff, you also need to please both the dinosaurs and your guests. There is a 5-star rating for each with dinosaurs needing a good variety, good welfare, and a general excitement rating (where more teeth generally equals more stars) whilst guests need to feel safe and be fed, watered, entertained, and be able to travel from the entrance to the key parts of your park. Both of these ratings are averaged to give you an island rating which you’ll need to increase in order to unlock the later parks. Whilst the starting islands are relatively straightforward, later islands are space constrained and throw up additional problems such as storms that will rip through your park destroying everything in their path.
It’s always fun to go to this page every 2 minutes…
Overall, the premise is solid and many of the underlying bits and pieces work well. The dinosaurs in particular are incredibly well animated being based on the digital models from the films. However, there are so many soul destroying flaws that the game becomes an exercise in frustration. Key to this is the number of core loops in the game and the timers associated with them. First of all you’ll need to keep your dinosaurs fed at all times; this requires manually telling jeeps to restock feeders with no automation at any point in the game. Secondly, you’ll need to be able to keep excavating and extracting the genomes from fossils. This comes with multiple timers in the form of waiting for the expedition to waiting for the extraction but also with high costs in doing both of those things and a restriction on how many fossils you can hold at a time. Similarly there are no automations for expeditions so you can’t queue up the next 5 in a row. Finally, you have the contracts themselves of which you can only have three at a time and can only manually request one every 2 minutes. You may occasionally be prompted with a new contract without having to manually request it but this happens fairly infrequently. Annoyingly, if you turn down a contract (i.e. asking you to get 100% of a genome for a dinosaur which you can’t even excavate yet) you still have to wait for the 2 minute cooldown. All of these timers and costs make it feel like a freemium mobile game; I was half expecting to be able to spend 10 amber coins to finish an expedition early.
Aside from the timings there are also frustrations in what is and isn’t included. This is a game based on the Jurassic World franchise so items from the classic Jurassic Park films are few and far between. The most notable missing piece is the Ford Explorer vehicles that took guests around the original park on Isla Sorna but I was also disappointed to see that there is no aviary and therefore no flying dinosaurs nor is there a water enclosure such as the one for the Mosasaurus which is key to both Jurassic World films. These seem like things that should be standard for a game in this series.
Further omissions include the lack of varied live bait options with your carnivores limited3 to eating a goat every so often. Whilst I appreciated this throwback the first few times, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to unleash my raptors on a cow as per the first film. Also, why do herbivores require a shrub to be served on a metal platter from the ground rather than just being able to eat the grass and other fauna that is prevalent on every island? Little details like this utterly kill the believability of the world and become laughable when the final island — Isla Sorna — talks about wild dinosaurs only for you to discover a couple of small herds of Stegosaurus all clustered around some feeders which are inexplicably still working.
The enclosures are also all the same style (aside from the type of fence panel which is either steel or concrete) so you can’t build a cool raptor pit or the massive double height walls of the Indominous Rex paddock. I’ve already mentioned the lack of breeding in this game but it bears repeating that a game titled “evolution” based on a film about splicing genes doesn’t let you actually create your own hybrids.
There is only one live bait option at the moment which really gets my goat
The issues aren’t only in the translation of film to game but also in the general controls and gameplay elements. The terrain controls deserve special mention as it would genuinely be more fun to be attacked by Compsognathus4 than to try and do some basic editing on these islands. Nearly every time I tried to place a building there would be a terrain constraints warning requiring hours of careful sculpting to then have the exact same error over and over. You can’t edit the terrain outside of the bounding box of buildable land (which doesn’t make sense) so if you are near the boundary edge you have no chance of placing larger buildings. Even in-land it is difficult to work out why smoothing causes bumps in the land or why the builders who are creating a giant power plant don’t have the structural engineering knowledge to add a 10cm² bit of concrete to make up for the slight decline.
The way in which electricity is managed is also a common complaint for newcomers to the game with the electricity grid needing to be very carefully built. You’ll need to create a power plant at which point you can build pylons to substations that then have a radius within which buildings will receive power. The power plant itself does not have one of these radiuses so you generally need to build a substation right next to it taking up even more precious space, especially on Isla Pena. Pylons then need to be manually built across the island and then usually readjusted multiple times as you fight to place a building down with just the right amount of space between existing pylons and the terrain constraints issue I mentioned earlier. I quite enjoy seeing the pylons, especially in the wonderfully themed overview map, but it does make the game slightly more arduous than it needs to be.
By far my biggest complaint was in the lack of information in the UI surrounding dinosaurs. When they are roaming around in a paddock, you can select them5 to see a host of data including how many dinosaurs they are comfortable being with, how many of the same species they need to form a social group, what food they like to eat, etc, but the majority of this is hidden from you until they have been released. This meant I frequently released a dinosaur only to then find it needed 4 more in the same species to have a social group. As this can take a while, the dinosaur got more and more frustrated until it decided to then break out of its paddock and then I had that whole drama to deal with. A simple tab on the “create dinosaur” page that lists the same data you see when selecting one in the wild is all it needs to fix this so I don’t understand why it hasn’t yet been done. In a similar vein, there is no data anywhere about what dinosaurs will play nicely with each other. I accept that this shouldn’t be something that is available immediately but if you have put a T-Rex and a Spinosaurus together and found that they fight to the death, then surely the next time you go to build one it should tell you “doesn’t play well with T-Rex” or similar? Zoo Tycoon doesn’t let you mix species that can’t live together which is a step too far but it would have saved a lot of time and money if I had known in advance what can cohabit and what can’t.
Finally, I can’t fail to mention the voice acting. A lot was made of the fact that Jeff Goldblum would be reprising his role as Dr Ian Malcolm and he does a good job popping up like the Theme Park advisor every so often to tell you that what you are doing is wrong. BD Wong also does a good turn as Dr Henry Wu but Bryce Dallas Howard is dramatically underused as Claire Dearing popping up with bizarre one liners (“I don’t like it when the power goes out”) or sneering at you when a dinosaur escapes failing to take into account her part in the Jurassic World disaster. Evidently there wasn’t enough budget for Chris Pratt so rather than cutting out the unneeded Owen Grady character they got a voice actor to do a poor impersonation. I won’t even go into the voice cast or writing for the contract givers but lets just say the Science department was the cause of much mirth for my Twitch viewers.
It’s a UNIX system! I know this!
The good news is that nearly all of the above could be fixed to some degree; the terrain controls can be tweaked, the UI can be adapted to show cohabitation and social groupings, an aviary and water pool can be added, Owen Grady could be removed, etc. Frontier have already said that the next content release will be free but they haven’t yet detailed what will be in it nor when it will be available. This speaks to the fear that I have for this game and its post-release in that this isn’t a franchise owned by Frontier like Planet Coaster or Elite Dangerous; it is something that will require constant approval from a committee at Universal and that will lead to a much slower release cycle and probably a lot less experimental stuff. There is zero chance of any modding support in the future and whilst I’d love to see new buildings and dinosaurs there likely isn’t as much desire to do that from Universal’s side as there is from Frontier’s.
In the end, I’ve been fairly negative on Jurassic World Evolution as it doesn’t meet the high expectations I had. I haven’t had a chance to mention a number of cool experiences that I came across such as building the monorail, driving a gyrosphere, tranquilising dinosaurs from a helicoptor in first person mode, or getting the “Hold Onto Your Butts” achievement. Over 30 hours, I have had fun building the parks and releasing dinosaurs but that is tempered with a disappointment that this isn’t as good as it should be. This is highlighted by the fact that I don’t have a desire to build a park in the sandbox mode on Isla Nubla as there isn’t anything left for me to see and those little highlights I’ve had just aren’t enough for me to want to put my gloves on and fight with the terrain tools. I’m also disappointed that whilst it is a near facsimile of Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis they left some of the better pieces such as balloon tours, viewing vents, and Site B whilst the pieces they added aren’t good (*cough* contracts *cough*).
I want to say “if you’re a massive Jurassic Park fan then pick this up, otherwise play Planet Coaster” but even that doesn’t feel right. If you’re a massive fan you’ll be annoyed at what is missing rather than enamoured by the bits that are correct. The best I can say is “if you think the Jurassic Park films are alright but you don’t love them then pick this up, otherwise play Planet Coaster”.
Either way, Frontier wins!
I’ll be playing one last stream of Jurassic World Evolution at 11pm BST on Saturday 11th August. Join me on Twitch if you’d like to ask any questions about the game or this review.
My favourite game of 2016, no less! ↩
Dinosaurs have a comfort rating which decreases if they don’t have the right balance of forest and plains, don’t have enough space, don’t have access to food and water, and if they have too few or too many dinosaurs either in their paddock or in their social group. If the comfort goes below a certain amount that is different for each species, they’ll attack the fences and escape. ↩
Well, I guess the guests also count as “live bait” sometimes. ↩
Also known as Toosmalltooappearinthisgameosaurus. ↩
OK, you can’t always select them. If they are in a wooded area then you can’t select them and I don’t understand why. You can tranquillise them and medicate them in the woods but not select them to see their info panel. Frustrating! ↩