This time last year, I barely knew anything about dinosaurs. I’d watched the Jurassic Park/World movies and knew a T-Rex from a Diplodocus, but that was about it. Around 12 months ago, though, my 5-year-old son became engrossed in dinosaurs. For nearly nine months, everything was dino-related. During this period, I picked up a lot of information about dinosaurs. I went from knowing 5-10 dinosaurs to over 50. I also went from having watched the films a few times to double-digit viewings of the series (we did censor a few bits for my little boy). When the opportunity to review Jurassic World Evolution arose, I jumped at it, much to the joy of my son.
Jurassic World Evolution is a business simulation game where you are put in charge of building and maintaining various Jurassic World parks on different islands. You are given either the barebones of a park or a dilapidated park to try and make them flourish both in terms of dinosaurs and finances. You start off being able to build basic buildings and the ability to breed four different dinosaurs. As you progress through the game, you’ll gain access to nearly 50 different dinosaurs and an array of tourist specific buildings (gift shop, restaurant, arcade, bowling alley, etc.). You will be able to create new enclosures for your dinosaurs and choose which breeds to populate them with. You can also genetically modify them to make them more aggressive, have tougher skin, different skin markings, and many other options.
As you may have gleaned from the movie franchise, running an entertainment venture for humans with dinosaur attractions is not always easy. You have to keep the enclosure fences in good repair, or your patrons will end up seeing the dinosaurs a little too close for comfort. This is an area of the game that I have found more than a little frustrating. The longer you play a level, the weaker the fences appear to be. It’s not necessarily a case of them becoming old and brittle as I have even tried changing them out. It’s also not down to specific dinosaurs, though some are more prone to attacking the perimeter, it just appears to be the way the game is designed. All this means that if you play one of the islands for too long, you will end up just constantly fixing fences and trying to round up escaped dinosaurs.
The various islands offer some distinct challenges. One of the islands is clearly the setting for Jurassic World, but you start with a huge debt. To progress with the level you have to destroy a load of the buildings and then use the refunds you get to start the park over again. Another of the islands has a very tight play area, meaning that you have to be very careful of the space you use. Another island is constantly getting hit by storms and generally inclement weather, so you have to protect both the park visitors and your buildings.
If the general upkeep of the parks isn’t enough for you, then you can also get three different type of contracts to complete that gives you a reputation boost as well as some money. Though these contracts are for either the science, entertainment, or security departments, there is a lot of crossover with you often being given similar assignments across the different areas. Once you boost your reputation enough with one of the departments, they will issue you a mission that will reward you in unlocking a building, a dinosaur, or some other item to research. There are lots of items to research. These range from cosmetic genes to splice into the dinosaurs, to new fossils to find, building upgrades, performance boosters to your park rangers, and many others. All of these research items are done logically, and the way the game grants you access to them is very nicely balanced through a steady trickle. It also tells you what you need to achieve to unlock new things to research, so you’re never left scratching your head, figuring out how to unlock that next power station upgrade.
Visually, Jurassic World Evolution is very appealing. Everything looks like it could exist in the movies. I was playing on my Xbox One X, and the game ran nicely in full 4K. You can get the framerate to stutter if you just start spinning the camera over and over again, but for 95% of the time, it is rock solid despite some nice lighting effects and lots of objects. The game scales quite nicely from a distance to getting up close and personal with the dinosaurs. The visuals may not be flawless, but they are more than adequate for the game and offers some true moments of beauty.
One of the ways that Jurassic World Evolution shoots for authenticity is by having people like Bryce Dallas Howard, BD Wong, and of course, Jeff Goldblum, do the voices for the game. While this is a noble effort, it does raise a couple of problems. The first is that the script that they’re given to work with isn’t the greatest. The other problem is that when you come across Chris Pratt’s character, he stands out like a sore thumb because it’s voiced by someone else. Aside from the voices, the sound is pretty good. Dinosaurs roar and thump along in the way you assume they would. Cars, helicopters, crowds, and other incidental sounds are replicated realistically. The music is discreet and adequate, but I did find myself wanting John Williams amazing score to be utilised more often.
I have put around 20 hours into Jurassic World Evolution and still have plenty to do (I’ve done 4 of the 6 islands). This is definitely a game that is focussed more at fans of the Jurassic Park/World franchise than tycoon games, but there is something for everyone (5-year-old boys will find it a little too challenging though). The presentation is top notch, and the puzzles created by the different challenges on each island add a much-needed level of variety. At the end of the day, the dinosaurs are great, and I still get a thrill from breeding and releasing a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brachiosaurus, Ankylosaurus, or any of the other dinosaurs. Well, maybe not the Velociraptors as they will just spend all their time escaping and chowing down on the visitors. Aside from raptor issues, I have enjoyed my time on the Muertes Archipelago and look forward to finishing off the game once my son has finished getting a close-up view of every dinosaur on the islands.