As a concept, Jurassic World Evolution is not a difficult sell. Once you recover from the disappointment that it’s not, in fact, an action or story-driven game but a park management sim, the prospect of creating your very own dinosaur playground sounds enticing. Playing with dinosaurs appeals directly to the child in us all, potentially lending the game a broader appeal than others in the genre.
The opening will immediately endear itself to Jurassic Park fans, with a faithful and rousing rendition of the theme tune, allied to the honeyed tones of Jeff Goldblum, who introduces your first park as you fly overhead enjoying the panoramic views. The game supports HDR, boasting shimmering water, dynamic weather and the deep, verdant green of the park itself. It has a satisfyingly authentic look and feel.
Before long you are able to survey your starter park and get acquainted with the toolset at your disposal. Your objectives and missions are signposted through icons and snippets of dialogue from key characters, who introduce the next task and any associated areas of concern. A menu bar, fixed to the left-hand side of the screen, affords access to a range of functions, from building paths, linking power supplies and enclosure items such as food, fences and public viewing galleries. The success of any management sim hinges on a good interface, and I found the controls to be reasonably intuitive after repeated use. The tutorials, however, were often not explicit enough, leaving me to fill the gaps through experimentation. This frequently tested my patience and on occasion stymied my progress. This really is something to consider if this game is on your wishlist.
The first priority is building the Hammond Creation Lab, a key building which facilitates the incubation and release of new dinosaurs. In these early moments, you will come to appreciate the magnitude of what lies ahead. Releasing your first dinosaur – a Struthiomimus- into your park is a truly special moment, the game handling this with due reverence by switching to a cutscene depicting your dinosaur’s first steps in its new home. During this scene, you are free to move the camera and view vital stats. I felt a growing realisation that I was responsible for the welfare of this living, breathing creature, along with a pang of guilt over the moral and ethical questions which accompanied my actions.
There are some 42 species of dinosaur to unlock, and acquiring new species is essential to support the diverse exhibition that matches visitor expectations. To that end, you are directed to build and power an expedition centre. Teams can be dispatched from here to discover and acquire new fossils which can then be extracted to create new dinosaurs. Early on, it’s apparent the management of the park will prove to be a delicate balancing act. You don’t have the freedom to simply mess about; items cost money and there is a necessity to carefully manage priorities across the park in order to build its reputation, thereby facilitating progression to the next park.
You will, inevitably, make mistakes, although not all of your missteps carry any real consequences. Misplace a path, for example, and you can access the ‘demolish’ function to remove it. The money invested in building the path is simply refunded. Other errors you make will exact a more emotion toll. One of my dinosaurs contracted the common cold. Immersed in other tasks, I ignored the prompt and failed to despatch my ranger in time. The first dinosaur death prompts some reflection of your priorities and approach, as well as further contemplation around the morality of the whole enterprise. In the absence of any real overarching narrative, moments like this really resonated with me and fuelled my determination not to repeat the same costly mistakes.
It’s imperative to consider your actions carefully and not simply furnish your park with abandon. Certain species cannot live together harmoniously and need segregation; the enclosures need adequate protection lest a dinosaur escapes and mauls hapless visitors, and neglecting visitor amenities can damage your reputation and ultimately slow your progress. Most importantly, your focus can never waver for too long from the dinosaurs. Careful monitoring of mood, health and food supplies is essential.
You have further in-game missions to contend with, too, and characters from the security, science and entertainment strands will regularly interject and urge you to take on additional objectives. Many of these are lucrative and vital to quick progression. It’s very satisfying to achieve these, but there are elements of the game which threaten to detract from your enjoyment. Like any management sim, there are times when the odds feel stacked against you, and it becomes tiresome to find your progress is impeded by a dwindling bank balance. In these moments, you long to escape the task-oriented structure and simply have fun. The fun is there, of course, particularly when you have the opportunity to take to the jeep or helicopter, but, like an overbearing parent imposing a curfew, things are quickly curtailed as another mundane task demands your attention. In this respect, I would draw parallels with an RPG, where grinding through the tasks is a necessary evil.
So what, then, is the impetus to keep playing once the novelty has started to wane? Well, you’re continually propelled, of course, by the desire to see the next island and explore a new and unique set of challenges in a different location. For all the irritations around repetition, incomplete tutorials and the often banal nature of the task-based structure, there is a real satisfaction to be derived from making your park a success and nurturing the amazing creatures that roam within it.
So, does Jurassic Park Evolution earn an unqualified recommendation? I would have to be cautious here because you cannot escape the good and the bad that inherently accompanies the sim management genre. Fans of the film, with sufficient reserves of patience, will find a deep, rewarding and polished experience, albeit one that is punctuated with regular periods of frustration. Those people should add another point to the score. For everyone else, I’d say try before you buy, if possible.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*