“Life will find a way,” as one Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) once so elegantly put it. With the resurgence of the franchise originally written by Michael Crichton, I was elated to hear that Frontier Developments, developer of the widely popular Planet Coaster, were developing a new management and building simulation based on the Jurassic World license. It’s been fifteen years since Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, but is Jurassic World Evolution everything fans have been clamoring for or is it on the verge of going extinct?
Unlike traditional theme park management games that feature separate objective-based and sandbox modes, Jurassic World Evolution combines both in the main career. Instead of focusing on just one park or island, you are tasked with constructing successful theme parks across The Muertes Archipelago off the coast of Costa Rica, infamously known as The Five Deaths (Las Cinco Muertes). The bow-shaped configuration of the islands, as described in the novels, brings with them unique environmental challenges. Although InGen, International Genetics Incorporated, barely survived after the disaster on Isla Nublar (where the original Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were built) and Isla Sorna (Site B). We know that BioSyn, a competitor of Ingen, was responsible for the outbreak on Isla Nublar, and virtually disappeared after the deaths of the leading scientists by the end of The Lost World novel (not seen in the film). With that said, Jurassic World Evolution is our first look at the remaining locales.
Each of the islands starts you with varying amounts of infrastructure, tasking you with either adding to it or repairing everything damaged from the severe weather that batters some of the islands. Much like any other park sim, you’ll want to ensure that buildings have power, without overloading the system, and everything is accessible by paths. And don’t forget, keeping the dangerous carnivorous on the inside of their enclosures, preferably not killing one another too. You’ll need to lead expeditions to fossil hotbeds around the globe to dig up new dinosaur species, research genetic improvements and building advancements, maintain the health and comfort of both guests and dinosaurs, and more. While placing guest amenities, such as shopping, arcades, and eateries can provide your park with a continual revenue stream, a sizeable sum of your profit comes from completing contracts and missions.
The three central departments that control Jurassic World are vying for your attention, as you complete contracts for each one: science, security, and entertainment. Don’t go accepting every task that is requested of you, as your reputation will increase and decrease based on your contracts. Favor science over entertainment and your status with the latter will deteriorate. Not only will you not get any high paying tasks, but completing missions is an excellent way to unlock new research and buildings. Just be careful not to get into the red too far with one of the divisions, or you will find yourself dealing with suspicious power outages and other types of sabotage, reminiscent of Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park.
Each of the islands, including the sandbox locale of Isla Nublar (unlimited funds) is relatively small, which may disappoint. The layout and placement of the parks vary, but Frontier should look into at least expanding the size for the most famous island. The DNA extracted from fossils is the lifeblood of InGen, and once you reach 50% of the base genome of a species, you can attempt to incubate it with the intention of releasing it into your park. For obvious reasons, you aren’t going to be placing carnivores in with your placid herbivores, so you need to think about the structure of your park ahead of time. Considering you are dealing with the massive creatures, enclosures need to be quite sizable, but depending upon the species, you will have to test to ensure the comfort level is to their liking. For Example, velociraptors need quite a large enclosure with a good deal of grassland, mixed with some forested areas and water. However, their very social creatures and their comfort will never be stable unless they are raised with siblings. Fail to meet the comfort levels of a dinosaur, and you’ll hear the thudding sound of your enclosure fences being broken. If a carnosaur is on the loose, you better have an Asset Containment Unit (ACU), to tranquilize the troubling monster or risk substantial lawsuits and possible deaths.
Research allows you to mess around with the dinosaurs DNA genome, altering it based on your needs or providing a resulting creature with a higher mass appeal, or attack/ defense ratings, disease resistance, or even extending their lifespan. My favorite customization is seeing new dinosaurs be released with new colors and patterns. It may increase the cost associated with incubation, and decrease the viability percentage, but it adds a nice touch of visual flair. Operational buildings can be upgraded using predetermined slots, allowing for more powerful power stations, a faster response time for both your rangers and ACU and more. You are free to rotate your buildings before they are built, but at times I fought with the game when placing them. I could never get a handle on why some structures alter the terrain around them, either raising or lowering it. There are tools to add water, forest, shrubs, and change the ground of your park, but it's wonky at best. For example, adding water also messes with the height of your land, and almost always removes existing water instead of adding it. The only way that I was able to get it to work correctly is to remove all traces of water and start fresh. The same can be said with the painting tools to add thick trees, where my money is being drained, but nothing is appearing.
The dinosaurs are the main attraction, and each species in Jurassic World Evolution looks excellent. Playing on Xbox One X, the game is sharp, colorful and beautiful when compared with a 4K TV and HDR enabled. Although I understand why all of the islands are quite similar in appearance, I would have loved to see a bit more diversity, maybe even expanding to other places around the globe. One of the neat features allows you to take control of your park rangers, which come equipped with a camera for photographs. This is used for contract purposes as well as an excellent way to earn some quick cash. On the downside, it's a bit buggy and has an extreme range limit. Numerous times, I have taken a perfect photograph only to be informed that no dinosaurs have been found in the shot.
Jurassic World Evolution is an easy to pick up title featuring great looking dinosaurs and solid park building elements. There is undoubtedly a lack of “fluff,” to beautify your park outside of the required buildings and pathways, but it's something that can be easily solved via patches. Frontier has already committed to supporting the title with new dinosaurs. Things can become quite chaotic when enclosures start to fail during a massive storm, and you lose power at the same time. Not to mention you are facing diseases and balancing the safety of the guests while providing sheer entertainment.Note: Jurassic World Evolution was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.