Spare no expense in Jurassic World Evolution as you attempt to create your own dinosaur park while balancing sabotage, extreme weather, and cringe-worthy voice lines.
Title: Jurassic World Evolution
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: June 12, 2018
A bright red claw mark icon flashed at the top of my screen. The notification signified a “Dinosaur Threat,” which was apparent by the screams of nearby guests. I quickly moved my camera to view the problem area. One of my clever velociraptors was unhappy with her enclosure and broke through the fence.
Right when she was about to attack a nearby guest, I received a new notification. I had completed the security-focused mission “Survival of the Fittest,” which was all about keeping dinosaurs housed within their enclosures – how fitting! Welcome … to Jurassic World Evolution!
I have always had a soft spot for park builders and simulation games, from RollerCoaster Tycoon to Zoo Tycoon (complete with the Dinosaur Digs expansion) to Frontier Developments’ Planet Coaster. So when I first heard Frontier was working on a Jurassic Park themed simulation and management game, it was hard to keep my expectations in check.
Planet Coaster was an amazing sandbox experience with copious customization options, but its management mechanics and lackluster missions left me unfulfilled. Could Jurassic World Evolution expand upon Planet Coaster‘s mechanics and combine a fantasy park building experience with a meaningful progression system?
I quickly found out the Jurassic World Evolution went in the opposite direction in terms of focus. While Planet Coaster was about building a beautiful custom park to please your guests, Jurassic World Evolution was more about dinosaur management and simulation mechanics.
The dinosaurs, as they probably should be, are the star of the game. That is, right next to the constant popup voice overs from characters from the recent Jurassic World movies. Jeff Goldblum, a.k.a. Dr. Ian Malcom, will not let you forget that this is a licensed game!
Jurassic World Evolution is, of course, a movie tie-in with the recently released Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom film. Being a huge fan of the original movies, I have no problem, in concept, with linking this game with the franchise.
It turned out to be one of the better, if not the best, movie tie-in video games I have ever played (not like that bar is very high, however). But I couldn’t help but feel like numerous aspects of the game were rushed to ensure the game coincided with the release of the Fallen Kingdom in theaters.
Jurassic World Evolution takes place on the infamous Las Cinco Muertes archipelago southwest of Costa Rica: the same location all of the movies take place. You are tasked with building up different theme parks on each of the five islands, each with their own set of missions. There are three park divisions you must appease while developing your park: Science, Entertainment, and Security.
Similar to the movies, these three divisions are always clashing. Science wants to focus on learning more about dinosaur behavior, entertainment is all about guest happiness, and security is supposedly about safety. You can take on contracts for each division, building your reputation with each to unlock exclusive rewards for your park.
You would expect these contracts to relate specifically to each division, but often times they didn’t exactly make sense. The Science division would sometimes give contracts related to making money, while other times the Security division would have missions relating to researching dinosaur genomes. This ultimately isn’t a dealbreaker, but it just seemed odd when these reputations are the primary progression mechanic in Jurassic World Evolution.
Where the reputation levels really kick in, though, is the sabotage mechanic. You have to balance your reputation across all three divisions. If you ignore one division for too long, they will sabotage your park similar to the movies. This includes shutting down your power plants or opening all of the enclosure gates in your park for a short time.
This can have devastating effects on your park and ultimately ruin your park rating. While this is meant to add an interesting twist to how you approach contracts, it’s relatively easy to manage. It acts more of a way to extend the time it takes to raise your reputations, since completing a contract for one division also lowers your reputation with the other two.
Division reputation and sabotages are just one of several mechanics you have to balance when developing your parks. Dinosaur comfort level is of the utmost importance. This means balancing each enclosure’s dino population, the amount of grassland versus forest, the size of the enclosure, and ensuring it’s constantly stocked with food and water.
Jurassic World Evolution not only lets you architect your own dinosaur theme park but lets you experience it firsthand.
The game’s dinosaur management mechanics are the most enjoyable part of Jurassic World Evolution. Balancing the needs of different species while still completing contracts and keeping your dinosaur rating high is addicting.
The effort and care taken into the different dinosaur models and their behaviors are where the game truly shines. This is showcased best when you traverse your park from the eyes of your staff members or guests. Whether riding in the back of a ranger truck shooting medicine at sick dinos or exploring an enclosure as a guest in a gyrosphere, observing the different dinosaurs up close hits a nostalgia factor for the Jurassic Park franchise in a major way.
My favorite part of the first Jurassic World movie was finally seeing the theme park come to fruition (at least temporarily). Jurassic World Evolution not only lets you architect your own dinosaur theme park but lets you experience it firsthand.
But then the game throws you a curve ball with its weather mechanics, throwing your park into a complete frenzy. Similar to the movies, severe weather on Las Cinco Muertes is a real danger to both guest and dinosaur safety. Certain islands are more prone to bad weather than others, which is a part of the challenge. You can build storm protection buildings to prevent some damage, but occasionally a tornado will come through and demolish half your park and send dinosaurs running free.
A few times this happened at inopportune moments, leaving me nearly a million dollars in debt and forcing me to sell both dinosaurs and buildings to recoup my losses. I understand dealing with weather is part of the challenge, but when you can do next to nothing to prevent catastrophic damage, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened. It again felt more like a tactic to extend the play length of each island rather than add meaningful simulation and management gameplay.
Recovering from losses felt even more of a grind due to the lack of any sort of “fast-forward” time button. This was also annoying when some contracts and missions required essentially just waiting for time to elapse, whether that be incubating new dinosaurs or just waiting for time to pass so you can build up more money.
I felt like Jurassic World Evolution‘s financial management system was not quite balanced appropriately, either.
Not having this feature in a park building simulation game is a vast oversight and is my primary complaint about Jurassic World Evolution. I spent more time twiddling my thumbs waiting out time-gated missions than I would have liked. It took away from the magic of building a park, making it feel more like a tedious chore instead.
I felt like Jurassic World Evolution‘s financial management system was not quite balanced appropriately, either. At the start of every month, you lose money to pay for staff wages and park upkeep, but the game gave no indication of when the month was over. This is important when starting off a new island, where money can be hard to come by. It’s hard to plan ahead without some knowledge of how much time has passed.
The amount of money you obtain seemed much more closely tied to your park’s dinosaur rating than to the guest happiness rating. While you can add a number of different entertainment, food, and drink buildings to your park, dinosaurs are ultimately what makes the most money.
It was interesting trying to find which dinos give you the most bang for your buck. But in every park, you can quickly reach a point where money is no longer an issue. Before completing several of the division missions, I would have tens of millions of dollars and could build whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
The park rating system itself was a very fickle mechanic. Getting your dinosaur rating to the maximum five stars was relatively easy since the number of dinosaurs in your park heavily influenced this rating. But appeasing the visitors was not quite as straightforward. Guest happiness is calculated as an average of various ratings such as food, drink, shopping, entertainment, and transportation.
However, these ratings seemed to fluctuate constantly, even if I built all of the buildings in the designated “hot spots” (i.e., shopping and restaurants close to enclosure viewing areas). This makes it hard to get a five-star rating for your park since you need both dinosaur and guest ratings maxed out. When the game wants a five-star rating, it seemingly requires absolute perfection. Yet the game’s fluctuating ratings made this task abnormally difficult and sometimes even downright irritating.
What added to this frustration was Jurassic World Evolution‘s poor terrain editing tools. You can raise and lower the terrain on the island, but there are no elevation indicators on the map. The tool itself is hard to use, especially when you want to flatten land. I lost count of the number of times I couldn’t place a building in a location due to “terrain constraints” even though the land was seemingly flat and the building should have fit in the target spot. The path editing tool was similarily janky, with some random paths not connecting to buildings for no apparent reason.
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To make matters worse, I experienced at least once every play session an interesting bug that prevented me from interacting with the game correctly. It was as if the keys to move the camera around were stuck, and I had no control over what I was seeing in the game. I confirmed it was not an external software or hardware problem, and restarting the game seemed to fix the issue. Although sometimes even quitting the game via the game’s menus caused the application to freeze, and I would have to force quit the game using the Windows Task Manager.
Despite its flaws, Jurassic World Evolution is unexpectedly quite addicting. It taps into your inherent desire for gratification, constantly improving various reputations, gaining money, researching new park features, and increasing a dinosaurs genome percentages. The game is filled with leveling and percentage bars that kept me hooked as a completionist gamer. It ultimately took me about 35 hours to complete all of the game’s missions and unlock all reputation rewards.
Even so, the game’s hefty $60 price tag is tough to swallow due to the game’s relatively repetitive and tedious nature. But in terms of licensed, movie tie-in video games, Jurassic World Evolution sets a new high bar. If you are a fan of the Jurassic Park franchise or just dinosaurs in general, Jurassic World Evolution is just barely enjoyable enough to keep your attention if you can handle grinding reputation contracts. Just be prepared to hold onto your butts for catastrophic park failures and lots of downtime.
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