As I gazed across my sprawling dinosaur park with multiple habitats, visitors buzzing about buying overpriced souvenirs and dino bites from the concession stand I thought to myself…now what? This is the crux of the give and take with Jurassic World Evolution the new theme park simulation game by Frontier Developments. The game itself is absolutely gorgeous, the attention to detail and frankly epic moments of releasing new dinosaurs into enclosures can quickly win anyone over. Unfortunately, the game keeps trying to shove ‘game’ into a beautiful sim.
Harvesting The Amber
The basic premise of the game is to build and maintain several successful dinosaur parks across several islands. Each of the islands have its own challenges, from an island with extreme weather conditions, to another severely in debt. The island from the original book and movie, Isla Nublar is also included, and is the ultimate sandbox type area. Each island must be built up with the basic necessities, exhibits, attractions, merchandise stores, etc., to bring in more guests. As each park grows with it comes additional challenges from three divisions of the park, security, science, and entertainment. Each division will task you with contracts for bonus money, although in order to complete these contracts sometimes calls on you to risk the stable balance of your park. As you open more buildings on more islands more dinosaurs are unlocked through expeditions and additional buildings are available.
The game can feel like you are juggling multiple plates at once as soon as you get started, especially because you want to see everything right out of the gate. As the game progresses, the best approach becomes clear, to work in sections and not overextend your resources. After the first two islands, I quickly realized the best buildings to start out with to get the profit up while keeping my expenses limited.
The dinosaurs also have to be balanced at your park, at first I wanted to throw every dinosaur I could into the enclosure to get the most variety. This as you can imagine, ended up turning into a blood match that left a large majority of my smaller dinosaurs dead. Populating your attraction with the right mixture of dinosaurs is vital to park building. And not chasing down angry escaping dinosaurs every five minutes.
Jurassic World Evolution is an absolutely stunning game. Driving around the park to check on the buildings and do basic maintenance is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game just because you get to see so much of the detail up close. Each dinosaur looks amazing as they are released into the enclosures. The game made the right decision to give these moments the cinematic feel with swelling music and a cutscene of the dinosaur first creeping out from the shadows. Additionally, dropping the camera down the ground mode just to watch the dinosaurs roam the enclosure either socializing or feeding does bring a sense of satisfaction. The ground camera also gives a close up look to any dinosaur fights that break out when the mixture of species isn’t ideal so you can see your mistakes explode in spectacular fashion.
The game has so many wonderful visual aspects to it, which I would immediately miss when I had to jump back into the management view to do basic maintenance. Rather than lean into these impressive graphics, it can sometimes feel like the micromanagement aspect of the game wants to pull you away from it and bury you in menus and forcing you to watch budgets fluctuate. As much as I was blown away by the graphics on the dinosaurs and their enclosures I do wish the research buildings had a little more character to them. The buildings that populate the majority of the island are a standard white box type structure, once all of them are up and running it can look a little generic compared to the lush environment surrounding it.
Hold On To Your Butts
The biggest complaint about Jurassic World Evolution is just that it isn’t content being a beautiful simulation game. Rather than lean into more granular management elements like budget management and tracking guest numbers, the game turns into an exercise on how to sabotage your own park. I completely understand that in keeping with the narrative of the movies, the game should have something go wrong. However, while the movies need conflict to keep up the entertainment, the game seems to be entertaining on its own. The contract system could work well if they weren’t often times meant just to cause conflict or damage that would require cleanup afterwards.
Early on in the game the “security” division tasked me with releasing a dinosaur into the park to test security. It was clearly meant as a tutorial to explain how to handle it but the logic behind it was absolutely ridiculous since it sent visitors screaming. During the later stages of the game I was given a contract which would cause dinosaur conflict, resulting in a fight and death of one of the attractions. This was chastised by the science division, only for another contract to pop up less than an hour later from the science division asking for the same thing. By throwing wrenches via contracts into the game it can get tiresome for those just wanting to play the park simulator.
I also found Jurassic World Evolution lacking when it came to managing guests. While a park has ratings for satisfaction, it never gets into the detail necessary to cater the park to the exact needs of the visitors. Often times I would add a few food options and clothing options around the park without knowing if the placement was optimal for making money, the only clue being if an alert popped up saying the guests were looking for something that they clearly were not finding. This can seem like a nitpick however when diving into a park simulation game like this, the desire is really to get into that depth. To tweak things to an exact degree. Without it, the game feels a bit hollow.
Overall, Jurassic World Evolution really excels in some places but gets wrapped up in trying to replicate movie-type arcs. My experience with the game was predominately enjoyable even while the simulation aspects start to feel light. However, the lack of depth provides a great entry point for newcomers to the simulation genre. Once you progress in the game and conflicts are instigated from the different departments it can feel like a pain, especially if it goes against your personal vision for the park. While these contracts do provide big cash bonuses, they are not required to do them, passing on the contracts is sometimes the best plan when you just want to enjoy your time making dinos and selling merch.
Jurassic World Evolution deserves a look if you are a fan of simulation games, or just a fan of the Jurassic Park series. Simulation fans will love the park building as it really stands out as one of, if not the best, looking simulation games to ever come out. Fans of the movie series will enjoy the ability to create chaos and replicate epic fights seen in the movies while having all hell break loose. As a movie tie-in it is a lot better than it has any right to be, and it definitely does its best to appeal to both fans of the genre as well as the franchise without shortchanging either side.