Anyone who has watched a Jurassic World (or Jurassic Park) movie has probably been convinced that they can built a theme park full of dinosaurs a whole lot better. With Jurassic World Evolution, that opportunity is finally provided to them. Evolution, a tie-in video game to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, casts the player in the shoes of John Hammond (or Simon Masrani). You, the player, are in charge of the park and it's your responsibility (by shifting through menus, creating dinosaurs and managing finances) to make sure no one gets eaten.
The fact that Jurassic World Evolution is tied to a film release and an economic simulator probably will fill most players with dread. Luckily, Jurassic World Evolution bucks the worst trends of both genres. It is a must have for any Jurassic World fan, park builder fan, or just plain dinosaur geek.
Although Jurassic World Evolution bears its name with the new series of movies, thematically it shares quite a bit more with the original Jurassic Park. You'd expect the tie-in to Jurassic World to be all action and thrilling dinosaur chases but Evolution isn't that game. The game is a hardcore (but still accessible) simulator that demands attention and forethought. If a carnivore is placed in the same exhibit as a herbivore, things will go very, very wrong.
In broad strokes, Jurassic World Evolution isn't too much different than other simulator games, especially the Tycoon games of the early 2000s. Jurassic World Evolution in the simplest terms is Zoo Tycoon with dinosaurs which is no surprise given that developer Frontier Developments made Zoo Tycoon along with Kinectimals and Planet Coaster. The player is thrown into a empty template of a park, must fill it with dinosaurs and then try to make it a successful (non-fatal) business. Jurassic World Evolution doesn't reinvent the wheel. The game hews closely to the conventions of the simulator genre. There is a lot of time spent in menus and micromanaging but it's done the right way. The gameplay can end up becoming surprisingly addictive, if given the chance.
Jurassic World Evolution starts off rather slow. Although the game teases you with building parks on five islands, at first only one island is open. This opening island, the smallest of the bunch, is the tutorial level. It introduces all the mechanics of Jurassic World Evolution and the basic gameplay loop. You build buildings around the park to the island to bring in revenue, you send out dig teams to find fossils to breed new dinosaurs and generally just make sure everything isn't on fire.
There are few opportunities to get up close and person in Jurassic World Evolution. It's possible to directly control the rangers of the park who do maintenance and medicine treatment. It's also possible to play as the ACU security units who prevent a dino outbreak from becoming a dino disaster. Yet, for the most part , Jurassic World Evolution, is bird's eye view and hands-off type of gameplay. It's about managing and running the park, not being a member of it.
The simple process of finding fossils and cloning dinosaurs out of them is addictive and gratifying. It helps that that Evolution animates the creatures in gorgeous fashion. The dinosaur move and look exactly like they do in the movies, if not better, and that's the draw of the game. Evolution makes you truly feel as if you're bringing an ancient world to life. Evolution adds an extra level of customization too by allowing the player to mess with dinosaur genome. These add new cosmetics or can make the dinosaurs tougher or live longer.
There is a career and story mode to Jurassic World Evolution too. It just happens to be one of the game's weakest elements. Jurassic World Evolution introduces a variety of characters, through voice-acting alone, that are a mixture of original characters and figures from the movies. None of them are all that interesting or compelling. Evolution has four main adviser characters, Cabot Finch, Kajal Dua, Isaac Clement and George Lambert. The voice acting for each is great but the characters range from mildly annoying to brain dead boring.
Dua is focused on making the park as scientific as possible, Isaac is all about the entertainment and revenue and Lambert is concerned with security. Yet each ends up being rather indistinguishable. Cabot Finch is the park's PR man but in reality that just boils down to him delivering tutorial facts in a very swarmy and unlikable way. Evolution does boast an all-new story set in the Jurassic World universe. In all honestly the characters and story are just something to sit through to get the new quests and objectives. They add very little personality on their own. The career isn't entirely without charm. One of the challenges involves lasting three real-world minutes without a carnivore eating four park visitors. The fun just isn't coming from the new characters or the paper thin story.
Inclusions of movie characters like Owen Grady, Ian Malcolm and Claire Dearing should make things more interesting. They don't. It's nice that B.D. Wong, Jeff Goldblum and Bryce Dallas Howard all reprising their roles. (Owen, meanwhile, is voiced by someone who is aggressively not Chris Pratt.) Yet none of the actor seem particularly interested. Goldblum is putting a little oompf into it but Howard and Wong are on auto-pilot.
There's no mincing words. The star(s) of Jurassic World Evolution, much like the movies, are the dinosaurs. The joy of discovery and small sense of wonderment that comes from the dinosaurs is more than enough to make up for the faint snoring sound of Bryce Dallas Howard falling asleep into her voice acting microphone. The satisfaction of owning your very own dinosaur park more than makes up for the game's other shortcomings.
The novelty of bringing dinosaurs doesn't get old even hours into the game, mostly because new species are always on the horizon. This cycle of dinosaurs is what makes the game's sandbox mode, the best mode by far. The sandbox is available right away too and only requires getting the first tutorial island to a four-star rating, which amounts to learning the basics of the game's mechanics. Afterwards the sandbox mode is open which incidentally takes place on the original Jurassic Park island. It is a bit disappointing that there's only one map for the sandbox but it the game's biggest map and there's added fan service in being the island that started the franchise. On the sandbox island players are free to do whatever, building their dream dinosaur theme park or the one from every visitor's nightmares.
The case of the sandbox mode is the perfect metaphor for Jurassic World Evolution. It's a little bit or work and tedium for the reward of a lot dinosaur fun.
Jurassic World Evolution is available digitally June 12 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for $59.99. A physical release for consoles will be available July 3 and we reviewed the PS4 version.
- Jurassic World Evolution (2018 Video Game) release date: Jun 12, 2018