Jurassic World Evolution
Along with a new movie, dinosaur fans have a new park-building game to get their hands on this Summer. While Jurassic World Evolution nails the sense of grandeur it’s bogged down by some frustrating systems. Come inside for my full review!
Young me watched movies and played video games I was definitely far under the recommended age group for. Anything from the classic 80s slasher films to the extremely vulgar Conker's Bad Fur Day were on the table; including Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park sparked my interested in dinosaurs and it carried on through many dinosaur documentaries over the years, long beyond when my peers had grown out of their childhood dinosaur "phase."
There was something about those knife-like raptor toes, the impressive size of the brachiosaurus, and the brute strength of the tyrannosaurus rex that seemed like an epic myth, except it was all real and set millions of years before any of us were alive. My love for dinosaurs is also what drove me to try out Zoo Tycoon, a park-building sim that had a fantastic dinosaur-centric expansion pack and carved a special place in my heart for park sim games thereafter. It's my hope that you can imagine the excitement I felt when I heard about Jurassic Park Evolution, a park building game from the series that started it all for me focused entirely on dinosaurs. It was one of my dream games becoming a reality, and so it hurts me terribly to write this review.
Let me get what this game does well out of the way first, since it will (to my great dismay) be the shortest portion of my review. If you saw some of the early gameplay footage of this game and thought it looked too visually stunning to be true, you were wrong; it looks fantastic. Everything from the buildings to the environment is beautiful. The trees sway gently in the wind, the modern buildings gleam in the sun, and even the guests who you never get too great of a look at are modeled perfectly well for a park building game.
The focus, however, is clearly on the dinosaurs. Every time you release a new dinosaur, you get an introductory cutscene of its release and it's the type of eye candy you can enjoy every single time. They move just the way you would expect, you get a feel for their impressive size, and the roars they let out remind me of just how powerful these creatures were. The developers went all out on making the dinosaurs look and sound fantastic, and this carries over to every audiovisual aspect of the game. Sadly, the game's merits are purely superficial.
The best way to describe what's wrong with Jurassic World Evolution is by looking at something as old as Zoo Tycoon and everything it did right. It's as if Jurassic World Evolution paid no attention to the long lineage of every park builder before it and instead relied on its branding and visuals to pull it toward success. It’s feels like they tried to make a game that appealed to the masses (to earn more money) while ignoring the fact that what makes park building sims fun in the first place is the niche the genre it inhabits. We've seen this before with horror games such as Dead Space. It was a fantastic series until EA decided that horror didn't sell enough copies, and so, it was turned into a generic action title to appeal to more people.
Everything is so streamlined in Jurassic World Evolution that building a park becomes formulaic while the actual necessities of the guests and dinosaurs become so vague they're super difficult to figure out and satisfy. This means the real "gameplay" is figuring out how the game wants you to play. There's no decorations or even different skins for buildings. You get one fast food place and one restaurant and that's it for food. It took me until I finished nearly all of the islands to figure out that if stores weren't right next to the dinosaur viewers, your park was going to fail. This means that, on top of buildings having no aesthetic individuality, neither do your parks. Boil down a park sim into a formula to gain visitors and ratings and the result is too close to a mobile game for my comfort.
But hey, at least you can make interesting shopping centers with fancy paths and pretend there's a bit more decoration there, right? No, probably not, because this game hates letting you place things where you want. It doesn't help that nearly every building is way bigger than you might expect. Most of the time, when you do find what looks like just enough space to squeeze in another hotel or power station, your plans are thwarted with "terrain constraints." I can't begin to describe my frustration with placing buildings in this game, but I'm sure (like my plans of making a somewhat unique park), it ends with "terrain constraints!"
There's seemingly no rhyme or reason to it sometimes. You can delete all of the trees, flatten and smooth the ground out, turn the building in every direction, but if the game decides you're not placing that building there, you're not placing that building there. The worst part is that there's an entire island where the challenge is that you have less space than the normally small areas you're going to build on. It's endlessly frustrating and makes building a park, the assumed core gameplay of a park building game, a chore.
With your park being a dry, formulaic numbers game for rating and profit, it only magnifies the fact that Jurassic World Evolution is featureless compared to so many of its predecessors. There's no mode where you can walk around your own park and view it from a guest's perspective. The closest thing we get to that is a controllable gyrosphere but that's not unlocked until endgame. Once you parse out the dinosaurs' vague "forest" and "grassland" needs, there's not much to taking care of them beyond filling up their feeders and curing the occasional illness. There aren't any bathrooms for the guests either, so I'm assuming neither the dinosaurs nor the guests ever go to the bathroom? None of the guests need to sit down? Beyond clicking on new parts of the map to send somebody to a dig site and clicking on a found fossil to extract part of a genome, where is the gameplay? Most of your down time is spent looking at how nice your dinosaurs looks because you're waiting on a dig team, waiting on a fossil, waiting on a dinosaur to hatch, all while waiting for the game to become the park building game you so desperately wanted it to be.
I will say, the inclusion of natural disasters and missions is at least an attempt at making Jurassic World Evolution into more of a game than it is dinosaur eye candy, but even the missions fall flat. Some are so simple that you can click a few things and boom, it's done. Here's some money. Others, however, put a stopper on just about everything you're doing; forcing you spend a bunch of money on dinosaurs only to have you to watch them fight to the death. At one point you’re tasked with getting a T-Rex, then told he's going to be angry for no reason for five minutes and to deal with him without selling him. I get that this game is playing off of how heartless and money hungry the people of the Jurassic World movies are, but the missions only seemed to get in the way of the entertainment. Maybe if the game didn't feel just as money-hungry and heartless as the game's own characters, I could feel something other than annoyance with mission disruptions.