About a week after the release of the latest movie entry in the franchise, Frontier Developments released Jurassic World Evolution. Connected more to the franchise as a whole than to the most recent movie, it’s a park builder/management sim that’s available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. We played the PC version, and here’s our review of that edition.
Of course, we mostly associate Frontier Developments with the Elite franchise, as we still dive into the Elite: Dangerous universe regularly. They’re also quite experienced when it comes to the park builder genre though, dating back to the likes of the Rollercoaster Tycoon sequels and other theme park-centered titles like Thrillville, Screamride and Planet Coaster. Many of the thrills in Jurassic Park Evolution can be just as intense, though the nature of the game is much more like Frontier’s Zoo Tycoon, which came out as an Xbox-exclusive title about five year ago and was one of the last 360 games I played.
As with Zoo Tycoon, managing your park in Jurassic World Evolution doesn’t involve the kind of micromanagement that Cities: Skylines sometimes falls victim to (or excels at, depending on your perspective). Instead, things are easy to understand and follow – probably making the game a good fit for consoles but not necessarily scratching that sim-itch that Skylines fans might have. The accessible approach that Frontier has taken very much fits with the central idea that what you’re really here for is a bit of dinosaur carnage every now and then. A dinosaur breaks out of his enclosure, and it’s up to you to fix things as quickly as you can.
There’s multitasking and gameplay diversity involved on several levels – one of them tied to the fact that you’re managing five islands – most of them in the game’s main campaign mode. They get progressively more difficult, and the fifth one’s reserved for the game’s sandbox mode. That mode takes place on Isla Nublar, which no doubt sounds familiar as it was the site for most of the first film’s antics. It’s smart to play through the campaign mode first, since whatever you unlock (which includes dinosaur types) is available in the sandbox mode and you’re stuck with a limited set when you start out right away.
As with most park builders, you’ll have to manage the infrastructure of your park – keeping the animals and visitors safe, having the right buildings in the right spots and making sure every building receives enough power. There’s a clear need for fences as well of course, but dinosaurs will eventually break out no matter what – it wouldn’t be a “Jurassic” title if they didn’t. Gameplay is broken up into three types of missions, ranging from science and entertainment to security. They can rebel if you ignore them for too long, and making one of them happy is bound to piss off people in another department.
Carefully balancing your relationships with these specialists in their own area is challenging enough, but completing tasks also gives you access to new buildings and species. You can send scientists off to harvest new DNA material for additional dinosaurs, but (as with tech trees in other games) this will take time. Then, when the new dinosaurs arrive, they’ll come with their own challenges and requirements – especially the bigger types.
Unlocking additional dinosaurs is great, especially because they look and move great – Jurassic World Evolution is one of the best looking park builders I’ve seen so far, and it’s all thanks to their extinct superstars and how lovingly they’ve been digitally recreated. Further enhancing the audiovisual experience is the voiceover work by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, who reprises his role as Ian Malcolm like he did in the recent movie as well. Bryce Dallas Howard does the same, but Chris Pratt is absent even though his character Owen Grady does pop up. There is plenty of other Jurassic Park stuff from the movie franchise though – ranging from skins and quotes all the way up to the excellent musical themes by John Williams.
If I had to fault Jurassic World Evolution, I’d have to point at the flow of gameplay feeling a bit rough around the edges at times. It can take a while before things get interesting, and sometimes I’d be offered missions (contracts) that I had pretty much already completed on my own prior to being offered the mission. Completing what I was already doing didn’t feel quite as satisfying as setting specific resources aside for something unexpected, even though the reward was the same. Frontier’s usually excellent about post-release support their games though, so perhaps these little issues with game logic will be ironed out before too long.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with Jurassic World Evolution, and I’ve pretty sure other fans of the franchise will too. Sim purists might want to look elsewhere, but it’s an accessible park builder with a ton of fan service and polish attached to it that I’d be happy to see evolve into a franchise.