Spare no expense! Because it doesn’t matter anyway
First, you build the park and hire staff, then you begin expeditions in search of fossils and mosquitoes trapped in amber. Then comes creating new life from something long dead millions of years ago, all while ignoring the opinions of someone who’s seen this all before and once described chaos theory. This is then followed up by crowds of people willing to pay top dollar to see these creatures in a habitat as close to natural as you decide for them.
Then, soon enough, comes the screaming and yelling as one of these creatures you created with much larger teeth escapes due to a less than obvious power disruption at an inopportune time. All while this is going down, the ranger jeep is stuck inside a restaurant. This is all fine, though, because soon after the alarms have ended and the creatures are back in their enclosures, people come pouring back in once more to do it all over again. It’s just a shame they care as little for their own lives as much as Jurassic World Evolution seems to care for its overall business and park simulation mechanics.
Jurassic World Evolution (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Released: June 12, 2018
Evolution was at its best when I was simply planning out the next enclosure I wanted to build for one of the many dinosaurs it’s possible to dig up and bring back from the past. Evolution features an impressive roster of over 40 different dinosaurs, many of which are from the various films. Everything from the obvious tyrannosaurus with its iconic roar, to the towering brachiosaurus, the ever so clever and overgrown velociraptors, and even that spliced-up monstrosity from Jurassic World.
But, this roster of dinos also includes notable surprises not seen in the films, such as the giganotosaurus (my personal favorite), and even the dinosaur the films based the velociraptor’s size and general appearance on — the deinonychus. All of them are beautifully and meticulously detailed. Simply sitting back and watching them was something I spent more time doing than I care to admit.
All of these dinosaurs also include their own distinct stats and preferences that you’ll need to be aware of to fully integrate them into your park. Things as simple as how much foliage and grassland you need to have in your enclosure, to the more complicated matter of maintaining dinosaur population and social stats by ensuring you have just the right amount of them in any specific enclosure. Having too many or too little of something will result in your dinosaurs’ comfort levels dropping, followed up by them getting pissed off and trying to break out of the enclosure. That said, it’s difficult to gauge what your enclosure will need before you hatch a new dinosaur for the first time, as you can only more or less find out once you’ve released one inside it.
Notably, you can also modify the dinosaurs themselves by messing with their genome, allowing for a number of different alternate colors to choose from and stats. This also increases the rating of that dinosaur at the risk of making them harder to incubate and the predators far more dangerous.
Regardless, these dinosaurs will break out thanks to a huge variety of things that can go wrong within your park, from power outages and sabotage to massive storms that can hit your island at any moment. It’s here where both the dinosaur and park tycoon aspects blend perfectly, as you chase down dinosaurs with an ACU helicopter to tranquilize them before they chow down on too many customers.
However, these brief moments of chaos are some of the very few decent park tycoon and simulation mechanics in Evolution, as pretty much everything else is extremely shallow. Sure, Evolution has a fair amount of variety in what you can build, but none of it really adds to anything outside of a simplistic five-star rating system. You build restaurants and stores to serve food and sell stuff, you build shelters and hotels to keep your guests safe and so more can come. That’s about as far Evolution treads into the realm of a business tycoon. There are no quotas to meet or time constraints, hell, the concept of time is straight up absent altogether in Evolution — including day and night cycles. Instead, Evolution simply has preset times of day across its different islands, ranging from noon, dusk, and night.
For example, you don’t even need to worry about how clean the park is. Evolution doesn’t even have bathrooms, benches, or trashcans anywhere to be found on the pathways you construct in your park. You also don’t interact with guests in any meaningful way. Instead, feedback just boils down to a small window advising you of three specific criteria to meet for both your dinosaur and facility rating.
Even worse, when those dinosaurs do inevitably break out and eat your guests, the consequences are so minimal it’s almost comedic. Once they’re back in the enclosures and all the alarms are over, regardless of the damage caused and lives lost, as long as you still have a fair amount of dinosaurs on hand, the park will continue to make more money than you can even spend.
To compensate for the lacking business tycoon mechanics, Evolution instead offers up a variety of tasks to complete in the form of contracts and missions. You’ll progress through these missions across five different island scenarios given to you by three specific divisions that run the whole operation known simply as Science, Security, and Entertainment. The missions and contracts themselves range from researching a specific type of new genome modification, increasing the island to a specific rating, or even incubating a specific set of dinosaurs.
Notably, the voice work in Evolution is pretty solid thanks to its star-studded cast that includes the likes of Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcom. You’ll mostly hear dialogue during and after the missions themselves, with an overarching plot of Dr. Malcom trying to get to the bottom of what Dr. Wu and the Security Division are up to. But, sadly, that plot thread goes nowhere.
After completing the final mission in the game, various characters spouted some throwaway dialogue, resulting in the game coming to a pause…and then the credits rolled. Simply put, the progression system in Evolution is downright awful and makes me wish cheat codes were still a thing so I could simply skip this crap. Even worse, Evolution gates off dinosaurs and buildable amenities behind these contracts and missions as unlockables for completing them.
Throw all this in with a surprising lack of space to build things across the five scenario islands and it makes the already unfulfilling park building more frustrating than it should be. Even when I completed all the missions across the five scenario islands, the final free-for-all island with unlimited money (known as Isla Nublar) wasn’t exactly as large as I’d hoped. Admittedly, you do unlock Isla Nublar pretty early in Evolution, but in order to make use of that space effectively, you’ll still need access to plenty of dinosaurs, research, and buildable amenities.
Despite all this, after playing over fifty hours of Evolution, I still certainly had my fair share of fun. The dinosaurs are absolutely the star of the show here and surprisingly enough, the controller support for Evolution is spot on and really intuitive. But if you’re looking for a solid dinosaur-themed tycoon or business sim, then you might wanna keep looking. Because sadly, Evolution just comes off feeling like it was rushed out the door. Here’s hoping Frontier Developments continues to support the game in the coming months because what’s here right now is just a skeleton of a game waiting to be fossilized.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]