Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Fifteen years ago I fell in love with Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. It was the original dinosaur park sim that let me prove that breeding dinosaurs for consumer entertainment is a totally valid business strategy.
Now from the makers of Planet Coaster comes Jurassic World Evolution. Like the current era of Jurassic World films it’s not quite as good as the original. But Evolution does feature all the joy and danger of breeding and housing dinosaurs for entertainment that makes the concept so richly compelling.
Welcome, to Jurassic Park
In Jurassic World Evolution you follow a single career through managing five separate island-based theme parks. Each park has a potential 5-star rating. Earning just a 3-star rating will unlock the next progressively more challenging island.
Each island comes with its own unique topography, weather patterns, and challenges. One island is constantly bombarded by violent storms, which frequently damage your buildings and upset your dinosaurs, while another vastly limits the buildable area to a tiny sliver. Eventually you can unlock Isla Nublar, site of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, as a large sandbox to mess around in.
To build a successful park you’ll need a variety of dinosaurs, as well as facilities for your brave dino enthusiasts to shop, eat, and rest.
Every building and facility must be connected via both a path and the electric grid. Power must be connected from power stations to substations. Power is indicated by an aura around these stations, and losing power quickly spells disaster. It’s an effective system that encourages efficient and thoughtful planning of paths, buildings, and enclosures.
But the primary challenge is keeping your dinosaurs happy.
You Bred Raptors
The dinosaurs are the real stars of Jurassic World Evolution, as they should be. Dinosaurs are acquired by sending expedition teams out to recover fossils, unlocking their DNA at a fossil center, then incubating them at a creation center.
I enjoyed that each dinosaur’s DNA can be tweaked and modified by researching new gene modifications. These mods increase stats such as lifespan, resilience, and attack and defense ratings. It very much evokes the science-run-amok themes of the franchise.
Once hatched each dinosaur species, of which the game has over 40, has its own fluid needs that must be met. Ankylosaurus is a Grumpy Gus who won’t tolerate more than half a dozen dinosaurs in its enclosure. Camarasaurus needs a large mount of trees to make it feel safe. All dinosaurs require the appropriate feeders and a water source. Mix carnivores and herbivores together at your own peril.
If a dinosaur’s comfort rating drops into the red threshold, it will attempt to escape and wreck havoc. As appropriate, Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus Rex have very low comfort thresholds, and frequently put your park and guests in a world of danger.
To combat these threats you can build the ACU and Ranger stations, which provide aerial and land support. The ACU will fire tranq darts at dinosaurs, which can then be moved or sold off.
The jeeps of the Ranger Station do literally everything else in your park, from repairing fences to medicating sick dinosaurs. All of these tasks can be either assigned and automated, or you can opt to manually operate the vehicles.
It’s not exactly a racing sim but driving around my park taking pictures of dino action is a fun diversion, and the dinosaurs are fascinatingly interesting and detailed when viewed up close.
The biggest gameplay leap from Operation Genesis to Evolution is the inclusion of three divisions, which serve as a quest-like system for each park. Throughout your career you earn reputation for the Science, Entertainment, and Security divisions.
Each division provides one big mission per park as well as smaller, randomized contracts. Examples include taking photos, breeding certain dinosaurs with specific traits, and even encouraging them to fight (earning a higher combat rating for the winning dinosaur). The missions and contracts do a solid job providing big and small goals on your way to earning a higher star rating with each island.
Jurassic World Evolution has been rated T for Teen for Mild Blood and Violence. Despite the danger of dinosaur breakouts, the violence is heavily minimized.
Unlike Operation Genesis, you cannot shoot-to-kill (only tranquilize) and the dinosaurs will not destroy your jeeps. Dinosaurs can definitely eat the guests, but the animations are pretty tame given the top-down perspective.
Jurassic World Evolution gives me exactly what I wanted with a modern-day theme park sim. The dinosaurs are amazingly fun, varied, and interesting, with the caveat that the actual park management (particularly the guests) are much less in-depth.
Compared to Planet Coaster, many of the more moddable systems and deeper mechanics have been scaled back to make Jurassic World Evolution more console-friendly. For park and builder sim veterans it feels like a small step backward. And without at least a proper island park editor I can’t quite rate Evolution above Operation Genesis. But it is absolutely worth playing if you’re at all a fan of dinosaurs, the Jurassic Park franchise, and theme park sims.