Being late to the party with the first game, it’s actually only this year that I got to see how much of a great job Frontier Developments had made with converting the Jurassic Park franchise into a fully featured game. If there’s any genre that the Universal property fits it’s that of park sim and strategic management. What made it stand out further from the crowd is the faithfulness to the series of films and managing to employ a good chunk of the main cast to bring the authenticity. When I heard Jurassic World Evolution 2 was in development I did start to wonder exactly how they could take it further. As much as I rinsed the first one and the DLC, more of the same doesn’t really cut it in a sequel… it needs to be bigger, badder and bring something surprising with it. The movies have always managed this (with mixed results, granted), and with the latest instalment Dominion due next year providing inspiration for the campaign mode, I’m hopeful that the incubation period over the last couple of years will hatch something promising.
How does Jurassic World Evolution 2 expand the scope and scale? It changes the task to that of creating a dinosaur sanctuary across the United States of America. As the prehistoric creatures are now roaming free over the mainland US it’s up to you as a containment and welfare expert to help round them up and stop them from doing damage to humans, as well as keeping an eye out for a place they could be allowed to grow on their own. This is the premise of the campaign and plays out across 5 scenarios in different environments that showcases a new look and feel after the tropical setting of Las Cinco Muertes. From arid Arizona to lush Oregon, the aim is to capture and contain the free roaming beasts, and set up a safe haven for each. This is a more hands on approach than it first appears, and the game wastes no time putting you in charge of helicopters and trucks to personally hunt and tranquilise them. In fact, whilst the campaign serves as a tutorial to the core mechanics, it’s definitely more action focused than steady resource management, and lets you get used to the mechanics with little pressure. The idea behind being part of an agency that’s looking at the best interests of the newly introduced extinct creatures works well, as does a level of intrigue hinting at something more sinister going on. Sadly, the game skirts that side of things which makes me think it’s a plot point for the movie that can’t be revealed yet (and shouts “DLC incoming!”).
Figuring out how to tackle each of the scenarios won’t take long as you’re guided through pretty smartly by the returning cast from the first game, complete with Jeff Goldblum chipping in every now and again, and it’s then into the meat of Jurassic World Evolution 2. There are two other objective focused modes available – Challenge and Chaos Theory – and both are designed to be the timesink previous players will know and love. Challenge mode puts you in a map and tasks you with completing objectives in the world post-Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, whereas Chaos Theory puts you in charge of creating the parks from the previous 5 films to see if you can do better at keeping your guests alive. The choice of which to play first is open, but I’d really suggest Chaos Theory and the original Jurassic Park as a starting point because it provides more tutorial information. In the campaign you’re taught about the new capture and diagnosis elements, though it leaves out any of the entertainment parts and the fossil extraction side, and it’s key to learn these to maximise your chances of success. Returning builders will find the interfaces familiar, yet it’s not exactly the same as what came before.
With a number of core differences it’s hard to know where to start and whether they’re improvements or just deeper systems. Some ideas like the herbivores now feed on the local flora according to their taste come from a reworking of DLC from the first game, and that particular example is streamlined to make it much easier to keep on top of too. Dinosaur species interactions are more complex and their group behaviour apparent from the beginning. They’ll now establish their territory rather than just use the pen you’ve dropped them in, and each species can have different personality traits within the group that adds for more dynamic results. It’s no longer a case of making them comfortable and forgetting about them till they die of old age, they’ll fight and get agitated depending on what’s going on around them, and have a constant stream of illnesses and injuries to be diagnosed and treated. Including a medical centre with its own vehicle for investigation is a good move and Jurassic World Evolution 2 makes a lot of use of it. With a need to keep a close eye on all the inhabitants of a park, the new ranger posts come in handy for regular patrols, and as long as there’s nothing drastic happening, the game is very good and letting you get on top of things. There’s even a pause/speed up time option included which was sorely missing last time around.
Cosmetically, the buildings have had an overhaul and can be customised in each park as well depending on your preferences, so you really can put a personal stamp on each one, though it’s the newly introduced ones that make it more interesting. With new enclosures like the aviary, or power options in repeating substations, there are multiple ways to make your specific creation stand out. Likewise, there are new species of dinosaur to figure out comfort requirements for, and all have a better indicator of which other types they’re happy to share space with, which means the guess work of whether there’ll be bloodshed in an enclosure is somewhat taken out. Creating these wonderful reptiles is a two stage process now that requires genomes to be incubated first, and that takes out some of the cost of a batch failure because not all your cash will have been committed to the full growing cycle. Once incubation is complete you’ll be presented with a number of eggs to take forward that can contain different traits per egg, and decide from there how many to grow. It’s great for making multiple batches and filling the parks is a faster process because of it, yet there is a price to pay… staffing.
Probably the biggest new feature is having to manage staffing levels that support logistics, wellbeing and genetics, and will be the gateway to getting research done, recovering fossils and producing new attractions. Scientists are the doers in Jurassic World Evolution 2 and need to be worked, rested and educated to deliver on your objectives. Most activities outside building and ranger-ing need some kind of support – like researching new buildings takes logistics skills, or recovering fossil DNA needs genetic abilities. Matching each scientist’s skill set to the task at hand is important otherwise there’ll not be enough resource to get it completed, and these people get tired from being overworked, so need to be rested frequently to stop them going rogue. Higher level improvements mean higher skill sets, and there’s hiring and firing to be done, or pay to train up who you already have in the roster. Money is key obviously as these parks cost multiple millions of dollars to get up and running, and nothing comes cheap, including the fuel to run the jeeps and helicopters.
Making a profit isn’t difficult as long as you’re paying attention to what’s coming in and going out, and this time around making money is a bit more transparent. With different types of visitors being attracted by different things, you’ve options to setup the concessions and decide what they’re going to sell, and what decorations are used to entice which customers in. Higher profits come from selling the most expensive stuff to the biggest group you can, but don’t neglect the others or you’ll miss out on overall visitors. The overlays flashed up when selecting buildings or using the stats features show very clearly what’s working and what isn’t, and it’s easy to take action to remedy any misstep. Being able to move a construction now is something that should have been in sooner, and means bad placements are a thing of the past. There are other quality of life gains such as being able to transport automatically from hatcheries to pens, and markers which indicate power connections if you’re in range. A lot of the trial and error has been removed and it makes for a smoother, more engrossing experience. It’s not all perfect though, there are a few bugs that need ironing out.
Even though Jurassic World Evolution 2 looks very pretty, static shots hide the amount of shadow pop-in there is when zooming in and out of the maps. It’s surprisingly distracting, and sometimes the shadows just decide to flicker in and out of existence on their own. Panning left to right slowly has a bit of a judder to it which made me dive into my TV settings to make sure there wasn’t some sort of overriding motion smoothing going on – there wasn’t, it’s just a strange artefact of movement. Then there’s the character models. In some cases during transport the dinosaurs are seething, roaring masses of limbs and skin that would look more at home in a Hellraiser remake. They resolve into their proper shapes when arriving at their destination, yet it’s disconcerting at best. What I’ve found the most troubling though is an instability that has made my PS5 crash multiple times, both to the menu screen during a campaign level, and fully shutting it down with no warning if attempting to use rest mode. The former forced a full restart of the campaign level due to an autosave position, though note: campaign levels cannot be selected and restarted from the main menu, this starts the whole thing again and overwrites the auto save… I was thankful at least for a manual save I’d made. The latter is more troublesome as it just hard closes the whole machine with no shutdown process and has the potential to damage or corrupt internal and attached hardware. We’ll not get on to the issues with objectives not registering as complete, suffice to say that trip to Frontier’s forums has been needed to find workarounds.
If you take the extreme example of the crashes, Jurassic World Evolution 2 is a bit like the way the movies themselves go – it’s all shiny and exciting when you start it, though before long it’s all going to hell and you’re just trying to get out of the level alive. I doubt it’s been like that for every player, and once I’d got through the campaign it’s been relatively plain sailing, and in reality that’s where the game shines anyway. The story mode is like it can’t make its mind up if it’s a tutorial or a teaser for the next film, but largely that doesn’t matter. The bait and hook is in the Chaos Mode with the chance to build the iconic parks yourself. Here is where the hours will go perfecting Isla Nublar or San Diego, and that will lead to taking on the Challenges and honing your crisis management skills. Let’s not forget that there’s the sandbox option too where there are no constraints, only the desire to build big before going home. It feels a bit rough around the edges, but it also feels like significant step on from the original, and that’s what I wanted to see. The one true measure of whether it’s got it right though is whether you notice real world time passing as you play, and it is so, so easy to lose entire evenings to this game.
A PS5 review copy of Jurassic World Evolution 2 was provided by Frontier Developments PR team, and the game is available now on Xbox, PlayStation and PC for around £45 depending on platform and place of purchase.
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