I completely missed Jurassic World: Evolution on its release in 2018. Not because it didn’t appeal – it’s a total no brainer at creating a park running sim based on Universal’s 65 million year old property; and not because it didn’t review well – early bugs and performance issues aside, it sounded pretty damn good. In fact, I don’t know what it was that stopped me from buying it, but will guess there’ll have been several games on the backlog and I just never got around to it. Roll forward to January 2021, and with money burning a whole in my PSN wallet the deluxe edition that includes the Return to Jurassic Park DLC went up for sale at less than £20. With my mind looking forward to Hitman 3 and thinking it’d be something to pass the week or so before that came out, I dropped the cash and installed it. Nigh on a 100 gaming hours later it’s safe to say that I’m impressed and despite the odd break to play newer titles this year, I’ve consistently headed back to this dinosaur management game. It’s a timesink, but one that’s so, so satisfying.
I’ve always been partial to management sim games even if they’ve not always translated well to consoles, but over the last generation they started to become more casual gamer focussed and control pad friendly, with the likes of Tropico and Two Point Hospital being particular successes. I’m well aware that the latter there came out after Jurassic World: Evolution, but in terms of game sequence I played it first and liked the updates a lot and how accessible it was. However, Frontier Developments really have nailed the formula with their work on Jurassic World, and right now you’d be hard pushed to find a better management game, and movie tie-in too. Capturing the look and feel so perfectly puts you right in the command chair for doling out the tasks, building up the facilities and deciding which dinosaurs are going to be the star attractions. Support from some of the original cast members lends the authenticity (Chris Pratt’s terrible stand-in aside), but it’s the reptiles that are the proper draw here. It’s not just the way they look, it’s the way they move, behave and have distinct complex requirements to keep them settled and happy to be part of a zoo. There’s a depth too that becomes more and more apparent the further you head into the game.
With the overlapping systems in play for the animal AI and the tourist management aspects you’d expect that something has to take a hit somewhere, though I’ve struggled to find it. The entire thing is beautiful to look at, and the weather systems coupled with the lighting and water effects are simple, subtle and highly effective. It’s smooth (running on PS5 at least) and once a level is loaded in there’s little getting in the way of creating your dream park… aside from the dinosaurs of course. Jeopardy is present in the form of temperamental creatures that have very narrow tolerances for things not being right, and half the battle is managing to subdue and get them under control before someone gets eaten. You can’t think you’ve got it mastered though as the progression in Jurassic World: Evolution works to move you through all 5 islands in Las Cinco Muertes, bringing a different challenge with each one. It can be budgets, dino types, storms, or just plain old space restrictions – all of them work to teach you something new about management, as well as making you think slightly differently each time. Having vocal guides for the accompanying research divisions helps a lot, and the frequent challenges they set get, as well as direct, your attention.
If you get fed up of looking at your creation from above, Jurassic World: Evolution makes a real effort to get you into the thick of the action. Certain departments are used to control and heal the assets, as well as fix things that break, and you’re able to take over at will. Fancy flying in from above in a helicopter to tranquilise a T-Rex before it eviscerates a Velociraptor? Or want to park up on a hill overlooking a herd of Brachiosaurs and take some scenic photos? I expected this to be a bit of a gimmick, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s a full off-road racing game under the hood, but the driving and flying is competent and fits really nicely into the aesthetic. It also means there’s plenty to distract yourself with if you’re waiting for actions to complete. As with all sims there’s idle time, although it really is kept to several minutes at most, and it’s in here that working through the vast array of tools and overlays comes into its own and you start to really understand how to read the layouts you’ve created and optimise them for the best return. There’s so much tinkering to do it’s untrue, and it manages to not get boring either.
I’ve always thought that with a construction type game it’s the little details that really sell it, and that’s especially true here. The license helps and the real cast appearing and acting lends a little more, though it’s the creatures that are the best part. Jurassic World: Evolution isn’t shy on giving you free reign over growing them, mixing them in habitats, and even genetically modifying them. Whether it’s helping a Tyrannosaurus beat an Indominus Rex in combat, or seeing the reflection of a Diplodocus as it drinks, there are plenty of moments that feel genuine enough to make you care about what you’re doing, as well as create some attachment to the animals you’re looking after. I’m pretty sure that’s what the devs wanted when they added the ability to rename them all… Having easily got my £20’s worth I’ve plumped for the DLC too, and that’s brought refreshing new perspectives to the game, as well experiencing the brilliant homage to the original film in Return to Jurassic Park. It’s also meant that the announcement back at E3 of Jurassic World: Evolution 2 coming later this year has me very excited for where they’re going to take the direction next.