Having Jeff Goldblum narrate a game is basically like pouring warm caramel in your ears. Hot, smooth and just a little bit sticky. But in reality, it’s all just part of the immersion for Jurassic World Evolution, because immersion is basically the name of the game here. Although it seems that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom can’t quite replicate the wonderment of seeing a Diplodocus craning its neck for a mouthful of leaves, or the terror of a roaring T-Rex chasing down a Jeep, Jurassic World Evolution can. And that’s because it’s your park, and probably your Jeep too.
With Evolution, Frontier Developments has created the closest thing you’ll ever get to running a real dinosaur park, complete with dialogue and in-game menus containing a load of movie references that’ll satisfy even the biggest Jurassic Park nerds. This is fan service at its very best. But even if you can’t reel off a thousand Jurassic Park quotes, Jurassic World Evolution also excels at being a fantastic management sim.
But first, the dinos, because with over 40 species to unlock, there are plenty of them, just as you’d hope. From the ostrich-like Struthiomimus, to Triceratops and Brachiosaurus, unlocking each one is done by collecting fossils and extracting their genomes. You’ll need at least 50% of a species’ genome to incubate one and bring it to life in your park. And what a process that is, especially when the reward comes with a wonderful cutscene showing off your new creation as it walks into its enclosure for the first time from beyond the gates at the Hammond Creation Lab. I don’t even want to know the kind of science that lets you incubate an egg containing a full-sized T-Rex, but I’ll take it.
Dinosaurs get lonely too
Regardless of the species, it feels like each dinosaur has a distinct personality, and that doesn’t just come from not the way they behave - or misbehave - in the park. Each dino has a status panel that you can view to check up on how happy they are, although, trust me, you’ll know when they’re not. Keeping them from trying to take out all of your guests is a careful balancing act between making sure they’ve got enough space in their enclosure, ensuring just the right amount of trees, food, water and - depending on the species - fellow dinos to frolic with. Turns out dinosaurs can get lonely, or be totally irritated by additional scaly friends. Who knew? Even better, you can get even more friendly with your dinos by getting down on their level. Being able to leap into your Ranger Jeep or descend from above in an ACU helicopter only serves to add to the incredible immersion Evolution is offering. Being able to take in the ridiculous detail in which these dinos are rendered - from a real, human scaled viewpoint - is mind-blowing. Never before has a simulation title made me feel more connected to my creations.
The park management itself, beyond the dinos, is actually fairly minimal. Your guests will need services like restaurants and shops, but you don’t have to worry about the little stuff, you know, like bathrooms or janitors or anything like that. Jurassic Park World is very much focused on the dinosaurs, and so are you guests, so things like viewing platforms, gyroscopes and monorails are much more important. Trust me, the dinos will take up most of your time anyway, with fossil research and sending out expeditions also demanding attention.
Essential Jurassic World Evolution tips that you'll no doubt need to get you started
It’s just a shame that at certain points you’ll be furiously leafing through the game’s fairly awful help menus for a way to figure out exactly how to do that thing the Security Guy just asked you to do. Early on in the game I’m tasked with creating a “designer dino” for a species I’ve never even seen in game, let alone researched, leaving me feeling like the worst dino mum ever, and utterly confused by the entire experience. A quick mission dismissal later I was back in business, but it’s strange to present you with tasks that are so poorly explained or even uncompletable until a much later stage in the game.
Sometimes gameplay can feel like learning a new language
That’s because, although Frontier is an expert at creating management sims, it apparently sucks at the tutorials. I should have known better really, given that last Frontier game, Planet Coaster, literally tells you to go watch a YouTube video or three to understand its systems and mechanics. One of the biggest offenders in Evolution is the power system. I know why Frontier has included power grid management as a key element in park building. It’s to give me the panic of outages, and make it all feel Jurassic Park-y, isn’t it? And that’s fine. It’s almost fun. But in order to provide electricity to all areas of your park, including the electric fences, you need power stations, base stations and a spaghetti network of pylons connecting it all. Other sim games utilise power but without ruining the design aesthetic, or making the explanation about how to simplify things much clearer, and maybe mention that stations provide the power but the substations actually distribute it to your facilities. And don’t even get me started on the frustrating landscaping tools, and their bombardments of terrain and obstruction errors. I just want to give my T-Rex some water damnit!
Other elements are a little easier to grasp, but there are baffling obtusities to some of the mechanics. But, when it all works, it’s glorious. When your beasts and your guests are all happy, the dino dosh is coming in fast, and you can just zoom around your park in your ‘copter or 4x4 waiting for the inevitable disaster of the scaly or natural variety, it’s wonderfully zen, even if it is served with a side of mild panic. It’s all so wonderful that I’ve lost entire evenings to it without even thinking. I still have no idea how time skipped from 8pm to 1.30am in the blink of a Parasaurolophus’ eye.
It helps that there’s just enough story content to keep you propelling along, giving you boxes to tick and goals to reach that feel stimulating but never overburden. Doing all these builds your relationship with three factions - Security, Science, and Entertainment - which all eventually give you lovely rewards and perks that’ll get you more money flowing into your park. But, more importantly, it unlocks new islands for you to create parks on. Each one offers a slightly different challenge, whether it’s having to worry about tropical storms as well as your killer dinosaurs, or trying to fit your park onto a tiny, and oddly shaped, volcanic island, while still making enough cash to keep afloat. Although the story moments never feel like they’re part of a cohesive, overarching narrative, it does help give the game a little structure, and the various challenges the different islands provide delivers a serious learning curve - perhaps a little too steep at times, but that’s also fuelled by my earlier gripes about tutorials.
None of that detracts from the fact that Jurassic World Evolution is a smart, expertly crafted dinosaur theme park sim, balancing immense joy with a constant low key nausea for the inevitable perils that come with running a dinosaur theme park. It’s full of the kinds of intricacies you’d hope for in a Jurassic Park game, the fantastic management sim mechanics that Frontier is famed for, lovely little nods and references to the movie series and, honestly, why wouldn’t you want to play a game that lets you drive your own gyrosphere through the legs of a T-Rex? It’s true, life always finds a way, but in Jurassic World Evolution it’s all in your hands - or should that be claws?