A wise man once said, "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates
dinosaurs a video game about managing theme parks filled with dinosaurs".
If you watched my review on Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, you'll notice the idea of managing your own private dino-laden theme park is nothing new. It's been a solid 15 years since Operation Genesis released back in 2003, and now with the release of the Jurassic World franchise it was expected that there would be a more proper successor to JPOG. In-between the release of Jurassic World Evolution and Operation Genesis, there have been mobile game that attempted to hold down the fort and fill the gaps. As to be expected, mobile wasn't really enough in the grand scheme of things. This led to veteran studio Frontier Developments taking a the wheel somewhere prior to Evolution's announcement in 2017. So, "hold onto your butts" it's time to pull open the cage on this one.
I'll disclose that I love Frontier and their games. I've sunk a lot of time and money into Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and Planet Coaster. Even going far enough to say that they're some of my favorite PC games of all time. But something about this project left me nervous and not quite sure about my expectations for the game. Even in the hands of a trusted developer the fact it was going to be pushed along to a deadline in line with Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom meant time crunches that would lead to cuts and other concerns that plague other cross-promotional products. Suffice to say, my concerns were fairly justified. My thoughts are mixed at best.
Let me first off address that this is arguably one of, if not the most beautiful simulation game on the market. The environments are lush, the lighting is sublime, the detail on the dinosaurs is polished articulate... The cherry on top is the game runs buttery smooth, I was consistently able to keep 60fps on ultra with my rig (i5 & R9 290). While my rig is high end for the average consumer, it's definitely behind the curve on the latest and greatest technology for elite PC gamers out there.
Either way, I was still pulling superb performance with no stuttering or other bugs plaguing me. For a game I'd ultimately call pretty hollow, it has a wonderful amount of cleanliness to the gameplay and UI. There was only one glitch that caused an icon to permanently stay stuck on the screen, I'd expect that to be fixed with future patching. The underlying game is a smooth functioning work of art with some of the best weather I've seen in a game and I could just stare at the dinosaurs for hours like it was a TV broadcast from National Geographic.
Now as you read in the previous paragraph, I called the game hollow. Unfortunately that's one the biggest things holding me from truly enjoying the game. It lacks that x-factor that makes me want to continue playing. I personally think it's biggest shortcoming is the fact it's narrative driven on a game that doesn't really need that. What it needed is a blank slate where you can get a randomized location every time. That said, the game does have a sandbox mode you can unlock (on none other than Isla Nublar), but that can only get you so many miles and so many permutations of the same park before the well runs dry on creativity.
The game starts off driven by the story which is delivered by, uh, well, u-Jeff-um, Goldbloom. He reprises his role from the series as famed mathematician, Ian Malcolm. From there it has you basically achieving a narrow set of goals until you reach a certain amount of stars on your park, then you can move on to the next island to basically do it all over again with a little more unlocked than the previous one. This cycle goes for the ol' rinse and repeat until you've completed all five islands of the Muertes archipelago (Matanceros, Muerta, Pena, Sorna and Tacaño). Each has new mechanics and dinosaurs it introduces you to, padding the difficulty a little more every time.
Sadly those bumps in difficulty rarely justify the feelings of wanting to play through the map. It starts to feel a bit all too familiar and grindy after a while. You drop in, deploy resources to rescue your park from poverty/damage/misc issues... Download a dinosaur... Profit? Seeing the new dinosaurs makes it a little worth it, especially when you play around with the more dynamic tools like making gyrospheres or your own custom railway. But once again, it circles back to the fact I wish it was just all on one giant plot of randomized land like Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. The creativity just feels so stifled on these predefined maps.
The expanded research options are nice improvement on Operation Genesis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the addition of a power network. It made amenities and utility usage a much more hands-on effort. But once again... The research options are locked behind goals and missions which hamper the desire to play a more free form style. You're required to progress the story if you want to enjoy the game to it's fullest. It's just disappointing to see this consistent 1 step forward, 2 steps back in this game. The framework was already set in place via games like Operation Genesis and Planet Coaster, but it feels they tried to make a game that was more like a mobile game at it's core, which just isn't the right direction at all.
Speaking of mobile-esque gaming, the timers are another gripe I've got with this game. When you research, excavate dig sites, or breed dinosaurs in JPOG you'd run into minor time walls. In this game it feels like they saw that, and decided that it wasn't long enough. This is only made even more evident with the fact there's no time skips. Sure you can develop technology to make the pace move faster and more efficiently, but it's important to know you have to develop and produce that technology first, so getting to the point where you can finally move at a reasonable pace is a slogging grind. I'm not quite sure what they were thinking on that, in no point of the game should there ever be a 2+ minute wait for your dinosaur to develop (not to mention your embryo might fail, causing lost time and money).
To speed along to my final major complaint, it's the AI. It's pretty atrocious. The visitors have no purpose other than to be placeholders, they have no money or emotions. No individual needs to satisfy. No budget. No sensible pathfinding. Nada. I am fully aware the AI in Planet Coaster isn't exactly state of the art, but it's much better than this. There's times where my visitors would run head first at a rampaging dinosaur and just get kicked aside, not devoured. No joke, most of my lawsuits and casualties came from a swift dino shin to the face, not the digestive tract of carnivore. Its a shame, and one of the most glaring issues with the game, which is why I saved it for last. I don't think this exactly something that can be patched, so it really hurts the game going forward. They can at least add in new maps or gamemodes, but it would take nothing short of an overhaul to fix the mess that is your visitors.
Now with my relentless complaints regarding the game, you'd expect me to say "After careful consideration, I've decided, not to endorse your park", but instead I'd like to say something more like "All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked". In short, I'd recommend giving this game a bit more time before considering a purchase. I'd hope for maybe some updates and content to come down the pipeline. Now I don't know Frontier's full development plans, they might say it's complete and move on to the next project or if we're lucky this is only the beginning and they'll look into more additions to smooth out the game and improve it like they did with Planet Coaster and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3.
I truly did enjoy the game, but there was just some major outlying factors that damped the overall mood and nostalgia I was trying to rekindle with this game.
At the price point of $55-60, the game is a tough pill to swallow. As a lifelong diehard fan of anything Jurassic Park, I had to buy it. But allow me to pass on the careful warning, to wait for a sale to knock it down to 50%, that might be a long while off since it just dropped this month. But if you can be a patient consumer, I think it's very well worth it at a sale price.
Jurassic World Evolution - Final Rating: 6/10