Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Evolution Review (XONE)

“Jurassic Park” came out in 1993 and blew my little 10-year-old mind. Now 25(!)-years later and I still love the franchise and dinosaurs in general. I also really loved 2003’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis game on PS2/Xbox/PC. Why does any of this backstory matter? Because it puts into context my excitement and expectations for the spiritual successor to Operation Genesis, Jurassic World: Evolution from Frontier Developments. The good news is that Evolution really is Operation Genesis 2, just with much better visuals and loads more dinosaurs to choose from. The bad news is that it is a little unstable on Xbox One and doesn’t quite have enough “stuff" to really fill out as a complete park building sim. In spite of that, however, I’ve had a really, really great time with it and think most other dinosaur fans will too. See our full Jurassic World: Evolution review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Frontier Developments 
  • Developer: Frontier Developments
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: Simulation
  • Pros: 40+ amazing dinosaurs; nice visuals; music and sounds from the movies; satisfying gameplay
  • Cons: Crashes a lot; not enough room to build; having to unlock everything; needs more “stuff”
  • MSRP: $60
Buy Jurassic World
Evolution at Amazon
Note: Jurassic World: Evolution is only available digitally right now and a physical edition will be released at retailers July 3rd, 2018.

Jurassic World: Evolution is a park building simulator where your objective is to build the next Jurassic Park / World and attract visitors in order to make loads of money. There isn’t a story here, but Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, and Bryce Dallas Howard did do some voice work for the game though it only comes up pretty infrequently. Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcom sounds especially bored and phoned in, by the way.

Saying there is “no" story isn't quite accurate, actually. The main chunk of the game takes place on five distinct islands, each with different land shapes and weather patterns and other things. You have to unlock each island one by one by building a successful park on each one, and your “story” in the game is how your unique parks come together and how you deal with the various challenges and missions that pop up. For example, one island has tons of severe storms, so you have to plan around it. Another island has a Dennis Nedry-style saboteur you have to deal with. Each island also has three main missions that give you complex tasks to make your science, entertainment, and security managers happy and these missions are generally pretty fun and satisfying. For the most part, though, you’re free to just build whatever you want however you want, provided you have the funds and space for it.

Space is an issue in Jurassic World: Evolution, unfortunately, as none of the islands are particularly large and the buildable area on each one is fairly confined. This is somewhat disappointing if you’re looking to build the sprawling dinosaur park of your dreams, but I honestly don’t mind it. Only having limited space, and having oddly shaped building areas like the long and skinny Isla Pena or circular Isla Sorna provide unique challenges that make planning out your parks fun and interesting. Obviously, having a big open area to just shape and build however you want would be nice (and might be coming down the line, who knows?) but I’m not too upset that it isn’t included here.

During normal gameplay on the five islands you have to earn money by building paddocks, cloning dinosaurs, and dotting your park with restaurants and gift shops for starry eyed tourists to blow their money in. You also have to send dig teams to find new fossils and amber in order to clone new dinosaurs as well as do research to prevent diseases, alter the genetic code of your dinos, or build new attractions for your park. The fossil hunting and research aspects of the game feel a little like a mobile game where you just click on stuff on a menu and wait for a timer to run out when the task is done so you can do it all again, but I don’t mind it since I don’t really know how else they’d do it. Having that one aspect be a little mindless isn’t a deal breaker.

Actually building your park is more interesting, thankfully. You have limited control over terrain and can freely place water and forests wherever you want. You then place power plants, pathways, and power lines as well as hotels, restaurants, gift shops, park ranger stations, ACU stations, research labs, and more. You also have to build the cloning facilities to start pumping out the dinosaurs as well as building different types of fences to keep different types of dinosaurs inside. It all works really well even with a controller on PS4 / Xbox One.

As you progress on each island you unlock new facilities and dinosaurs to play with. You can then, of course, go back to your earlier islands with your new toys and make them better, so the game has some decent replay value. A nice touch is that you can restart an island in the menu, but that doesn’t reset your research and other progress so you can restart your first island and rebuild with later game dinos and facilities. Because, as I mentioned, each island has unique areas and challenges, going back and rebuilding with your newfound knowledge and toys can keep you playing for quite a while.

Of course, there IS also a sandbox mode, though it isn’t quite what you may be hoping for. Fairly early on you unlock Isla Nublar from “Jurassic Park” and "Jurassic World" which serves as the sandbox for the game. You have unlimited money here to build whatever you can dream up, but it has limited space (though the area is larger than the other islands) and you can only use things that you unlocked by playing on the other islands. It takes a solid 15-20 hours to unlock most of the dinosaurs and facilities on the other islands, which can be kind of a drag if you’re hoping to just jump into the sandbox and do whatever you want. It’s definitely fun to play the rest of the game and unlock  stuff, but you might be burnt out and tired of the game by that point and won’t want to play the sandbox mode. I didn't get tired of it yet, but you might.

I do have a couple of complaints about the game, though. First off, it crashes fairly frequently on Xbox One. The game has a pretty good autosave system – basically any time anything happens (mission updates, fossil team comes back, research completes, you building anything) – so you don't ever lose much progress, but having it crash to the dashboard every other play session (and it’s never consistent, either) gets old after a while.

My other complaint is that there just isn’t enough “stuff" in the game to really build the park of your dreams. The number of dinosaurs isn’t the problem (there are 40+ species available and a new “Fallen Kingdom" free DLC pack just added 6 more), but there isn't a ton of variety in the types of enclosures you can build, types of shops, or types of rides / attractions you can make. All of the islands have identical green tropical jungle motifs, too, so more variety there would have been appreciated. You also can’t build guided tours (Ford Explorers on a track) from “Jurassic Park", which would have been amazingly fun. On that note, I would have also appreciated more nods to the first movie (you do unlock the JP1 Jeep Wrangler, at least) like the original Visitors Center or the big King Kong gate, but none of that is included here and instead it all looks like "Jurassic World" instead. Hopefully, more stuff like this will be added as DLC, but I can’t say for sure.

The presentation is very nice overall in Jurassic World: Evolution. The menus are clean and easy to read and the interface is fairly intuitive. Most importantly, of course, the dinosaurs themselves look fantastic and have great animation. Just watching the dinosaurs roam around and interact (and fight) with each other is really fantastic. You can also fly a helicopter or drive a Jeep right into the enclosures for an even closer view. The game seamlessly scales from views high above your park right down to ground level and it’s really impressive. I didn't have any noticeable framerate issues during my playtime so far, but I also didn’t ever cram as many dinosaurs onto the map as I could, either. In fact, I don’t actually know what the maximum limit on dinosaurs is (though it is definitely considerably higher than the limit of 60 in the original Operation Genesis).

Sound-wise, Jurassic World: Evolution is solid. The music and dinosaur sound effects are taken straight from the movies, so they sound amazing. There is a lot of voice work, but most of it sounds (literally) phoned in. Still, just hearing that iconic t-rex roar is enough for me to give the sound a thumbs up overall.

All in all, Jurassic World: Evolution is a solid dinosaur park building sim. It does have some flaws such as limited building space and not enough variety of pieces to build your park with, but the core experience is very, very good and the complaints can (hopefully) be addressed via DLC. I’ve had a great time playing the game and I think anyone else that loves dinosaurs and loves the Jurassic franchise will enjoy it as well. It isn’t as deep and complex of a park building sim as some others on the market, but it is great looking and satisfying and does a great job of letting you play with freaking awesome dinosaurs. The $60 MSRP may be a tad high, but you can easily get 25-30 hours of play out of it, which seems worth it to me but you’ll have to decide that for yourself. Overall, Jurassic World: Evolution is a ton of fun. Buy it.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.