Review: Jurassic World Evolution

By Alex Connolly 18 Jun 2018 0

Review: Jurassic World Evolution

Released 12 Jun 2018

Developer: Frontier Development
Genre: Simulation
Available from:
Steam

The worst reviews are those that talk about everything except what's in the game being reviewed. But that's exactly Jurassic World Evolution's problem. It's a pleasant primeval terrarium, where Jurassic Park fans such as myself can fritter away the hours staring at tourists trouping past resurrected leviathans of a bygone era. But when the novelty wears off, you're left wondering why so many elements feel missing in action. Why there isn't x, why there isn't y. Where's Dennis?  

Billed as an unspoken successor to Blue Tongue's quiet achiever Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, Frontier's Jurassic World Evolution puts players in the position of park designer and manager. It is as you'd expect, at least on the surface. You build a swathe of facilities on an island, incubate and release dinosaurs, reap the tourism rewards. There's research to expand and extend the saurian menagerie, buildings to upgrade, breakouts and tropical storms to manage. Everything mechanically works as it should.

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Dinosaurs are sourced as fractured DNA deposits on dig sites around the world, retrieved by expedition teams from your park. This molecular material is then pooled as a percentage of a specific dinosaur, where authenticity increases with every little tidbit added to. Once you've got enough genetic material from a dinosaur's remains, the missing strands are caulked by contemporary animal DNA and the ancient beastie is reconstituted in hatcheries and -- if they survive the ordeal -- are released into whatever enclosure you've prepared.

The act of what John Hammond once called 'bringing DNA up the well' is not cheap, and therefore revenue streams needs to be instituted relatively quickly. Expeditions cost money, DNA extractions aren't free, incubation becomes stupendously expensive when you start to futz about with the genetic material. The sooner John Citizen and his family arrive, the better.

Tourist facilities like hotels, gift shops, viewing platforms and the like help prop up the park's feasibility, and there's some limited customisation with the commercial inventory and prices. Lunchboxes, cans of Barbasol and menus go a small way in feeling like you're really catering to the crowds. But this also shines a light on the sad, simple shallowness of Evolution.

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Nothing matters in your park. At least, there's such negligible pushback from any player action that it all feels terribly hollow. There are no hard decisions to make, no trade-offs. It's just a case of gentle, incrementally boring progression where a player simply covers the bases of expansion. There are no choices in expeditions bar selecting a global destination and waiting for the helicopter to return. Research doesn't offer divergent trees. There are overlays, such as utility coverage, but it feels like a superfluous element that doesn't require any serious attention because there's no real balancing act. Power is the only resource to worry about beyond the bank account.

For a game that deals with dinosaurs, there's remarkably little in the way of dangerous decision-making.

Contracts pop to gently direct the player, but they have the whiff of mobile game design. These are simply exemplars of what players would otherwise be doing. Monetary rewards for mundane chores, served as missions. Retrieve a carnivore's DNA from the Arizona badlands? Why would that pop now, after I've filled a paddock with Ceratosaurae? Take a photo of dinosaurs using one of the feeder utilities? Why am I physically driving a ranger's jeep to an enclosure to take a snap of my creations chowing down? This highlights what Evolution obfuscates its inherent strategic deficits with.

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Instead of meaningful decisions, players are left to do things like manually target deceased dinosaurs for airlift. Or tranquilize errant dinosaurs from a pilotable helicopter. Or drive that ranger jeep around to manually refill feeder boxes or deliver vaccines via dart. It's a novelty that wears off very quickly, and leaves you aimlessly panning about your reserve, or zooming in on the admittedly gorgeous dinosaurs for a few cheeky screenshots.

The most baffling part of Evolution is the fact you can't play the game in sandbox mode until you've unlocked the fifth island. That's hours of being mollycoddled by an unnecessary glacial unwrapping of beveled, edgeless systems and modules. You can't run concurrent expedition teams for the first few islands because the campaign inexplicably disallows it, leaving players to suffer at the hands of that mobile game-esque energy bar throttling without recourse. Want to send a team to China? Too bad, my friend. We're fossicking in Spain, and the boss said no to building another expedition centre.

As I waited for my single-strand research department to finish their work on woodland skin patterns, I started to really wonder what might have been. For instance, where is the personnel management? Why aren't we playing around with hiring and firing game wardens, or computer systems experts, or medical staff? Be they anachronistic additions like Dennis Nedry or Ray Arnold or Muldoon or Tembo, or fictional creations, there's so much room for an administration meta-game, for passive and active effects on the park.

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And speaking of Nedry, why stop at mere power as the connective tissue? Computer systems, and networking -- it's a UNIX system, I know this! -- across a high-tech park, with all sorts of tracking and highly localised mission hooks feel like a missed opportunity.

Even just the basics of human resources. While we're in the modern, corporate era of Jurassic World in place of John Hammond's game reserve eccentricity, where are the staff? Why can't I see little workers in their JP or JW hardhats around construction work sites? Even just for superfluous satisfaction, Evolution feels almost virtual in its depiction. A lonely sort of Ingen-cum-Masrani boardroom mock-up of how things might play out, where the first great extinction event is the workforce presence.

There also aren't nearly enough modules to really make this park builder sing. For a park builder, there's markedly little personalisation beyond paths, paddocks and the dinosaurs. Every island will have the same power station. Every island will have the same suite of shops. Where they are placed matters not. Redundancy means nothing. You're only punished by the slow crawl of time.

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The worst part is, the truly saddening part is, everything to make a great park manager could very easily be part of Evolution without disrupting its low-tensile gameplay. This game doesn't need to be a disaster manager. There's no strategic overhead for that in the long run. But to be a park manager, there needs to be trade-offs, not just ticking boxes. There needs to be infra structural challenges beyond merely waiting for the coffers to support a new building. Evolution's obvious tilt to be a game for everyone has become a game for nobody serious about manager sims, and it's a real shame, because Frontier could have very well accommodated both. 

I came away from this game thinking of Hammond's Sophoclean enthusiasm and how the execution of his ideal wasn't so much fumbled in Jurassic World Evolution, but phoned in. Creation is an act of sheer will, our boater-hatted industrialist once mused. Next time, or hopefully next expansion, it'll be flawless.

Evolution will amuse movie fans and infrequent sim hands, but linearity and lack of meaningful decision-making undermines its lavish production values.

Review: Jurassic World Evolution

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