Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review: Exploring the Alpha of Dino Park Sims

Prehistoric Kingdom is still early, but offers an intriguing view of the future of virtual dino-wrangling park simulation.

Blue Meridian's dinosaur park sim, Prehistoric Kingdom, is certainly taking its sweet time to completion. While the game had a brief semi-open early test a while ago, it's actually been in development for years and has only now hit Early Access status on Steam and the Epic Game Store.

We need to emphasize the "early" part heavily, as that $30 price tag feels more like a pre-purchase with an instantly playable, limited dino sandbox to give players a taste of what's to come.

Timed remarkably well with the release of the (hopefully) final Jurassic World movie, Prehistoric Kingdom bears a lot of obvious similarities with the Jurassic World Evolution games. Both are dino-obsessed park creation and management simulations. Yet each is crafted with a somewhat different audience focus. This particular Kingdom seems much more geared toward those who love both ancient beasts and micro-management simulations.

Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review: Exploring the Alpha of Dino Park Sims

Granted, it’s early, but Prehistoric Kingdom’s maze of functions, options, buttons, and menus is already as imposing as it is confusing for newcomers. Thankfully, there’s a tutorial that gives you the gist of how things work, complete with voiceover instruction from Nigel Marvin. If that doesn’t sell you on the game, we’re sorry.

Nigel who? Marvin! The imminent BBC time-traveling, dinosaur-wrangling biologist, of course. For anyone who’s had dinosaur-obsessed children in the last two decades, Marvin’s BBC shows Chased by Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park were required viewing. He’s a jovial fellow here, lending his soothing, happy tones to help smooth out the stress of running a massive, over-complicated biohazard of a park. 

Mr. Marvin aside, the game has a lot going for it already. It’s gorgeous, for one thing. The park itself is a mix of common, mostly green and brown environments, but the animals are fantastic. These aren’t the scientifically-questionable beasties of Jurassic Park and while complete scientific accuracy in paleontology games is a sketchy endeavor at best, it’s clear Blue Meridian put a lot of thought, time, and research into representing extinct animals according to modern science. 

Like the JW Evolution games, there’s genetic research, egg hatching, sub-species variations, and even paleontology digs to throw money at. The difference is how everything here feels more in-depth, complicated, and layered. The current build has over 20 prehistoric critters (including ice age mammoths) and understanding their needs is vital.

Each attraction must be carefully planned, maintained, and watched over to ensure the animals are taken care of. As this progresses, you’ll theoretically be able to hire staff to cover some tasks, but right now the AI in any of the computer-controlled creatures (be they human or animal) is very light. Or possibly just not actually included yet. 

Humans wander around at random, without much in the way of any interaction or purpose. The dinosaurs independently behave well in a very canned, pre-scripted fashion, but they don’t yet actually interact with each other or even their environment. It’s all just surface country so far.

The labyrinthine UI is another problem and the current state of the help system is, well, not particularly helpful. During the tutorial, for instance, I spent a frustrating five minutes trying to clean dung out of a pen by foolishly clicking on it and anything else around it before realizing that to access that option, you have to actually click on the tiny, sometimes hard-to-see parameter fence of the enclosure. 

There are a lot of little nagging issues like that, where intuition seems to have flown the coop and you just have to memorize where every option is. There are some single-player missions included, mostly to get the lay of the land, but they’re buggy and limited. Mostly, this Early Access is about the sandbox mode.

In sandbox mode, the building powers of the Prehistoric Kingdom do start to shine. You can create some really cool and picturesque structures and enclosures for the animals. For people who really love building a park, there are a lot of options. There’s a surprisingly robust online community as well, sharing their creations, which is an excellent sign regarding the future of the game.

Blue Meridian has stated they’re planning for the game to remain in Early Access for the next 18-24 months, which seems like a long time. There’s a lot missing so far, but the bones of the game are solid, despite sometimes being hidden a little too deeply in the menu systems. The presentation is already exceptional, with a great soundtrack and score to complement the finely rendered zoo attractions.

Prehistoric Kingdom Early Access Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Critters looks fantastic.
  • Ability to make elaborate and sprawling parks.
  • Nigel Frickin' Marvin.
  • Has a nice bent toward being at least somewhat scientifically accurate.

Cons

  • Very incomplete and exceedingly Early Access.
  • Confusing and maze-like user interface makes things harder.
  • Little in the way of AI and mostly just a sandbox to get a taste.

For fans of this particular little genre, Prehistoric Kingdom might well be worth an early look, especially if they temper their expectations. The game is far from finished and likely to frustrate players as much as amuse them, but the grand spectacle of ancient giants is fully on parade here.

Dinosaurs are awesome and Kingdom is doing a top job of capturing that sense of wonder, despite the flaws.

[Note: The writer was reimbursed for the copy of Prehistoric Kingdom used for this Early Access review.]

Contributor

Jason D'Aprile has been writing about games and technology for a very long time. His bylines have appeared on and in countless sites and magazines over the years, including Paste Magazine, Playboy, G4TV, Indie Game Website, UploadVR, Techhive, Lifewire, the Brick Moon Fiction podcast, United Front Gaming, and others he's mostly forgotten about. Jason lives in a house in the woods and does not twit.

Published May. 12th 2022

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