Jurassic World: Evolution Review
With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming to a theater near you on June 22, Universal Pictures decided, as you do, that a video game tie-in, Jurassic World: Evolution, should be part and parcel with the film's release.
Curiously, it's clear they made distinct two decisions. One, make it a tycoon game and farm it out to Frontier Developments, who made 2016's excellent Planet Coaster.
And two, base it mainly on the previous film in the franchise: 2015's Jurassic World.
That movie featured a theme park that had been operating fairly successfully since the events of the older Jurassic Park films where scientists, entertainment types, and paramilitary interests had their worlds collide, some dinosaurs got loose, and the studio made a billion on the worldwide gross.
This is ... actually pretty fertile ground for a video game. Trying to make a profit, keeping factions happy while playing their interests against each other, quickly responding when everything goes downhill in a hurry after a disaster? That's pretty much Tropico with dinosaurs, isn't it?
The "Wow" Factor
The primary positive of this game: The dinosaurs look pretty cool.
It's clear that the developer put a lot of love capturing the spirit of the movies, which were always ultimately about putting cool-looking dinosaurs on the silver screen.
The in-game models are very pretty, especially in the official footage, which is either pre-rendered or else captured by a top-end computer. But even on something relatively potato-like, the dinosaurs are well-modeled and have a definite gee-whiz factor to them.
Indeed, the cutscene you get when you finish cloning a dinosaur and release it into an enclosure is the single niftiest part of the game.
The rest, is... well, it just is.
Paint By Numbers Gameplay
There is simply not a lot of meat on the bones of this game.
Regardless of the circumstances, it's obvious this game was rushed out the door. Jurassic World: Evolution is seriously bare-bones -- even when compared to Frontier's other entry into this same genre.
There are precious few shop types, buildings, and other actual park things to unlock. Everything other than the dinosaurs is massively simplified to the point where even tycoon games from the 1990s had more depth to them (Rollercoaster Tycoon, looking at you.) It's all just window dressing.
Furthermore, the actual dinosaur research, fossil digs, upgrades, and other stuff that power actual player progress? Click on a location where the game tells you exactly what you will find, wait for a timer, then go to the fossil section, wait for a timer, go to the research building, choose a line of research, wait for a timer...
If I wanted to click on something and wait for a timer like a Skinner box, I'd play FarmVille. The most fascinating part of the entire Jurassic universe, the stuff that made Michael Crichton's original book such a great read and carried the exposition in the early movies? It's reduced to “click spot on screen, wait a couple of minutes, receive reward.”
At least give me a bit of dialogue or a short, skippable cutscene from Mr. DNA or something.
But the Mayhem is Fun, Right?
Settle in and prepare to be disappointed again.
Every dinosaur is governed by a set of meters that also govern whether it will live a long and healthy life or run amok.
Translation: you're constantly playing a way-too-easy balancing act with an instant get-out-of-jail free card whenever a dinosaur is unhappy. Just tranquilize and sell it. Problem solved. Or if a dinosaur is a plant-eater, clone a meat-eater and cull the herd ... in one of the most underwhelming displays of dinosaur combat it's possible to have in a game.
And when the meat-eater starts getting too many ideas about killing all the other dinosaurs? Tranquilize it, then either move it to its own carnivore enclosure or sell it.
And when dinosaurs bust through the fence, there is none of the tension from the movies. Remember the very first film, when the velociraptors were probing around in the visitor center, actually learning and doing (sci-fi) intelligent monster things?
There is none of that in the game. The dinosaur gets loose, it starts killing guests until you sound the alarm, it can't get into the emergency shelter, so you either tranquilize it or wait for it to wander back to its feeder in its pen then dispatch a repair crew behind it to fix the fence.
It's the least impressive jailbreak you can imagine.
The Game Has No Soul
In essence, they made a Jurassic Park game that has absolutely none of what made the movies so compelling. It's a barebones management game with minimal gameplay variety where the voice cast, playing characters from the movie, deliver canned lines that have none of the quality those same actors brought to their live-action roles.
And except for the cool release-the-dino cutscene, which gets old after the second or third time, there's nothing to differentiate this from any generic game in the style of something like Zoo Tycoon.
Now, I'm not going to sink so far as to call this “shovelware.” Frontier Developments deserves better than that label.
But this game is a content-light, fulfill-the-license, a-movie-is-coming-out cash grab all the same. When I sat down to play the review copy I was sent by the publisher, it was Saturday afternoon. I had the whole day in front of me ... and I got bored, exited the game, and went out to dinner to clear my head knowing I'd have to play it more for a review and guide, spending an uninspired Sunday giving it the fairest shake that professionalism allows.
Total time elapsed on Saturday, according to Steam, before I got bored: 88 minutes. That's within the window for a refund, and if I'd paid the full $54.99 for the regular or $59.99 for the deluxe edition, that's exactly what I would have done.
I love building and management games. I have dozens to hundreds of hours in Rollercoaster Tycoon, the old SimCity games, Cities: Skylines, Railway Empire, Banished...
Jurassic World: Evolution couldn't even hold my interest. This isn't even a genre-fans or movie-fans only recommendation. The game is just ... underwhelming.
And that's unfortunate.