Jurassic World Evolution, a new game released parallel to the upcoming theatrical Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sequel, is out in the wild and it is indeed every bit of fantastic as it sounds. Frontier Developments (Zoo Tycoon and Planet Coaster) are behind this new park simulator, based on the universe of the famed Spielberg classic from my childhood, and they have managed to exceed my expectations in every direction. It’s worth mentioning that I cut my teeth on simulators like Rollercoaster Tycoon, Zoo Tycoon, and The Sims when I was a kid, and they always have a special place in my heart, and Jurassic World Evolution has managed to push the rest out of the way and T. rex stomp its way to the frontlines.
It’s a truly immersive experience that never once actually makes you feel restricted or limited; you will have to progress through the background story to unlock more abilities, buildings, and features, but in the five hours it took me to unlock the sandbox island of Isla Nublar, it was nothing shy of enjoyable. Jurassic World Evolution does a proper job of showing you the ropes without giving you direct instruction; I was able to place buildings and paths where I wanted with my only limitation being available funds and requiring a research task to unlock specific items or abilities. The tutorial is hardly cumbersome and actually teaches you useful mechanics and gives you a firm understanding of the mechanics, easing you into the transition of owning and operating the park on your own.
You’re introduced to the main mechanics aside from general park operation, and that comes by way of contracts and missions. As the owner and operator of the park, you must maintain working relationships with your three subsidiaries—science, entertainment, and security—and the interesting characters that manage each department. You’ll occasionally receive communications from characters such as Dr. Malcolm, Owen, Claire, and Henry Wu—among others—all fully voiced by the original actors. Once the tutorial has essentially given you the tools you need to succeed, you’re given full reign of the park and given your endgame goal: obtain five star ratings on all five islands—six if you count Isla Nublar, the only true sandbox island in the game.
You’re in charge of the full archipelago of Las Cinco Muertes and the five campaign islands all offer different elements and challenges. You’ll need to play through them to unlock the next and all of the perks that come with it. For example, you won’t be able to unlock the Velociraptor until you reach Isla Muerte and you won’t unlock the Tyrannosaurus Rex until you reach Isla Tacano, and can’t incubate the Indominus Rex until you’ve unlocked both at minimum. Just be sure not to rush through it; taking your time and getting your first island rating high will reap plenty of rewards on its own.
I spent the early hours on the first island of Isla Matanceros and caring for my herbivores and my rogue Ceratosauruses (Ceratosauri?) that kept breaking out of their enclosures and terrorizing the park guests. I watched him eat three people before I decided to open the emergency shelter to get my guests out of harms way while my ACU team tranquilized Steven (yes, I named my first Ceratosaurus) and transport him back to his enclosure that the park rangers just repaired. One of the best features of Jurassic World Evolution is the fact that you can control your teams directly, if you want to. When dispatching the ACU team, you can pilot the helicopter and grab the tranquilizer rifle and do it all yourself; you can do the same with the park rangers and drive the customizable Jeeps around.
It does take a bit of time for your numbers to go up before you can move to a new island and each new island is presented as a fresh start, with the ability to go back to previous islands in the state you last left them. You’re able to bring your unlocked skills and abilities back and forth, but each island has its own separate funds and are not interchangeable. You may have a cool $5 million on Isla Matenceros, but you’ll still have to start Isla Tacano in the negatives and work your way up. It keeps the challenge fresh and alive and the opportunities for creativity in abundance. Each island presents a new challenge and really calls on your creativity and problem-solving skills to overcome those obstacles; none of them feel tedious or unnecessary.
Even when you’re starting on a new island and need to start making money, you’re able to propel yourself forward thanks to everything you unlocked on the previous island; for me, I found that to be a nice complement to the tedium of starting from the beginning once more. You’ll start each new island with more at your disposal than the last, but managing your money and buildings is paramount; running out of money means you won’t be able to keep your dinosaurs happy and when they eventually break the fence—because, trust me, they will—you won’t have any money to fix it, and that will lead to even worse problems. I learned from experience, but it was a fun lesson to learn.
A truly appreciated feature is that Jurassic World Evolution allows you to restart the island at any given moment. If you decide that you want to have another go to better design the park layout—opposed to demolishing buildings and building them somewhere else—or tragedy struck, or whatever the case may be, you’re given the freedom to do that. I’ve done it twice just because I was convinced that I can do a better job than my initial attempt. It stemmed primarily from my Ceterosauruses (seriously, what is the plural term for this?) constantly fighting each other and me being unable to determine why; I gave them adequate space in their enclosure, enough food and live bait to keep them occupied, and so on. Steven—remember, I named my first Ceterosaurus—kept fighting CRT-002 (dinosaurs come with default designations) and CRT-003 fought CRT-004. Steven killed CRT-002 before I could tranquilize him and then broke out of his enclosure, CRT-003 followed him, chaos ensued, and then I had about $400,000 in legal fees; all the while, the first ranger team repaired the sturdy steel-and-concrete fence that Steven broke through while CRT-004 was treated for injuries by my second ranger team and went about his business in the enclosure. Good boy.
You’ll find the trick to having a successful park with a high rating is to find balance between satisfying the dinosaurs and satisfying your guests. Having enough dinosaurs with a good variety, ensuring their welfare and happiness is paramount. You should also concentrate on what guests need; access to shops and restaurants, emergency shelters in case of a breach or emergency, and monorails to make travel times short and pleasant. It can be a tall order early on, but finding the rhythm is easy when you pay attention to how the feedback comes when you add or remove dinosaurs and attractions. With dinosaurs being the main attraction, you won’t find much else in the way of guest amusement; there’s no rides or photo booths; it’s mostly gift shops and places to get food—as you progress, you’ll be able to unlock the arcade, bowling alley, and a bar for adult beverages as well. It can seem rather bare-bones at times when your island is populated by the same attractions left, right, and center; more variety would be appreciated, but for now, it works.
Jurassic World Evolution is, without a doubt, a remarkably well-designed park simulator that pays solid tribute and respect to a renowned franchise. It truly hits all the marks and then some, completely exceeding my expectations and making me fall in love with park simulators all over again. It’s a visually striking and absolutely gorgeous looking game that was carefully designed to be the ultimate Jurassic Park experience. It has a significant amount of depth, more than I initially expected, and found myself rather overwhelmed at first with the sheer levels of possibility. I couldn’t wait to progress far enough to unlock Isla Nublar so I can truly create my own, no-limits, Jurassic Park, and the experience has been nothing shy of monumental. With patience and persistence, I was able to create an authentic dinosaur park of renown, something you only see in the movies for the first half before it all descends into absolute chaos.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” In the case of Jurassic World Evolution, you absolutely can and should. I couldn’t imagine a better Jurassic Park game, unless someone decides to create one on par with survival horror similar to Alien: Isolation.
Jurassic World Evolution is available now, digitally, on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a physical release slated for release on July 3.