Games Review: Jurassic World Evolution (Xbox One, 2018): “We’re going to make a fortune with this place.”

Jurassic World Evolution is far, far harder than it needs to be. It’s really surprising how difficult the game is at times. Your guests’ wants are often bizarre, the learning curve is a cliff face and the dinosaurs are predictably unsympathetic to your desire to make a buck. I’ll spend hours getting everything in my park running smoothly before a problem cascades out of control, leaving me bankrupt. And yet, I love it and I can’t stop playing it.

Jurassic World Evolution is a theme park management sim made by Frontier Developments based on the legendary film series of the same name. Frontier have worked on numerous park management sims over the years, from 2016’s Planet Coaster all the way back to RollerCoaster Tycoon. They’ve become a dab hand at making management sims for consoles too, working with Microsoft on 2015’s Screamride. The goal of Evolution is pretty straight forward: set up and run your own version of Jurassic World, combining urgent capitalism with carnivorous lizards to turn a big profit.

What may come as a surprise to management sim veterans is just how open ended Jurassic World Evolution is. From the jump the game makes it clear that what you do with the space you’re given is entirely up to you. From the layout of your park to the dinosaurs you populate it with, which research you focus on and how prepared you are for emergencies, you figure it out. If your park winds up an organisational mess, you only have yourself to blame.

Every park you run is built on three foundational pillars — science, entertainment and security. Striking a balance between these three pillars isn’t terribly difficult. It’s quite clear which buildings and facilities are urgent necessities and which can be gotten around to later. For me, it was always science and security that came first. Incubuate some dinosaurs, make sure everything is locked down. Entertaining my guests is important and they want what they want, but they’re also no good to me in the belly of a T-Rex.

Guests are one of two parties you’re beholden to on the island and they are a strangely capricious lot. They run for the exits the moment anything goes wrong, laying the blame on you for everything from a dinosaur dying of old age to spots of bad weather. They’re also easily distracted by tourist trap pabulum. These are people for whom an island theme park full of actual dinosaurs comes second to a dinosaur themed bowling alley. I believe these people don’t deserve to be eaten, but they don’t make it easy. Jokes aside, the trouble with guests is that its actually quite hard to know exactly what they want. You’re able to access rundown screens that display percentages of happiness with certain parts of the park but they’re a little on the ephemeral side. It’s great that guests are giving the park a 45% Fun rating but the game never really explains what makes that metric tick up or down. It makes me miss zooming right in on a punter in RollerCoaster Tycoon and seeing what that specific individual thought of your park.

The second party you have to satisfy are your advisors, a trio of talking heads who head up the Science, Entertainment and Security divisions of your park. These three will pitch you Contracts, short-term goals accomplished in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars cash. The idea is that all three will help you make your park a better, stronger, more profitable place. In practice, they frequently offer contracts you have no way of completing and go on a one-to-two minute cooldown if you refuse, giving the impression that they’ve stormed off in a huff. Sometimes they offer contracts that are entirely contrary to their portfolio. Sometimes they pitch a herculean task that would take hours to complete but offer a meager $50, 000 as a reward. Give too much attention to any one advisor and you risk the other two getting jealous and trying to sabotage you. At one point, I’d inadvertently gotten both Entertainment and Security offside because Science had offered a string of goals that were achievable and profitable. One of them, and I reckon I know who, got into the island’s security system and opened every gate in the park. Every dinosaur enclosure was left wide open while I desperately tried to get a team to locate the source of the hack and shut it down.

If it weren’t for the skullduggery and crucial park unlocks tied to advisor happiness, I’d have been quite happy to ignore them. Were these things not in play, it would be easy to forget about the advisors once you reach the mid-game on any given island, The rewards they offer are a help but often aren’t much more than what you make every minute once your park starts to gain traction and the cashflow becomes more reliable.

What annoys me about these three assholes lashed to my park is that, even though I run the business, I can’t fire them for being awful at their jobs. They ask the world, are frequently unreasonable, fight amongst themselves and then organise the slaughter of thousands of tourists when I turn them down. This is deranged, suicidal behaviour. Get these dickheads off my fucking island.

Thank you for letting me get that out of my system. It comes from a place of love, I swear. Alright, moving on.

Evolution retains certain elements of its genre forebears like Theme Hospital, giving you a scenario (like occasional destructive weather) or milestone to reach — be it park profitability, guest enjoyment or the variety of dinosaurs on site — before giving you access to the next level. It’s up to you whether you want to stay on the current island and maximise it for unlockables or get started on your next venture. And when I say Get Started, I mean it. Moving to a new island often means starting over. As in, completely broke. Each island apparently functions as its own self-contained park so no matter how flush with cash you were on your previous island, you can’t take any of it with you.

The third island in particular starts you in the ruins of someone else’s failed park and tasks you with making it profitable. It’s really bloody hard. The early game on this level is an incredibly delicate needle to thread. Every last dollar at your disposal is critical to your survival. I had to restart the island numerous times due to a single, mistimed purchase. This one stuff up created a financial ripple that tore through the rest of the park, sending me bankrupt in a matter of minutes. I ended up having to scum save two or three times to keep myself afloat. I’m not proud of it, but I was far enough in that restarting the level would cause me to lose three or more hours of painstaking work. By the time I clocked it, I’d well and truly mastered the early game.

The third island’s harsh scenario was eclipsed only by the fourth — a minuscule, remote strip of land where power cost double to produce and damaging tornadoes were a regular occurrence. The cherry on top? Guests are only interested in seeing large predators. What could possibly go wrong? This fourth scenario kind of stretches belief a little bit (he says, aware that he’s talking about a game in which you build a dinosaur theme park). I can understand the third island’s scenario — we’re running a business here, lets try to make each island profitable — but I couldn’t tell you why anyone would want to set up on the fourth island.

The game looks and runs a treat on the Xbox One, and comes with enhanced performance on the Xbox One X. Frontier’s experience with developing management sims for console really shows in Evolution. The Xbox One controller map is a smart and simple one, full of useful shortcuts to keep things from feeling too clunky. The only time I found I struggled with the controller was when I had multiple problems to deal with at once and I simply wasn’t able to move around the park as quickly as I would have liked. This obviously isn’t a problem in the PC version of the game where a combination of mouse movements and the WASD keys allow you to move nimbly from building to building.

The array of dinosaurs at your disposal is wide indeed, and wider still if you grabbed the Deluxe Edition of the game which comes with pack of extra animals. Dinosaurs are beholden to no-one but themselves and you’ll need to make sure they’re being released into enclosures that not only keep them well fed but make them feel comfortable too. Tyrannosaurus Rexes like to live in forests and plains but they also like to hunt. Thus a fresh supply of live bait and maybe even releasing the occasional struthiomimus into its pen will keep it happy. Failure to do so will result in it smash through the walls of its enclosure to hunt your tourists instead. T-Rexes don’t give a shit about your bottom line.

This is true of the herbivores too. While most are quite happy with a medium sized paddock with a bit of forest, some water and some grassland to graze on, some prefer marshland or they have a herd mentality that means they like to be surrounded by lots of their own kind. Not adhering to these inter-species preferences will result in broken fences and people fleeing your park in terror as a spooked ankylosaurus wanders about looking for a swamp.

Other dinosaurs, like the velociraptors, are presented as they are in the films — genetically modified beyond all reason, far larger and more menacing than they ever were in life and clever beyond what I’m comfortable with in a big lizard. Creating a velociraptor pen at all raised my heart rate. I’ve been afraid of those monsters since I saw Jurassic Park as a ten year old. Imagine my horror when a windstorm blew in, knocking out one of the substations powering the electric fences that were their enclosure.

Down by the herbivore paddock, dealing with a sick Edmontosaurus, I stiffened as the power outage alarm went off. Looking up the hill toward the raptor enclosure, I waited to see what they would do. Sure enough, there came the guttural cough of a raptor calling to its friends, followed by the sound of something heavy crashing into a wall. They knew the fences were down. I opened the emergency shelters, sending people fleeing in a panic, and called in the helicopters to tranquilise. A pair of ranger teams in jeeps fanged it up the island to mend the substation and the fence. I got lucky. The rangers got the power back on before the raptors made it out of the enclosure.

You can also mess with your dinosaurs to produce genetically modified, designer versions that will pull more punters in. From cosmetic enhancements to changes to digestion and even aggression, there’s an awful lot of ways to further meddle with these creatures you’ve brought back from the dead. What I did think was interesting was that, despite all the emphasis on park security, I didn’t see any gene mods to lower problem traits like aggression, only pump them up. This seems like a bit of an oversight, but I suppose that’s sort of the point of the Jurassic Park series isn’t it? Blinded the profit potential, common sense has long been out the window. You’ll be regularly reminded of these odd logical dead ends by Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by the incredible Jeff Goldblum. Malcolm’s mix of dry wit and genuine dread are the little voice in the back of your mind that keeps you vigilant, even when the park is going gangbusters.

Goldblum isn’t the only actor reprising their Jurassic Park character. Bryce Dallas Howard appears as her Jurassic World character Claire Dearing, though Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady is voiced by a sound-alike. The game also pulls a quite a bit of canon lore from all three prior Jurassic Park films, the two Jurassic World films and the Michael Crichton novels on which they were based. Even the game’s numerous achievements are named after memorable quotes from all five films.

I’ve done a fair bit of grumbling in this review but I want to stress, its only because I really love Jurassic World Evolution. I really do. I’ve been obsessed with the game from the moment I hit the title screen and even now I’m thinking of ways I could improve park build efficiency. It has its problems and there are parts of it that make no sense to me. But it’s also able to capture the sense of mingled wonder and horror that made the original film so enduring. It’s one of the best movie tie-in games ever made, and an excellent theme park management sim in its own right. That it works on console as well as it does is a testament to how well Frontier know their genre, inside and out. I would love to see it get an expansion down the line because honestly, I’ll take any excuse to go back to the Muertes Archipelago.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Higlights: Great management sim; Freeform gameplay; Presents a real challenge
Lowlights: Advisors are awful; Brutal learning curve
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on Xbox One X with a retail code provided by the publisher.