Frontier Development has been on a hot streak the past few years. “Planet Coaster” reinvigorated the amusement park sim genre, and “Elite Dangerous” continues to give starship captains a gorgeous sandbox to play in. The studio’s latest, “Jurassic World Evolution” is an amusement park of a different kind, throwing temperamental dinos and corporate politics into the mix.
“Jurassic World Evolution” is a natural maturation of the roller coaster sim. Given each of the different park attractions its own food, ecosystem, and social needs assures that players will need to keep their eyes on everything that’s going on.
While you’re managing your dino population, you’ve got to make sure that your visitors stay happy. Food, drink, and entertainment are obvious. You’ll also want emergency shelters in case your dinosaurs get unruly or a massive storm kicks up.
In order to keep people coming back to the park, you need to make sure that there are new dinosaurs. A robust research system allows you to send teams out to real dig sites. Once they’ve uncovered new fossils, extracting them will help fill in DNA sequences.
You can incubated a dinosaur once you have 50 percent of its sequence complete, but that means you’ll be filling in the blanks with frog, lizard, or snake DNA. Each of these affects your dinosaur’s viability, lifespan, aggression, and overall rating. Tinkering with DNA can lead to a more robust baby dino, but the chance of failure increases along with its cost.
The research system also unlocks new dig sites (and fossils) buildings, enclosures, more genes to splice, and medication to combat dinosaur illness. Outbreaks are just one form of calamity you’ll face on “Jurassic World Evolution’s” five islands. Being attentive to your animal population can help head them off, as dead dinosaurs that aren’t removed rot and breed disease.
Managing each dinosaur’s happiness is also crucial. Some of them are loners. Others are pack animals. Let them get too agitated and they’ll break out and attack visitors. While it might be amusing to watch a raptor chomp on some hapless guests, the legal bills are no joke.
Your fortune can turn on a dime. Dead visitors mean lawsuits and settlements. Downtime at the park means people aren’t likely to return.
Your own people can be a thorn in your side, too. There are three different branches vying for resources: entertainment, security, and science. Investments typically increase morale in one and decrease it in the other. Snub one of your departments and the team will revolt, sabotaging your efforts.
The last thing you want is someone pulling a Dennis Nedry and opening all the enclosures or sabotaging your electrical grid. Be a better boss.
“It’s a chaos management game,” says executive producer Rich Newbold. “Things are going to go wrong. It’s how you deal with bedlam.”
Building out your Jurassic park is unsurprisingly fluid on PC. Thankfully, those playing on PS4 or Xbox One won’t be hampered by having to use a controller.
“Planet Coaster worked really nicely with a mouse and keyboard, but not with a gamepad,” says head of animation Nick Rodgers. “We took the core systems, but then tweaked them to make sure they would work as well with consoles as they did with PC.”
Clearing terrain, constructing buildings, and mapping out paths and the electrical grid is all fluid. Frontier’s spine-based building system that makes “Planet Coaster” so delightful has transitioned smoothly to “Jurassic World Evolution.”
Despite the complexity of multiple system layers and the need for rapid response, Frontier has figured out how to on-board players without too much friction. A series of missions on more complex islands helps get players up to speed quickly. Additionally, unlocking more dinosaurs and buildings allows you to go back to earlier islands and improve your rating (in turn opening up more options).
“We try to teach the player basics that we wanted to get across, like placing buildings, making a dinosaur, and a bit of the mission system,” Newbold explains. “It’s a chaos management game. Things are going to go wrong, so it’s ok for players to learn by failing. There’s no critical path. Tutorials are hard to do right. You do a lot of testing. You play it multiple times. I was partly responsible for how the tutorials work, and I played the first 10 minutes so much, just trying to tweak the timing, the VO delivery, and the missions we’re asking you to do.”
One of your most important resources are park rangers in jeeps and ACU teams in helicopters. The former will make repairs to buildings or medicate ill animals. The latter will remove deceased dinosaurs, tranquilize them for moving to new pens, and deal with breakouts to keep the park safe. You can either task your teams to perform tasks or jump into the jeep or helicopter yourself.
Driving and flying are both satisfying, and controlling an ACU team to tranquilize a dinosaur works extremely well. You can aim and fly at the same time, which sounds unintuitive, but works wonderfully.
“Jurassic World Evolution” certainly isn’t the first game based on the movie franchise, but it gets closer than many others. And if you can’t keep your guests happy? Let a T-Rex out of its enclosure and watch the ingrates flee for their lives.