[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
All too infrequently, some brave soul (or team of souls, actually) ventures to release a new “business simulator” on both PC and console, in the vain hope that somehow, it might appease both audiences. I avoid these games like the plague on PC simply because I know that nowadays, they are built almost exclusively for the more valuable, more mainstream console audience. Even so, like the delightful music of Sophie Ellis Bextor, I like to experience them for what they are.
On this occasion, I’ve been playing Jurassic World Evolution on my Xbox One. I’ve been playing it for about three solid days. I’m not playing it because I think it’s especially good, but like one of those seemingly endless boxes of popcorn that you keep shoveling in during the kind of movie that spawned this game, it just keeps on giving you that tiny, addictive drip of sweet, sweet goodness. The game plays out over six islands, each of which is unlocked as the result of your iterative success.
Success can mean many things, from park rating to completing the story missions dished out by three competing (and fairly irritating) advisers. Representing science, entertainment and security, these individuals provide both the key missions that basically advance the story on each island, as well as a never ending series of contracts that basically reward the player for doing what they would be doing anyway. Actually unlocking the story missions is a product of increasing your reputation with each adviser, which is (you’ve guessed it) only achieved as you complete their recommended contracts.
And if this were any other game, that’s probably what you’d want to do. But, if this were any other game, it would be pretty fucking boring. As it happens; dinosaurs. Lets talk about those big, smashy, chompy bastards. With the exception of the fact that it is built around researching, designing, creating and housing dinosaurs, Evolution is fairly mundane really, but thanks to the fact that giant lizards are ever present, it’s much more compelling. Whilst none of the features that Evolution builds around the presence of dinosaurs is especially groundbreaking, the sum total of them creates enough excitement to make the game feel more fun than it should be.
Take digging for fossils, for example, which is the main way that the player gains access to new dinosaurs. Well, firstly, there’s that; new dinosaurs. Secondly, there’s what you actually do at a mechanical level. Basically, you send some unseen poindexters out into the world to search for fossils at various sites around the globe. After a few minutes, they’ll return with fossils which can then be analysed to help advance your knowledge of specific dinosaurs – more knowledge results in more reliance, authentic specimens when it comes to actually hatching babies. Great.
Except it’s not great, not really. It’s basically clicking on a location, waiting, then either researching a fossil or selling it. There’s literally no game play in that part of the game, which can also be said of the various upgrades that can be researched. Imagine being able to upgrade a power station so that it has a ten percent less chance of outage? Fuck me, that’s innovation for you. But you know, actually, unlocking more and more interesting dinosaurs is very compelling, whilst accessing electrified steel fences to house them is a simple necessity of the job.
When it comes to actually putting dinosaurs into your park, the engine that powers Evolution could be a literal copy and paste of almost all other console based management sims. Whether you’ve played Aven Colony or Zoo Tycoon, you’ll feel immediately at home here. Panning and zooming is simple, accessing the build menu is a breeze – to its credit, Evolution doesn’t have (or need) a tutorial, because it is so instantly familiar.
All dino pens require some kind of hugely expensive, fancy incubator thing called a Hammond Creation Laboratory. You’ll build your cage – I mean pen – around it and add things like observation points, automated feeders and so on. Then, assuming you’ve done enough research, you’ll begin to hatch dinosaurs. Succeed in getting their needs right (which is something that is only revealed to you after a species is in its enclosure) and the guests will flood in. Get it wrong and in almost all cases, that dinosaur will break out and run amok.
Most herbivores are easy to please, with smaller ones almost no trouble at all and larger ones only really a problem if you overwhelm them with other species. Carnivores on the other hand, can be absolute bastards. Raptors, as you can imagine, are utter wankers – which for me is a good enough reason to leave them out in favour of higher rated, easier to look after dinosaurs like the crap but reliable T-Rex alternative known as the Ceratosaurus.
Whichever you choose (and to be honest it will probably be all of them sooner or later) dinosaurs in Evolution look absolutely incredible, I must say. Real attention to detail has been applied to each and every species, with highly individual movement and facial animations for all. Dinosaurs have true character – from the powerful but mostly gentle triceratops to the inquisitive, antagonistic raptor. Of course, you won’t care how cool they look when those animations depict them pouncing on and killing park guests, but hey – what you should have done is invested in heavy steel electric fence, ya dig?
So, what else happens in Evolution? I bet you can guess. I’ll give you a second. Did you guess that over the course of the six islands, you’ll face increasingly complex environmental challenges (like a financial crisis, or a natural disaster) or that you’ll spend as much of your time managing the bottom line as you will the dinosaurs? Well done, you win. The reality is that I am living proof that there is a market for basic, console-centric business management sims and whilst I feel like these games are all basically identical, anyone wanting to change it up should simply add dinosaurs.
On that note, I should make some kind of statement about whether I recommend JW: Evolution or not and the reality is, I really do. It’s just an honest to goodness, dumb as shit, big budget management sim. There are enough dig sites, fossils, dinosaurs, research options, buildings, missions (and repetitive contracts) to keep you going for probably twenty or thirty hours, minimum. Will you get bored during that time? Yes, probably, from time to time – but its still the kind of game that makes the hours disappear as you play. When you do complete it – will you play it again? Probably not. With all that said, you should: