When will InGen learn? Jurassic Park went awry before it even opened, the proposed San Diego branch resulted in a T-rex stomping around suburbia, and Jurassic World only managed a few successful years before all hell broke loose. In Jurassic World Evolution, the people behind the park aren’t just planning one resort: they want five, one for each of ‘Las Cinco Muertes’, the ominously-named Five Deaths islands. The idealistic billionaire in charge of the venture this time isn’t John Hammond, or Simon Masrani — it’s you. It’s a recipe for chaos.
Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, thankfully Evolution creators Frontier Developments do — they’re the developers behind Rollercoaster Tycoon, and their pedigree within the park sim genre ensures that Evolution has relative gameplay depth beyond a mere cheap IP cash-in. Players are tasked with keeping a variety of plates spinning simultaneously — as well as maintaining your park and hatching new dinosaurs, customers need to be kept satisfied with facilities and shops that boost your profit margins, fossil teams need to be sent on digs to extract more DNA, and research teams have to be deployed to upgrade your park security, increase your genetic knowledge and create medicine for sick dinosaurs.
The first island, Isla Matanceros, is essentially a training ground, and it’s a bit of a slow start. As with many simulator games, there are mazes of menus to get your head around — Evolution offers prompts in the form of objectives to complete, but it’s not always immediately apparent what you should be doing. Get past the bumpy first few hours, and there’s genuine satisfaction in sending your first dinosaurs into the park, or watching customers fill the walkways and spend ridiculous amounts of cash on your overpriced dinosaur onesies. Once a park is created, you can drive around on ground level for yourself too — taking control of ranger vehicles puts you in third person mode, letting you enter enclosures to administer medicine to sick dinosaurs, restock feeders, and photograph your majestic beasts for a bit of extra cash. If it starts off simple, later islands (including Islas Nublar and Sorna from the films) throw extra challenges into the mix — storms can knock out your fences, set your attractions loose and send punters flocking for shelters (or the jaws of death) — and stopping everything from going truly tits-up is a lot of fun.
While Evolution gets a lot right, some areas are in need of an upgrade. Driving ranger vehicles is fun, but not having hungry carnivores chase you down in their enclosures feels like a missed opportunity. Jeff Goldblum brings an extra touch of quality, delivering lines as Dr. Ian Malcolm with his uniquely, uh, Goldblumian speech patterns — but the writing itself feels distinctly first-draft. Then there are the island maps themselves, which can be frustratingly small and constrained, making it hard to create beautifully laid-out parks — instead it’s a case of cramming buildings in wherever space allows, with tangling paths and power lines that get ugly quickly. And as with any simulator game the control scheme lends itself best to PC, though Evolution plays perfectly fine on consoles.
Jurassic World Evolution isn’t a game-changer, but it’s no monstrous hybrid either — it’s a fun, competent dino-skinned park sim that should offer several hours of laid-back gameplay to Jurassic fans. If you’re in that camp, you’d struggle not to endorse this park.