We were chomping at the bit to get our hands on Jurassic World Evolution, coming at it with the same enthusiasm as a group of raptors who've just seen a team of extras walking through a field full of long grass. Ushered in by the dulcet tones of Jeff Goldblum, you immediately feel immersed in the world of Las Cincos Muertes (translating literally as The Five Deaths). Ironically, however, you get to play on six islands.
Kicking things off was Isla Matanceros, which doubles as both the tutorial and the park you need to 'five star' to open up the sandbox mode on the infamous Isla Nublar (where both the parks were based). We're thrown in at the deep end from the get-go with very little in the way of instruction as to what you have to do. One thing we liked is that even during the explanation, we could place things where and how we wanted, which made us feel like we had plenty of freedom.
Luckily, the lack of advice isn't too much of a hindrance as the controls are all pretty intuitive (and we were playing on PS4, so we're not even talking about the optimal mouse+keyboard controls). The ease with which you can pick up and play the game carries on throughout the whole experience, and it never really takes itself too seriously. Watching a velociraptor breakout and munch on one the screaming guests in a serious simulation would bankrupt you, but here the park's star rating and income take a short-term hit. After four minutes you're back on track.
This might grate on more hardcore simulation gamers, but Jurassic World Evolution seems to pull it off well. The fact that it's not too punishing means that you can learn the game via trial and error. For example, on our first island, we were originally tasked with populating our park with peaceful tree munchers like the triceratops. Soon, though, our guests desired something with a little more bite. Literally.
We released our first carnivore into the paddock and it was a little like watching a more dramatic episode of a David Attenborough documentary. There was slaughter right up until the triceratops put an end to our meat-eating monster. That's when we realised we had to put the right feeder in to stop the bloodlust, or that we should have built a new enclosure (something the tutorial neglected to tell us). Even with precautions taken there will inevitably be fights and dino deaths.
Things can and will go wrong on a very regular basis. If it's not restless dinosaurs going on a rampage, it's tropical storms opening up the fences. This might end up being a dinosaur bone of contention, however, as these types of events seem to happen all too often. You feel like you're constantly sending out teams to perform tasks like tranquilising a dilophosaurus or fixing a fence. It does seem to detract from the fun a little bit at times.
Most of your favourite characters are here to give advice, but the star of the show is, of course, Dr Malcolm with his miserable anecdotes and sardonic moments. We really wanted him to say the line "that's a huge pile of shit," but sadly it never came. There were some notable exceptions, however, with Blue the raptor not in the game. We know that Alan Grant was from Park and not World, but we kind of missed his presence too.
Your main interaction is with the heads of three departments: Science, Entertainment and Security. They give you various missions to finish, but completing one will have a negative impact on other areas of the operation, and we found that it was best to just finish one set of missions for a group before moving onto the next.
There are 38 dinosaurs (or 42 if you splash out on the deluxe edition), to dig up and recreate. The basic idea is to send out your expedition teams to various locations across the globe to find fossils. Once procured, they are brought back and the dino DNA is extracted. The aim is to get enough genetic code to perfectly recreate one of these prehistoric monsters.
Once 100% code is achieved you can sell off the excess specimens to fund new digs. The more accurate they are, the higher the appeal rating and the happier your park-goers will be to see them. To increase the wow factor, you can tinker away with the code to change their appearance and resilience, and eventually, their appeal rating will go up.
This meddling, in turn, does have a downside as it can decrease viability and therefore your dinosaur can die during cloning, which considering how costly it is and the fact that the cost increases by the minute, means you can spend a lot of time doing nothing. We were hoping for more of a focus on the topic of the last two films, which is genetic hybrids, but there are a few things missing from the films the game is named after.
The Mosasaur: one of the fan favourites from the first outing in the Jurassic World series, was nowhere to be seen. Strange, because it was such an important part of the first Jurassic World film (as were Pteranodons, which are also missing). It seems pretty strange that these things are not in the game, but maybe they'll appear in some DLC at a later stage. Talking of content, Frontier Developments has promised us some extra DLC to tie-in with the new films. There will be six new dinosaurs including the menacing new Indoraptor. The pack will be released on June 22 and is going to cost you the massive price of nothing.
While we enjoyed our time in Jurassic World, the small selection of buildings didn't thrill us. We can only hope that more content comes along in the future to support this solid foundation. The missing dinosaurs, the lack of building customisation, and the limited options in terms of construction put us off. The fact that we couldn't get guest feedback, along with the sheer number of rampaging monsters, also ensured that we didn't always feel like we were in complete control.
That said, Jurassic World Evolution is a great pick up and play title that doesn't take itself too seriously and is really fun to explore. We liked the fact that you had to unlock the sandbox mode and when you did, only the dinosaurs you'd discovered in the main game were unlocked in sandbox mode too. It pushed you into playing more of the campaign missions and finding out what the game had to offer. It's a lot of fun, then, and if dinosaurs or sim games are your thing then you should definitely check it out.