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.