In the original Jurassic Park movie when things start going a little bit pear shaped, the perennially optimistic benefactor of the world's first dinosaur zoo John Hammond reminds everyone that when Disneyland opened none of the rides worked properly either. Mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm cynically retorts: "Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down the pirates don't eat the tourists." This is the central dichotomy at the heart of theme park sim Jurassic World Evolution. You're put in charge of a newly opened dinosaur park and you're asked to make it a success while constantly being reminded that with every fresh dinosaur you breed, you teeter ever more precariously on the brink of disaster. Some of your advisers support scientific advancement at any cost, while others think that playing God will almost certainly lead to mayhem. You can kinda see both points of view.
The allure of building a theme park full of living, breathing, prehistoric attractions is undeniable, but ethically is the risk really worth it knowing that at any time said attractions could break free of their shackles, maraud through the streets, and feast upon the slack-jawed, bum-bag wearing clientele? The answer, of course, is yes. You've got to speculate to accumulate, and if a few chubby kids have to get eaten for us to achieve Jurassic World glory then I'll baste them in Reggae Reggae sauce myself. Fortunately, Jurassic World Evolution realises the futility of spending too much time pondering the philosophical merits of building a dinosaur zoo, and it never takes itself too seriously.
For example, in a realistic game about building a theme park full of dinosaurs, the second that a Tyrannosaurus Rex broke out and ate a poor old granny you'd wind up in court having phrases like "criminal negligence" bandied around by a crack team of high priced lawyers. Here, you don't even get a verbal warning. Your ticket sales just go down for three or four minutes, and then suddenly everyone just decides to start coming back to your park while the janitors are still mopping up the blood. In a more serious simulation game that might seem jarring, but here it works, and the game is much better off for it.
Evolution is never particularly fond of holding your hand, and so you'll end up learning how a lot of it works by making mistakes. In the tutorial level you're tasked with hatching a bunch of the vegetarian dinosaurs, which is cool for a while but soon the kids want more teeth and it's your job to oblige. The game never tells you – and sure, it seems obvious now in hindsight – that when you hatch your first carnivorous dinosaur you need to first build a new pen to house it. We had our first dinosaur related snafu here, releasing a deadly, giant lizard into an impound full of peaceful herbivores with predictably disastrous results. It seemed weird that the game never walked us through how to properly house new dinosaurs, but then we learned real quick, so whether by coincidence or design, the approach works. We never did it again, put it that way.
The campaign is broken up across six islands, each offering unique challenges, and if at any time your park becomes unsustainable you can simply restart that island without undoing your whole career. The various islands are all different and require new strategies in order to succeed, from taking a failed park and turning it into a profitable one to taking over a zoo on an island ravaged by tropical storms and making sure that it's properly protected.
As you go you're also constantly unlocking new dinosaurs and buildings, and there's some storyline missions to complete focused on appeasing either the science, entertainment, or security divisions of Jurassic World, each with their own different criteria for success. Your advisers for each division fit their roles well, and Bryce Dallas Howard, B.D. Wong, and some dude doing an appalling Chris Pratt impersonation occasionally pop up to tie the game into the latest Jurassic World movie. Jeff Goldblum steals the show as he chimes in with prognostications of doom and gloom, delivering every line with his now signature fumfering.
You can get up close and personal to your dinosaurs, too, should you want to. Did your velociraptors work out how to smash down their electric fence, and now they're terrorising the local bowling alley? While you can leave it to the AI to take care of, you can also hop into a helicopter and take them down with a tranquilliser rifle yourself. Similarly, you can drive around your park in a jeep either to repair broken fences, medicate sick animals, or take photographs of your dinosaurs grazing or getting up to no good.
Some dinosaurs really don't play well with others – don't even bother housing a Tyrannosaurus Rex with anything else or there'll be blood – and dinosaur battles are always entertaining if slightly janky on the animation front. Each animal has it's own personal preferences, from how much forest or water they like to how many of their own kind they like to be around. Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen is not an advisable strategy when dealing with dinosaurs, and if you don't look after them chaos can quickly ensue.
Jurassic World Evolution sits happily in the difficulty sweet spot: it's easy enough to pick up and play that park builder novices will likely have a good time, but it's involved enough that genre veterans should enjoy it as an amusing diversion between more hardcore titles. While there's a couple of tedious processes involved, building a park is generally entertaining, and dinosaur fans – who isn't a dinosaur fan? – will likely be enamoured with the array of creatures available, and the mischief they can get up to.