Jurassic World Evolution is brought to us by the wonderful people at Frontier Developments. Park building games are the bread and butter of Frontier Developments whose past hits include the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, Zoo Tycoon, Thrillville and ScreamRide. So Frontier Developments got their hands on the Jurassic World License and can surely do no wrong, right?

Attention! So full disclosure here, I am a bit of a Dinosaur nerd as I’m sure are many of you are. The Jurassic Park/World franchise has not always been accurate when it comes to its depiction of ‘Terrible Lizards’, be that the size of certain species (Clever girl, yep Velociraptors weren’t anywhere near as tall as the movies depict) or the fact that the majority of its star dinosaurs are in fact from the Cretaceous period. However, seeing as Frontier Developments are working within the JW license and therefore the inaccuracies are ‘cannon’ as far as the game is concerned so from here on out the game won’t receive any criticism from me as far as the aforementioned inaccuracies and alike are concerned.

Jurassic World Evolution places you in charge of running parks across each one of the Las Cinco Muertes, starting with Isla Matanceros. As you increase each parks rating you’ll unlock new islands meaning you can open more parks and unlock more content such as new ‘dig sites’ to uncover more species of dinosaur and infrastructure upgrades like the Monorail.

Isla Mantaneros is a rather small space to get you started, this is normally where you’d experience a tutorial, however, there isn’t one, at least not in the traditional sense. This lack of tutorial seemed like a huge mistake at first, it left me feeling lost and directionless. However rather than forcibly guide me through a set tutorial the game features little pop us that guide you through each specific aspect one at a time as they come up. The pop-ups are brief and to the point meaning that your time from the very beginning of the game is spent building your park your way.

Through this pop-ups, I soon had a good grasp and off I went attempting to fill John Hammond’s shoes.

Not long into your career as park administrator, you’ll meet your staff, namely the heads of the 3 main departments; Issac Clement, head of Park Entertainment, it’s his job to promote the park as the greats entertainment destination in the world. Next up is George Lambert; Head of park security, well his role in your parks should speak for itself. Lastly and my preferred member of staff Dr Kajal Dua, Lead scientist and geneticist. All 3 of the team leaders have their own distinct personalities and each will try to push your park in their preferred direction by offering you tasks to complete, for which you’ll earn financial rewards and more importantly reputation with said department.

Poor Goat, Guess that dino isn’t vegan!

Now, this is where my first issue with Jurassic World Evolution crops up. Each department has a reputation meter, you’ll need to complete tasks to unlock missions that give bigger rewards, The problem arises when you complete a mission for lets say the Entertainment Division, this will increase your reputation with that department but lower it with the other two, so you end up playing a delicate game of balancing loyalties. Why do you need to balance out your loyalty?

Sabotage (and the Beastie Boys are nowhere in site), if your reputation with one of the division drops below a certain level, that department will begin sabotaging aspects of your park in an attempt to force you into investing more with them (No, you can’t just fire them). Now, this doesn’t seem to have a massive impact on the gameplay in all honesty. Which being honest, makes it all the more annoying, rather than dictating gameplay in a meaningful way it just leaves you occasionally giving in and completing missions you otherwise wouldn’t just to avoid the minor annoyance of an ‘escaped’ Dracorex (named after Harry Potter FYI). While on the subject of missions, the missions each faction give you are often counter-intuitive, for instance, The head of security will ask you to unleash a dinosaur on your poor guests (although it may be tad meta to say, but anyone who attends a Jurassic Park and doesn’t expect an outbreak deserves to be head-butted by a Pachycephalosaurus) to test response times of your parks security staff, although, I’ve witnessed a few guests and some park staff be devoured whole by my pet Ceratosaur and it didn’t seem to have much of an impact on my park.

As for the financial rewards of the missions, they soon become superfluous, about an hour or so into the game I was earning approximately $180,000 per min, meaning that the mission I’d be given by Issac to take a picture of a Triceratops for $75,000 wasn’t really worth the time it would take. However, I jumped at the chance to take control of a Ranger Jeep (for which there are many skins, including the classic JP Jeep skin) and get a closer look at some of my Dinosaurs.

That brings me on to the visuals of Jurassic World Evolution, The game is enhanced for Xbox One X and honestly looks so much better than I expected it to. In fact the first thing I did in the game was to zoom in on the trees, expecting them to congeal into a fuzzy mess of green, but they didn’t, in fact, almost every visual element of JPE appears to have been lovingly rendered. From the shrubs to the textures on dino-skin. The dino’s look just as great from a ‘boots on the ground’ (or in this case, jeeps wheels on the ground’) as they do from the hovering main camera you’ll be using for most of the game.

The game currently offers 43 species of dinosaur with Frontier Developments promising to release more as time goes on (at the time of writing they have released an additional 5 dinosaurs completely free of charge). You access the game’s rosters of mostly Cretaceous critters though digging up their fossils to uncover the secrets of their genome, there’s a minimum amount of genome you need to have uncovered per species before you can create that species, the more genome you uncover the higher your chances of a successful incubation. What’s more, in keeping with the genetic splicing of the Jurassic World movies the more of a dinosaurs genome you’ve unlocked, the more you can alter it’s genetic traits, these range from simple things like skin colour, to better digestive systems, all the way up to increasing hide toughness meaning you can create a great number of unique dinosaurs to boost your park’s rating.

Isla Nublar is unlocked once your first park reaches the required rating. For those unfamiliar with Jurassic World lore, Isla Nublar is the site of the original park and of Jurassic World, its function in Evolution is what I imagine many of us are buying the game for, sandbox mode. Isla Nublar is yours to play with all you like, and with an unlimited budget, however, you can only use items and dinosaurs you’ve unlocked in what I’ve decided to call the ‘campaign’ parks. Meaning that you’ll have to complete all the islands for a true sandbox experience. This didn’t bother me in the slightest, knowing that I had the sandbox to look forward to meant I could repeat the same process of building a park to greatness on each island, so that I could use all the bells and whistles.

The only issue I had with the sandbox is that you are given an unlimited budget, while this does offer freedom it removes any kind of challenge or real gameplay meaning that once there it’s rather pointless.

Overall Evolution does nothing wrong but it doesn’t do anything amazingly well either, it’s enjoyable to play and Hammond knows I’ll be building my Dinosaur conservation island for many a month to come, the game lacks certain staples of the ‘park building genre’ the absence of which is noticeable even if they don’t impact its core gameplay.

Staples such as being able to enjoy the park activities, for example, there’s no option to ride around in a gyrosphere and get a ‘guest eye view’ of the park the way can ride the coasters in other park games. Add to that the limited decoration available, most buildings in the game serve a function, which is all well and good, but the inability to build say a nice picnic area around fountain means that most parks look the same and there’s little need to show off your park to friends as theirs will look like yours in every way that counts.

The aforementioned Trixie.

The game isn’t very challenging either while adding difficulty to a park sim is no doubt a tricky task, the lack of challenge meant I found myself playing it to relax rather than test my park building skills. Playing a game to relax isn’t really and bad thing and shouldn’t be taken as a criticism, but means that long sessions on the game can sometimes begin to feel a tad stale. When this happened, well, I found myself deleting fences and seeing how many people Trixie the Triceratops could trample.