Building Jurassic Park

There have been a lot of Jurassic Park games. Most of them are bad. Another game is coming out, and I think it has promise. That’s Jurassic World: Evolution, which should be released shortly before the newest film in the franchise.

I’m interested and suspect that it will be good largely because it seems to be a spiritual successor to Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. That 2003 park management simulator is fairly conventional in many ways, but it did attempt to address both the wonder of bringing dinosaurs back and the difficulty of maintaining control over these forces of nature. At the time, the naturalistic behavior of the animals, not to mention their graphical presentation, was rather impressive.

Quite a lot of fun in the game could be spent touring around on safari rides, snapping pictures of your dinosaurs. A specific game mode, “Site B,” allowed players to simply create dinosaurs and let them wander an island untouched by man. This sort of naturalist mode was great fun to toy around in.

But the main focus of the game was on building parks, of course. There were the typical conventions of the park building simulation genre: build more exhibits to keep guests coming, build more amenities and attractions to keep them satisfied while they’re there and to get them to pay out more money, keep up on maintenance, and advance R&D for even better attractions. But the dinosaurs brought chaos. Diseases could spread among dinosaurs. Unhappy or naturally aggressive dinosaurs could try to break out of their enclosures. And dinosaurs on the loose could eat other dinosaurs–or the guests. You had to be prepared to lock down your park in a hurry, and to send your park rangers into the air to pacify your escaped animals. And despite your best efforts, you could still see destruction ensue in the wake of a natural disaster.

I admit that even at its most chaotic, Operation Genesis was still easy to tame and largely in line with the controlled chaos of other park sims. But it still felt appropriately Jurassic Park, even if the lesson learned at the end of the day was not that we mere humans could never truly control nature, but rather that best management practices can beat even the most chaotic forces back into line.

Maybe more fun than the park-building were the missions. You might have to drive through an established park to take pictures, or perhaps you’d be thrust into the role of a ranger to tranq angry dinosaurs, or even to evacuate from a park thrown into chaos. Not all of these missions had the smoothest design, but they were fun experiments that threw ideas at the wall as to what made Jurassic Park special (the photo missions are about wonder, the ranger missions are little action-adventure disaster films, and so on).

I played the game on Xbox, and its control scheme worked shockingly well for a console release, something I wouldn’t have expected for a management sim. At some point over the years, I sold or lost or gave away the title, and I rather regret that decision. It’s long since been out of print, and physical copies available online are selling for close to a hundred dollars, more than I’d be willing to pay for a nostalgia trip with an outdated game that I’ve already played the hell out of. Somehow, despite the renewed interest in the franchise with the Jurassic World films, it’s never seen a digital release (I occasionally search for it on Steam and GOG). I don’t know if there’s a licensing or IP issue, or just a perceived lack of demand, but it seems like this title should be totally set for some sort of revised re-release.

From what I’ve read about Jurassic World Evolution, it seems like the current-gen take on the Operation Genesis formula. It’s unclear to me what makes this a truly unique game, or why it wouldn’t be under the Operation Genesis brand (the game may never have taken off with fans or critics, but there’s definitely a still-existent fan base for the title). Frankly, the more details that are released, the more it sounds exactly like a remake of Operation Genesis, including the R&D of dinosaurs, presence of natural disasters and disease, the put-down of animal escapes, and money-making through a photo mode (read this interview to see examples of these features and a good discussion of the development of the game’s themes and features and its use of “soft canon”).

I do have a small additional complaint. It appears that this game will release on PC and consoles, but the console release does not include the Nintendo Switch. I suppose that PC will be the way I play when I do, inevitably, play it. But the built-in and easy-to-use photo/video features on the Switch controller, the integrated social media component in the Switch Home environment, and the possibility of tablet play are all elements that suggest that this title would be great on the Switch. It’s possible that the game is too demanding for this little console, but I haven’t seen anything so visually stunning or demanding yet that would suggest that to be the case (nor do I see yet why the Switch couldn’t have a slightly less beefy port if that were the case). Maybe a Switch release will come later…

Either way, I’ll be looking forward to this game. Even if it’s just Operation Genesis 2 under another name, that’s more than enough for me.

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