JW: Evolution appears to offer a finished story…for a price

I haven’t touched Jurassic World: Evolution in a while. I might not have even seen the newest game announcement if I hadn’t decided to look into its status following my Evolution of Claire review. So I was definitely surprised to see the news about the newest planned paid and unpaid updates to the game. You can read more about that, and see a trailer for the paid content, on Variety.

On one hand, I’m still impressed with the improvements offered by each round of unpaid updates. The new dinosaurs and the challenge modes of past updates were great expansions. Adding day/night cycles, better dinosaur feeders, expanded dinosaur behaviors, and new contract types are all great additions, as well.

On the other hand, my excitement’s tempered by two clear points. One, a lot of the unpaid update features represent improvements over a fun but flawed game–in other words, a lot of these features would have been good to have at launch. Two, the unpaid content pales in comparison to the paid content. And I’m rather annoyed at the prospect of paying any amount of money to actually see the conclusion of the story arc that was heavily developed and hinted at before being dropped entirely in the core game. (I griped about the story’s anticlimax in my original game review). This isn’t a sequel–this is merely a conclusion to the unfinished story, and they expect people to pay for that! That said, paying to be able to make zany dinosaur hybrids is tempting to me. (Yet again, the lack of ability to make custom, hybridized animals in the original release was a point I noted in my review.)

It’s great to see the team at Frontier continuing to expand and improve upon the game. But it’s also annoying to recognize so many of these improvements as features that would have made sense at launch. Adding them improves the experience, sure. But their absence made the game lesser than from the start. This isn’t a case of a complete game getting new add-ons. It feels very much so like the full experience is being doled out piecemeal, months after its official release. Is that an unfair criticism? I don’t know, maybe. So much of this is perception. I greatly enjoyed Evolution, and the new content does entice me to consider another return. This isn’t a great problem, but I guess news that should be sweet has an unfortunate sour note.

Review – Jurassic World: The Evolution of Claire

The Evolution of Claire (Jurassic World)The Evolution of Claire by Random House

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Evolution of Claire is fairly small in scope, intimate even, especially for a title set in the Jurassic Park–excuse me, Jurassic World–franchise. Author Tess Sharpe details a nineteen-year-old Claire Dearing’s summer internship on Isla Nublar for the Masrani Corporation, in the final months before the new park would open. While there are many misadventures and some moments of wonder as the interns interact with dinosaurs in the park, the central focus of the novel is Claire’s budding romance with another intern. A B plot is a series of mysterious happenings around the facilities that seem somehow connected with a fabled class of Phantom Interns from the year before. The central culprit behind those happenings is a spoiled, mysogynist intern who is so obviously villainous and yet so obviously not the true antagonist that he’s basically Red Herring from A Pup Named Scooby Doo.

So it’s a YA novel with dinosaurs. It was a fun read. There were issues with continuity that sometimes annoyed me. I would have enjoyed more about the creation of the dinosaurs (Sharpe seems aware that mosquitoes alone would be insufficient for this resurrection miracle, yet never references potential alternative DNA sources–even Crichton’s original book, and the recent game Jurassic World: Evolution, at least refer to bone fragments and other potential alternative sources). Isla Sorna is mentioned, and it’s suggested that most if not all of the animals were to be moved to Isla Nublar (after several had been thinned out by poaching), but this plot thread still feels nebulous. The interns freely hop between radically different assignments, like security, genetics lab work, and vet work, though most of them are not qualified. The interns themselves seem rather young for such a selective and intensive program, having only completed a semester of undergrad, although maybe that’s commonplace among the hyper-competitive. There were some good dinosaur moments, but I wanted more dinosaurs in general; Brachiosaurus and Triceratops got spotlights, Tyrannosaurus had its moment, and there was a big showdown in the climax with an angry Velociraptor, but other genera had fleeting glimpses or name drops if they appeared at all. With so many dinosaurs to choose from, so many dinosaurs we know were at the park, it’s disappointing that the author settled on the highlights of the original film. And while Claire is no specialist and therefore doesn’t necessarily know how to interpret what is happening, there’s a general lack of detail that is disappointing in contrast to the rather specific world-building found in the Crichton books and Spielberg films (the latter show that depth does not need to bog down the story with exposition). So there are things that I would have preferred to be different, but nothing that ruined the reading experience.

There’s a good deal of melodrama, particularly in the last third of the book, but there’s also a lot of authentic depiction of trauma and grief in those moments as well. I’m not sure that I would have made the decision to have yet more death at this park before it even opened if I were making narrative choices here, yet it does do a lot to provide a clear character arc for Claire that extends through both of the films in which she appears. Over the course of the book, we see her go from an ambitious, bright-eyed optimist who is truly amazed by the creatures she encounters to a hard-edged, jaded young woman who sees protecting people from those same creatures as a driving purpose. It’s more complex than that; I was truly impressed with the character development, which really helped explain who Claire was and made clear why she would make the decisions that she did in Fallen Kingdom. Most surprisingly, the book does a lot to renovate Dr. Wu’s appearance; he’s driven, but his ambitions are motivated at least in part by his coping strategies for the loss of close coworkers at the first park. It’s a more effective portrait than the mad scientist of the Jurassic World films.

All in all, this isn’t a bad book by any means. It’s light and enjoyable. It’s not really what I would want out of a book in this franchise. But it does character development better than Crichton ever did. With expectations accordingly set, the average Jurassic World fan should be able to appreciate the experience.

View all my reviews

All the Games

After a couple fits and starts, I finished Broken Age. This could warrant a full review, but everything I would want to say can be summarized as follows: excellent characterization, lovely plot that finishes a bit too abruptly, lots of cute little jokes, absolutely beautiful, BUT the gameplay is often frustrating in the worst traditions of adventure games. Two of those points bear emphasizing. One: the art is absolutely gorgeous! A series of screenshots are below, to hopefully support that claim. Two: the gameplay can be so infuriating!

So much of the time is wandering around the map, collecting random items from the environment, from dialogue choices, and from puzzles, then figuring out where the items might ultimately come into play. There’s a lot of backtracking and trading of random crap for other random crap. Sometimes it seems logical, or even obvious; sometimes, the use of an item for a given situation can seem clever. But most of the time, it just seemed arbitrary. The world and the characters were so quirky, lovely, and charming; the plot had some fun twists and pivots and re-connections; but the impact of those elements was lessened as I trudged back and forth in the most point-and-clickiest way possible. You ever find yourself faced with a frustratingly opaque game challenge requiring a specific solution, while you want to scream another, more apparent option? That’s so much of this game for me. Especially when there are so many characters to talk with, it was frustrating to see that being able to propose obvious solutions or to ask obvious questions was just stripped out. In short, the game felt…artificially difficult (or at least its second half did). In the last act, I frequently consulted a guide, increasingly impatient with the bizarro limitations put into place. If you played a lot of classic point-and-click adventure games, though, you might have a more positive experience.

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Besides Broken Age, I also played a couple of weird little indie projects that released to a lot of acclaim but basically passed me by until now.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is zany and fun, with a surprisingly heartfelt and endearing story under the wacky Saturday-morning-cartoon premise. It’s a fairly short but worthwhile experience.

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Then there’s The Stanley Parable. This was fun, but I lost interest fairly quickly without exploring most of the branching paths and endings. I spent most of my short time with it forcing endings through disobedience. The narration was charming, but I thought the game a bit too clever for its own good (and really, exploring “choice” in a video game and in life has been done more subtly elsewhere, hasn’t it?).

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I also jumped back into Hotline Miami a little bit recently. This game’s just perfect at setting a mood. The jarring, twitchy controls. The bizarre cuts between levels. The splashy blood. The bright colors. The pounding music. The game honestly makes me feel a little ill and a little disassociated after a while, like I’m getting into the head of a psychopath–or as close as I’d want to be, anyway. Gamification of the violence drives home that disturbing feeling, too. It’s a surreal experience, and the gameplay and music provide a powerfully addictive combination. I’ve played the story once or twice, and I’ve also played individual levels on occasion. But I don’t think it’s a game that I could ever 100%–I’d have to spend too much time getting really good at really disturbing shit.

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Moving out of indie games, I’ve returned to Jurassic World: Evolution, as well. A recent update included a new challenge mode. So far, I’ve fiddled around with the easy mode, taking my time, having fun, then realizing in a panic that while I would probably eventually get to 5 stars, I was definitely not going to meet the par time. This could prove to be a quite challenging mode, especially working all the way up to Jurassic difficulty while meeting the par times, and it may or may not be enough to keep me in the game for a while (if only to try to return my status to 100% completion).

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Finally, I’ve been playing ever more of Star Wars: Battlefront II. The 2005 edition, of course. It’s just so fun and easy to hop into even if I don’t have a lot of time to play.

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And that’s all for games. The final post, on television, will follow tomorrow.

A Jurassic World of Future Games

Jurassic World: Evolution is not a perfect game, but it’s fun. You could say that about many games in the history of the franchise. Many more, however, are just plain bad (or just plain  weird).

There are still game styles and narratives I’d like to see explored by video games set in this franchise, and I figured I’d throw those ideas out here.

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Jurassic World: Evolution

The smallest idea I have wouldn’t be for a new game. I’d just like to see Evolution added to. It would be nice to have more dinosaurs, to have feathered theropod skins, and to have some sort of DLC expansion that finally completed the plot of corporate intrigue that the game introduces but fails to develop anywhere. I’d also love the ability to design your own island maps, so you could keep randomly generating new challenges and new parks to build on. I lost interest in the sandbox mode fairly quickly…

Who knows? Maybe some of these elements are already in development! And now that Fallen Kingdom is out, there’s no reason that Evolution can’t go on to tell its own separate and complete story.

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Jurassic Park: The Game

The next idea isn’t a new game type, but a development on what came before. Telltale’s Jurassic Park: The Game came out to mixed reviews (I personally liked the story but was baffled by the changes to Gerry Harding’s character and found the focus on quick-time events infuriating and anti-cinematic), but I do think the idea of a Jurassic Park adventure game is solid. I would like to see adventure games that adapted the novels. The novels were a little meatier, with a few big mysteries to explore (in the first book alone, there were the dinosaurs on the mainland, the breeding populations and nest sites, and the cause of the Stegosaurus illnesses). They also had a series of scenes that I could easily see played out  as a variety of adventure game sets or mini-games. The books were driven by mysteries and punctuated by moments of terror. A game that was more cerebral (and that largely avoided quick-time events) could be a fun way to explore the plots, characters, and themes of the original source material. Plus, by inserting players into the roles of various characters, immersion would help carry some of the novels’ weaker characterizations.

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I’d also like to see a survival game set on Isla Sorna. Here too is a concept that is not truly unique to the Jurassic Park setting: the poorly received Trespasser did it in 1998, then there was the canceled Jurassic Park: Survival, and that seemed to have survived a while onward in the similarly canceled Jurassic World: Survivor. However, I’d like to see a game that offered minimal weaponry (the three I discussed above all relied on firearms pretty heavily) and that was more focused on exploring the world. Perhaps, rather than being focused on escape, the game could be about being a Sarah Harding-type researcher, there to study the dinosaurs. Unlocking codices describing dinosaur biology and behavior, perhaps recovering scattered Site B documents from old computers and file cabinets, and simply photographing the animals could all be soft objectives. In short, I’d like a game where the dinosaurs were animals and not just monsters to fear. And please, no more dinosaur survival crafting games!

Finally, I do have a more conventional, narrative-driven shooter in mind. In the wake of Fallen Kingdom, we now have dinosaurs spread across the western United States. These animals could breed, and it’s suggested that corporate and governmental interests might clone more dinosaurs across the globe. Putting yourself in the role of perhaps a small Southwestern sheriff as you attempt to defend a small town against dangerous new animals–or a member of a commando team sent to disrupt cloning facilities set up in a rogue nation–could offer some fun run-and-gun gaming. (Okay, that latter idea is basically Dino Crisis…)

None of these are truly wild departures from what’s come before. None are suggesting radical new game styles or narratives. But I hope they offer some interesting possibilities. I’d love to hear what you might want to see in a future Jurassic Park game!

For bonus points, though, allow me to suggest a sprawling open-world RPG where you are a lone wanderer, perhaps an ambassador or mechanic, making your way across the world of the Xenozoic Saga. Or, in short, make more Cadillacs and Dinosaurs!

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Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Revisiting the JP Books

It has been a while since I last read the Jurassic Park novels. Believe it or not, I don’t always just rehash my same old interests over and over every time a new release comes out! I didn’t read the books when Jurassic World came out. I’ve read both Jurassic Park and The Lost World a few times, but probably college was when I last revisited them. Fallen Kingdom felt like such a fresh approach to the franchise, though, and at the same time, Evolution drew so heavily from the books. So read them again I did.

My biggest disappointment is that every time I reread these books, I like them a little bit less. Crichton always had such cool ideas with every book, but then execution typically followed the same action-horror formulas. Many of the characters just feel like repeats from other books, and it’s hard not to jump from, say, Jurassic Park to Timeline to Prey without getting hit repeatedly with déjà vu (I’m sure that Crichton’s Westworld would fit right in, but I have never seen the film). And the biggest flaw of Crichton’s books is that he tends to be self-righteously preachy and philosophical. While his messages vary, they often come down to a fundamental mistrust of scientific industry. And there’s typically at least one character to take on the authorial voice.

In Jurassic Park and The Lost World, the authorial voice character has been Ian Malcolm. Unlike Jeff Goldblum’s goofy mathematician/”rock star,” book Malcolm is a never-ending speechifying machine. He goes on and on about chaos theory, and frankly, it’s hard to want Malcolm to be right when he’s so pretentious, self-absorbed, and long-winded. We’re talking pages of monologue from Malcolm, especially later in the book.

But Jurassic Park makes many odd character decisions. Grant, for instance, is a gruff, outdoorsy, manly man who disdains more academic scientists. He’s positioned as the protagonist, and he does shepherd the kids through the park like in the film and helps uncover the truths about the breeding dinosaurs and their nesting sites. But he’s not very likeable. He’s an asshole to many of the characters and makes snap decisions about people, often choosing to dislike them. Plus, he’s incredibly belligerent toward Gennaro.

Now, that might seem like a weird complaint if you haven’t read the books. But Gennaro is actually Crichton’s everyman viewpoint character here. He’s smart, even though he’s not an expert in the scientific fields and so needs to get up to speed on some points. Even while his law firm is invested in Jurassic Park, he is quite willing to close it down if it’s unsafe, and he doesn’t fall for Hammond’s bullshit. He never gets caught up in greed, and he’s not a coward (the one to flee the T-rex attack is Ed Regis, PR guy for Jurassic Park). And he accepts responsibility for his role in enabling the place, often tagging along with Muldoon to handle some of the most dangerous tasks in attempting to restore order to the park. But Muldoon and Grant remain hostile to him basically the entire time.

Then we have characters reduced to the blankest of archetypes, ready for morally acceptable dino-snacking: Hammond is a sinister industrialist who cares little about the loss of life happening in his park, Regis is a slick corporate executive who proves to be cowardly and stupid, Wu is blinded by his scientific ambition, Arnold never really understands the complex systems he’s tasked with running, and Nedry is a greedy fat slob with very little motivation for being so easily corrupted. Basically all the characters are improved in the film.

Meanwhile, Sattler is Sattler. The other characters often look at her lustfully, or are surprised that she’s a woman. But she herself is incredibly competent, a Sigourney Weaver-type action protagonist. I think even Sattler is improved on-screen, though, because she’s allowed more emotional vulnerability and human reaction than she gets in the book. Interestingly, in The Making of Jurassic Park by Don Shay and Jody Duncan, Steven Spielberg is quoted as saying that the selection of an actor for Sattler “was a tough choice.” He added:

I never thought of Laura [Dern] in the context of Jurassic Park because I saw her as kind of frail and always being pursued by circumstances and men. I never envisioned her as a tough gal, like Linda Hamilton or Sigourney Weaver. But, actually, she didn’t need to be. She wasn’t required to play that kind of character in the film. Ellie is more of a brain–a paleobotanist who loves animals and plants and is pretty much a creature of the earth. And when I got to meet Laura and spend some time with her, I found that was pretty much what she was. So it worked out nicely.

The only character I genuinely prefer in book-form is Robert Muldoon, who is depicted at first as a hyper-competent park warden with years of experience but ultimately reveals himself to be a belligerent drunk under pressure. And yet he still manages to pull off some ridiculous feats–tranquilizing the tyrannosaur and blowing up a raptor, for instance.

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The Lost World ends up repeating many of the same plot points and characters. Seriously, most of the characters seem interchangeable with their Jurassic Park counterparts. The engineering professor Thorne is a gruff, physical, materialist character like Grant. Eddie Carr is a young, out-of-his-depth city kid like Ed Regis (he even has the same first name, while his last name bluntly echoes his role as mechanic); Carr, unlike Regis, is actually heroic, but he also meets a grisly fate. Dodgson returns to take on the direct role of greedy and corrupt villain that Nedry previously inhabited. Malcolm rises from the dead to be Malcolm again (his return from a very clear death in the first book echoes the return of Sherlock Holmes from death, which seems fitting given the heavy debt Crichton obviously owed to Arthur Conan Doyle’s own Lost World). Harding is the new Sattler. Kelly and Arby are the new Tim and Lex. Levine is…I don’t know who the hell Levine corresponds with, but he’s obnoxious as hell. In fact, Levine’s survival to the end and Carr’s death are supporting evidence for my theory that The Lost World was largely Crichton’s attempt to correct perceived errors in the original book–we move away from moralistic death scenes to having characters killed or surviving by random chance (even Howard King on the villain’s team really is a sympathetic guy after all and doesn’t “deserve” his horrifying death at the hands of the raptors).

I have to wonder why Crichton decided to focus on the characters he settled on. Grant’s absence is especially jarring. Book Grant escapes the Jurassic Park crisis more or less unscathed. He was quick-thinking and quick-acting. Sometimes his plans worked great, sometimes they backfired, and sometimes he survived by luck alone. But he kept persevering. He was always the scientist, even seeking out the raptor nest voluntarily when he could have stayed safely back at the control center. He was intrigued by the raptor behavior up until he was evacuated. Knowing there was another island would easily perk up the Grant of the novel and motivate him to launch another expedition.

Instead, we have Malcolm–a character Crichton had to bring back from the dead–in the main role. Film Malcolm was heavily traumatized by his experiences; book Malcolm suffered even worse and carried physical traumas for years afterward, so his willingness to look for and go to yet another island feels arbitrary. Plus, he’s now focusing on evolution and extinction events, trying to apply chaos theory to the subjects (yawn) and acting like an expert in a field he didn’t know anything about until after Jurassic Park. And then we have Levine, a sniveling, foppish nuisance, as a new paleontologist brought into the fold (who is far less likeable than Grant). Finally, Thorne takes on Grant’s physical traits and personality. So we now have three characters in Malcolm, Levine, and Thorne to represent Grant’s role as protagonist, paleontologist, and outdoorsman.

While I genuinely like Sarah Harding, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Grant and Sattler launching an expedition to discover a continued source of dinosaurs following the events of the Jurassic Park crisis. And since Harding is basically a stand-in for Sattler (young, competent, intelligent, attractive, and an expert in her field), Harding would become less necessary (although really, having more than one woman as protagonist wouldn’t be the end of the world, jeeze). And there were already dangling threads for a sequel in Jurassic Park that were never explored: we know that some animals made it into the mountains of Costa Rica and were surviving with targeted diets (and they were probably velociraptors and procompsognathids), and we know that InGen still had ample genetic materials at its main base in California.

I understand the impulse to have Dodgson return–he’d want to make good on his promises of dinosaur embryos in the first book, and he’s already an established villainous character. But his cartoonish brand of villainy, yet another evil corporate type, makes him an uninteresting character to spend time with. I liked the larger-scale InGen expedition to recover resources launched in The Lost World film–the villain wasn’t so much Peter Ludlow as it was simple corporate greed, embodied by Ludlow, yes, but existing regardless of what he did. Ludlow was just a guy trying to salvage his company; he was arrogant and greedy and too-slick, but he was just embodying the failings of an institution. He was his own person, not defined simply by greed, and he had ambition (now that I’m thinking about it, Ludlow is rather like the book version of Hammond, greedy and exploitative to a fault and lacking in empathy but not really evil).

In short, it’s like I said up top: I’m disappointed. Crichton had a lot of cool ideas, and he obviously had good bones to his stories for the film adaptations to have turned out so well, but both books fall short of greatness. They end up feeling more like pulpy sci-fi horror. And yet, ideas and scenes and dialogue keep getting mined from the books for each new installment in the franchise.

Now, what’s the point to all the above? Honestly, hell if I know. But let me know if you have anything to add, or if you disagree.

Review – Jurassic World: Evolution

Jurassic World: Evolution is a flawed game, but it’s also an excellent addition to the Jurassic Park franchise and a lovely companion to both the original novel and the new Jurassic World films.

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The concept is simple enough: it’s a park management sim, like Zoo Tycoon or Roller Coaster Tycoon (Evolution was in fact developed by Frontier Developments, which released Planet Coaster in 2016). A park management sim with dinosaurs is not exactly a new idea: Zoo Tycoon had Dinosaur Digs in 2002 and Zoo Tycoon 2 had Extinct Animals in 2007, while the Jurassic Park franchise has already had Jurassic Park III: Park Builder (GBA, 2001), Operation Genesis (Xbox, PS2, PC, 2003), and the mobile titles Jurassic Park Builder (2012) and Jurassic World: The Game (2015). Most of those were not very good–the mobile games are tedious time-wasters, and while I’ve never played the GBA park builder, its reviews were not positive. But Operation Genesis proved the obvious, that a film franchise about building a dinosaur park that falls to chaos would be a good fit for a game about managing the dinosaur park in the face of system failures.

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I previously wrote about how Evolution looks like a spiritual successor to Operation Genesis. Having now played Evolution for more than sixty hours, I feel completely validated in that impression. The overall game involves developing dinosaur parks across six islands; there’s an overarching campaign tied loosely together with missions across Las Cinco Muertes, with advancement from island to island dependent upon reaching an adequate park rating across the archipelago, and Isla Nublar also appears as a sandbox park with unlimited cash at your disposal and all buildings, upgrades, and dinosaurs available that you have unlocked across the other islands.

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Management of the parks involves producing operations facilities (ranger units to feed and medicate the dinosaurs,  Asset Containment Units or ACUs to tranquilize and transport them, storm towers to predict and protect against storm damage, and a variety of support buildings like expedition centers to launch new digs and fossil centers to use the results of those digs to unlock new dinosaurs and research centers to unlock new upgrades), guest facilities (some used to satisfy guests, some used to provide adequate guest capacity, and some to keep guests safe), enclosures (including fencing, guest viewing structures, and feeders), and power infrastructure (to keep all the above humming along). Successful park management will quickly become micromanagement; while you can choose between manually handling the day-to-day tasks of the rangers and ACU teams or simply delegating the tasks to them, you will never have the ability to unlock any sort of automatic designation of assignments, so that even ensuring the regular restocking of feeders must be directly assigned by you. A ranger will drive by a sick dinosaur or empty feeder and take no action without your direct input. And there were the occasional path-finding issues (though not too frequent) that added a little extra inconvenience.

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The micromanagement might seem tedious, and it can be, but it adds to the sense of chaos when things start to fall apart–and they will. Tropical storms, sabotage, dinosaur disease epidemics, and escape attempts blossom into a thousand concerns all at once, and even more red alerts flash at the top of your screen as feeders run out or dinosaurs get loose in the midst of it all. Small problems and large problems alike can seem overwhelming, and sometimes you’ll be racing about, switching between manual control and delegation, as you attempt to triage the situation and respond to appropriately prioritized tasks. This game succeeds in not just being a park management sim, but in accurately portraying the loss of control amid inevitable chaos that the Jurassic Park franchise is all about! That element is masterful, though reflective of a minority of the time spent in the game.

Because failure is inevitable, the game is actually rather forgiving. It is certainly challenging, but it’s not really difficult. While you have the option to reset a park if things get too out of control, I never had to use the tool. Still, in the midst of a spiraling set of problems, the game can be tense–basically always in a fun way. Big problems call for big problem-solving and quick thinking! Outside of the moments of crisis, though, success is largely a matter of time and responsiveness. Keep the animals healthy and the guests at least somewhat satisfied, and your park rating (and profits) will rise. Even if cash is tight, having a single dinosaur and a fast food joint can be enough to get an early-stage park on the path to success.

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There are a lot of deep statistics that are never explained anywhere in the game, but you only have to get a cursory understanding of any process to make it work. I still don’t fully understand how staffing, item quality, and price affects guest satisfaction with a particular store, and other than knowing that sales price should at least be higher than my own cost, I never did bother to figure it out. I didn’t need to. After I grew frustrated with one park always hovering around 4.5 stars because my continued success would draw down guest satisfaction as demand would continuously outstrip supply, I discovered via a forum tip that you could just close your park down briefly–then everyone would be excited with the reopening and the overcrowding would be gone, solving the problem for a while. Again, the game can be challenging, but it’s typically open to being exploited–and since it’s all about the bottom line with profits and divisional reputation, the game sort of encourages that exploitative mentality.

Even the unlocking of database entries, that wild goose chase of achievement hunting, was largely accomplished by accident, with me just stumbling across new entries without any effort or intent. By the end, after lucking into everything else, I was able to determine (thanks to the alphabetical ordering) that I was only missing two characters, Paul Kirby and Simon Masrani. I couldn’t figure out what to do, though I suspected that Paul might have something to do with the Ceratosaurus or Spinosaurus, while Masrani might have something to do with pteranodons (not in the game) or the Indominus. I looked that up–turned out that it involved letting guests get eaten by certain types of dinosaurs! So the biggest challenge was simply letting myself fail more than I had so far (though I’d be lying if I denied having many, many, many dinosaur escapes and resultant guest deaths).

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Perhaps my favorite part of the game was just driving around in the ranger vehicle. Doing this results in a lot of random fun, like catching air over a slight rise or fishtailing around a tight turn or sending guests fleeing from my path (the game causes them to always dodge, so I grew more reckless as I stopped worrying about vehicular manslaughter). Even the everyday tasks can be fun: every attempt to medicate a dinosaur is an accuracy contest against surprisingly quick moving targets. There’s a lot to enjoy in the little things. And the dinosaurs are just absolutely beautiful. There was obviously a lot of investment in the dinosaur appearances, animations, sounds, and behaviors (they often act like convincing animals in enclosures). There are so many of them, too! Literally dozens of species, and even more after the free Jurassic World: Evolution update and if you pay the little extra for the Deluxe DLC (the total reaches 48 dinosaur species with all the above).

I hope there will be more content releases. Notably absent at this point is the Compsognathus from the films. But it would also be cool to have the additional dinosaurs from the books that didn’t make the final cut, including Euoplocephalus, Hypsilophodon, Microceratus, Othnielia, and Procompsognathus. Most of the dinosaurs from this group match the compys from the films in being small to mid-size, so maybe there was a sizing issue. Or maybe we’ll see some later on. The Euplocephalus, however, was somewhat bizarre to exclude, given that ankylosaurs including Ankylosaurus, Crichtonsaurus, Nodosaurus, and Polacanthus made it (though I do appreciate the nod with Crichtonsaurus to the late Michael Crichton, who after all is the reason Jurassic Park exists). The cearadactyls from the first book, and the pteranodons and dimorphodons and mososaur from the films, are completely absent. Especially given how significant the pteranodons and mosasaur have been to the Jurassic World films, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get flying and marine reptile updates later on.

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I also hope that future updates might allow for the possibility that the dinosaurs will start breeding. On Isla Sorna, a fun surprise is that you start the park with a tightly guarded guest center area that opens up into vast rugged forests populated by herds of Stegosaurus and a Spinosaurus. The Spinosaurus preys on the stegosaurs, and the stegosaurs live off the foliage (actually concealed feed dispensers). But as soon as this park is accessed, I knew that their survival was numbered. The game does not currently allow for breeding, and so these animals would all eventually die out. It would be cool to truly be able to set up a “kind of biological preserve.” (Though the lack of breeding drives home the irony of the InGen Science Division’s efforts to set up working ecosystems on Isla Sorna in the game–none of them are sustainable without a heavy human hand). Similarly, it would be nice if the herbivores could live off the local plant life instead of relying exclusively on feeders.

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A list of some patches from the Fallen Kingdom update. I personally love “Fixed helicopters falling out of the sky on loading,” “Helicopters now try their best to avoid monorails,” and “Dinosaurs try to avoid fighting underwater.”

 

There’s a camera mode, where you can make extra cash snapping pictures of the dinosaurs. I was disappointed to realize rather late on that the photos you take aren’t automatically saved (or if they are, I haven’t found where they’re saved to yet, and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to review them in-game). I did use the camera tool even after this realization to set up shots that would be worth screen-capping, images that were up-close to the animals, but I found that it could be just about as good to take screen-captures even outside of the photo mode. Aerial shots of big dinosaur herds were sometimes more impressive, and I could easily capture scenic views of the island landscapes (even the islands themselves are gorgeous). The graphically weak elements are the buildings, which simply look mundane and maybe a tad cartoonish, and the guests, who look like plastic mini-figures. But my eyes were on the dinosaurs most of the time.

At first I was terrified to go into carnivore enclosures–they’ll roar and charge at you. But the dinosaurs can’t hurt you, and you can’t hurt them. The worst is that they’ll knock your car around a bit, which is fun in its own way. So once I discovered that, carnivores became some of my favorite photo subjects–especially the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

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The first time a Tyrannosaurus bounded out of containment and into the enclosure was magic. And I never got tired of hearing its roar echoing across whatever park I put it on. There were other moments that were special, like with the first dinosaur you release into the park ever, or when my childhood favorite Triceratops was introduced, but the tyrannosaur was the most remarkable. Film-accurate, indeed.

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There is a plot, but it doesn’t amount to anything. There’s a lot of suspicion and mistrust between the different divisions. The PR executive who oversees you is suspicious of your intentions and worried that you’ll outshine him. You carry out missions with the Science, Entertainment, and Security divisions to curry favor with them. The Science Division is focused on research and developing new animals, blinding them to other concerns. The Entertainment Division wants to make money and get guests into the park, and they’ll do risky and dumb things to make that money. The Security Division is willing to bleed money from the park to ensure that security protocols are sufficient, but they’re also in bed with Dr. Wu’s research into hybridization and militarization of the dinosaurs, resulting in some Bad Things happening. In addition to the missions, you’ll also get more randomized contracts. The division heads get voice overs, helping develop their personalities. We also have Jeff Goldblum back as Ian Malcolm, Bryce Dallace Howard as Claire Dearing, BD Wong as Henry Wu, and (for some reason) a guy who kind of sounds like Chris Pratt as Owen Grady. While Wu makes sense, it’s hard to understand why Dr. Malcolm, Claire, or Owen would be involved with the park again. You just have to accept that they have their reasons (which are never articulated but seem to be based around mistrust in InGen and the hope that their involvement can moderate the company). It’s obviously set in an alternate universe that appears to split off after the events of Jurassic World; there’s no doubt of that after the events detailed in Fallen Kingdom.

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Over the course of the game, you’ll get some offers that are frankly unethical, like pitting dinosaurs against each other. At first, I refused. But as some missions (required for full game completion and technology unlocks) required some of that behavior, my moral guidelines loosened and I began to indulge in some frankly Evil Corporate Bullshit. Dr. Malcolm and Claire seemed to become increasingly distressed with my decision-making, and Wu and the PR exec became more envious and distrustful. And all the while, there was obviously secret research being conducted behind the scenes. But it never really built anywhere, even in the “memos” (actually transcripts would be more accurate) that you unlock as you (at least briefly) max out reputation with each division on an island. I think that video game stories can be really powerful when they lead a player to make decisions that are part of that story-telling, that feed into the narrative’s themes. This game does that. But there’s not really any payoff. Malcolm talks a lot about chaos, and Claire and Owen worry about the condition of the animals, and Wu does his Bond villain thing, but there’s no conclusion! We just end with a series of successful parks, all the corporate mistrust and secret dealings still simmering in the background and not fully revealed. The credits roll a couple of times–I believe it was once with completion of all missions and once with five-star ratings across all islands. Then you just hop back in and get back to work, grinding out whatever few achievements you may have left and building up your parks’ reputations. For most of the game, I thought that Evolution might miraculously be the best sequel in the franchise, a worthy successor to the original film and an interesting sibling to Jurassic World with its corporate and personal greed, militarization of technology, and rampant discussion and demonstration of chaos theory in action. But since the story goes nowhere, and there are no real consequences for the player’s, well, playing along (other than massive success), it’s ultimately disappointing.

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I was also somewhat disappointed with the modification options for the dinosaurs. Over the course of the game, you assign fossil digs to collect genetic material that can further refine the genetic code for the dinosaurs. Separate research projects can provide new color patterns or improvements like extended lifespan, disease resistance, better defense, or increased attack power. While we get the Indominus and the Indoraptor hybrids, there’s no real way to make new custom animals outside of the slight genetic tweaking from the research projects. Still, while customization is limited, I loved the cosmetic changes available, especially with the Rainforest and Vivid palettes that brought bright blues and purples to my “assets.” Some of these changes seemed to accommodate the different appearances of the dinosaurs over different films.

Unfortunately, the search for a purer genetic code for the dinosaurs and the existence of cosmetic alterations makes me even more disappointed that the dinosaurs retain such an outdated appearance. I recognize that an established franchise doesn’t want to remake its dinosaurs, especially where there is still speculation about appearance, but its Velociraptor and Dilophosaurus, for instance, have always been inaccurate, and Jurassic World made explicit Dr. Wu’s contentions from the first book that none of the animals in Jurassic Park were accurate. Where a game specifically provides for “improving” the genetic code of the animals, why couldn’t we get to the point that a Velociraptor is small and feathered? Or that the Dilophosaurus is larger and frill-less?

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The worst part for me was the inclusion of Deinonychus, yet another dromaeosaur, and instead of feathering it, giving it a couple of leathery ridges along head and tail! The game’s database entry for Deinonychus even references its link to research that would ultimately connect birds with dinosaurs.

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But more generally, why not allow for dinosaurs with slightly updated appearances to better reflect current paleontological ideas? These dinosaurs could be unlocks at 100% genome completion, and there’d be no requirement that anyone produce these more accurate dinosaurs over their historic depictions. We could even have this decrease a dinosaur’s rating, with guests expecting to see the massive and leathery Velociraptor, for instance.

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Not that this complaint stopped me from enjoying the hell out of the game. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever completed 100%, with all unlocks and all missions completed and ratings maxed and every achievement reached. It’s also probably the biggest game that I’ve ever done this with.

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Sadly, I’m probably at the point where I’m done with the game, at least for now. I might hop in occasionally to snap some dinosaur pictures or to review the surprisingly vast database of Jurassic Park lore contained within. If there’s new content out, I expect to be back for that. But there’s nothing compelling me to just manage a fully established chain of parks. It’s mundane, the challenge is removed, and now it’s just a matter of deploying the appropriate team to fulfill the appropriate task. There’s nothing to keep me going, and there’s no reason to replay.

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Still, this was a game that was worth its cost. I had a lot of fun and will have some good memories. If you love Jurassic Park and can at least tolerate management simulator games, I would highly recommend this title.

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.