Jurassic Park: Evolution 2 was ultimately a charming but slow management game that suffered from a lack of depth. The magic of breeding and looking after massive dinosaurs gave way to fairly bog-standard gameplay interspersed with moments of chaos when a T-rex broke free and ate a few paying customers. When Frontier announced a sequel I was excited to see if they could fulfil all the potential the original had of being a casual but hugely entertaining sim-park title. As evolutions go, this one has a few random mutations that need to be removed from the genome if there’s going to be a third game, but overall it’s a decent improvement. It’s bigger, it’s meatier, it’s toothier. If the first game was the classic T-rex, this is the Indominus Rex. Welcome, to Jurassic World: Evolution 2.
Unsurprisingly it’s the dinosaurs themselves that are the stars of Jurassic World: Evolution 2. Aside from simply adding even more species, including flying beasts and massive underwater monsters, the folk at Frontier have upped their animation game and improved the level of detail. While there’s jankiness to be seen and some of the interactions can look odd, it’s a pleasure to zoom in and watch these ancient beasts roaming the land again. I’ll happily spend an hour watching them, oblivious to the broken fences and screaming guests. The absolute highlight is when you move the camera underwater and watch the lighting as giant reptiles move through the liquid. Zoom right in and you can even see rainbows on their scales as the light refracts. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
There’s probably going to be at least a few people yelling that these gloriously detailed dinosaur models aren’t actually accurate based on our current understanding of the creatures. After all, we’ve come a long way since 1994 and now believe that the infamous T-Rex may actually have sported a haircut that made them look like their mum did the job with some kitchen scissors. We have to keep in though, that this uses the official Jurassic Park license so it’s not surprising that Frontier had to stick to the classic look.
This a bigger, stronger game than its predecessor in most ways. However, if you only played the short 3-hour campaign mode you’d walk away feeling like you’d just experienced the worst sequel since Jurassic World 3. This barebones journey skips the entertainment side of park creation and focuses purely on you capturing and containing some of the wild dinosaurs that are now ambling around. It only serves as a very dull tutorial introducing a couple of the new gameplay mechanics such as an aviary for flying dinos, although it skips the new water-based beasties. Even the inclusion of characters from the movie doesn’t manage to bring any extra oomph, probably because the writing is cringy. By the end, you’ll have seen only a few dinosaurs, built only the most basic buildings and will be left wondering if someone forgot the make the rest of the campaign.
That’s because all the effort seems to have gone into the new Chaos Theory mode which features six scenarios, each based on one of the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World films. These are like What-If scenarios, tasking you with building up the parks and then hopefully managing to handle any disasters unlike what occurred in the movies. Let’s use the first Jurassic Park mission as an example since I doubt I’m spoiling anything: the ultimate aim is to breed and release a T-Rex before dealing with saboteurs opening the gates. While you’re guided to this goal there’s plenty of room to create whatever park layout you prefer, where to pop down the shops that will make up the bulk of your profit and more. This whole package is the meaty T-Rex steak and potatoes of the game, and is what the campaign actually should have been instead of the lifeless affair we got.
Throughout Chaos Mode, the charming Mr Goldblum reprises his role Dr. as Ian Malcom and is at his most Golblum-iest. The writing isn’t strong but Goldblum ignores that via the power of being Goldblum and his constant verbal battle against the concept of building more damn dinosaur parks is a highlight of the game.
Building your park is just as easy as it was before. You’ll toss down the basic operational buildings needed to run a park full of murderous monsters, then begin creating the basic layout of your new playground, providing viewing areas for guests and plenty of spots where they can spend their cash. Tours through enclosures can be created, monorails set up to speed guests around and hotels where they can reside with splendid views of Diplodocus. There’s still a lack of customization options, though, so you can’t decorate the park as much as in other games. Things like tunnels and bridges are still absent, too, which makes planning the layout a tad trickier. I mean, who doesn’t want a bridge over a predator exhibit where idiotic parents can dangle their excitable children?
Constructing enclosures for the dinosaurs is just as simple, letting you easily sculpt the landscape, add in water and put in all the vegetation they might need. The tools provided this time around have been buffed up since the first game, making it smoother than ever to throw something together. The dinos themselves are just a little bit more easy-going when it comes to their requirements, too, I believe.
It seems that Frontier take the criticism of their first game lacking depth and responded by packing in a heap of micromanagement, some of which is okay but a lot of which is busywork. Take the concept of keeping the backup fuel generators topped up with fuel; you can’t delegate this task to the park staff, so instead, you occasionally have to stop whatever you’re doing and spend a bunch of cash to refuel them. This doesn’t add an interesting choice to the game, it just gets in the way. How am I supposed to enjoy watching a pack of Velociraptors ripping guests into pieces if I have to grab a jerry can and fill up a generator? Luckily, focusing on research power options lets you get a proper power station and distribution system in place. In fact, I’d recommend that as a priority,
Overall, though, the management side of Jurassic World: Evolution 2 is certainly a chunkier experience than the first game. But while it’s a bit less casual than before it’s still far from offering the depth and complexity of many of the other games of this type on the market. I think that’s a good thing, though, because as enjoyable as those rich simulations can be they can also be intimidating and time-consuming, whereas this has a more relaxed vibe. You don’t have to be a management fan to enjoy Evolution 2, you just need to appreciate dinosaurs and do it better than John Hammond did.
The way you breed your star attractions has changed since the first game in a couple of different ways. Like before, you gather up fossils by sending out expeditions and then extracting the DNA to build up each dinosaur’s genomes. But when it comes to incubating the eggs you’ll now get to see what positive and negative traits each one will have, and get to choose what eggs are worth keeping. Dinos might be born with a +30% aggression and a high dominance drive, pushing them to become the leader of the pack or less tolerant of company. Others may simply be more chill, making them easier to deal with or less demanding in regards to their enclosure. As you get further into the game you can tinker with their DNA, playing around even more with their characteristics, although there seems to be less of a focus on that this time around.
One of the cool things you can do is deliberately engineer a powerful alpha dinosaur that will quickly and efficiently take over the pack and help maintain peace. I found this to be vital because for some reason all the dinosaurs in Evolution 2 appear to be part of Fight Club and will constantly attempt to beat the shit out of each other. Injuries and illnesses are naturally a part of running a dinosaur park but the game takes it too far with internal trauma, concussions, ingrown nails, broken bones, pneumonia and the common cold running rampant. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that just two nights ago I spent just over an hour doing nothing but ordering the medics into enclosures, knocking out dinos and transporting them to the healing facilities. It was ridiculous and made all the worse by weird little design decisions like the medi-van not treating dinosaurs if possible immediately after scanning them without requiring the player to go back and tell them too.
However, this does give you a proper incentive to fully complete a dinosaur’s genome via expeditions and DNA extraction so that you can have clutches of eggs that aren’t just a bunch of absolute jerks. With fully sequenced genomes you’ll more reliably be able to avoid a lot of the fighting, especially once you start tweaking the genetic cake recipe.
I do actually think this blend of systems is quite smart and makes gathering up dinosaur DNA and creating new life more interesting. Previously, it was too easy to get just enough DNA to make a new dinosaur species and then never bother fully completing the genome, whereas now you have a reason to. But it does need some rebalancing because even with piles of artificial help my dinosaurs still seemed to end up requiring medical help all the damn time.
This is on top of how Frontier occasionally love to pile on the pressure, quickly turning the game from relaxed sim to sweat-inducing hell-ride. A couple of scenarios bombard you with storms, leaving you reeling. That would be fine, but when combined with the dinosaur’s penchant for being responsible for their own damn extinction there are times when Evolution 2 can throw you into a horrible spiral. Another Triceratops needs its bones mended? Well, that’s not doable because all the scientists need rest breakers, there’s a hurricane destroying fences and for some reason Steve the Velociraptor has decided to break out of his cage despite being at 100% happiness. Fuck you, Steve, fuck you!
An interesting new addition is the territories system which sees dinosaurs mapping out their territory within an enclosure. This feeds into mixing species, potentially allowing multiple types of dino to co-exist in large enough areas. That means you can create some expansive enclosures that almost have their own ecosystem, which I really love doing. With that said, discovering which species can cohabit is a little awkward. By clicking on a dinosaur you can access a list of liked and disliked species, but counter-intuitively that doesn’t actually mean they can co-exist peacefully. Instead, it means the presence of a liked species won’t detract from a dino’s comfort level, but they may still fight constantly. I made this error early in the game when I introduce a second species into a Velociraptors enclosure because they apparently “Liked” it. The Raptors proceeded to murder the shit out of the new species, but their comfort level remained at 100%. I’m assuming the new species comfort level wasn’t at a 100%, although I never managed to check before they got eaten.
Those constantly complaining factions from the first game have been ousted and replaced with a new scientist system where you can recruit staff members. Each person comes with a little bio and points in 3 different skills which need to be considered when assigning them to jobs like researching new tech for the park, synthesising dinosaurs, incubating eggs and a bunch of other stuff. If you overwork your staff they’ll start to get grouchy and can potentially even sabotage the park, so you have to offer them a cool $75,000 to take a break, resetting their meter in the process. Of course, this doesn’t make much sense: I mean, why am I paying them extra for their vacation time? But in terms of gameplay I actually found balancing my staff skills and planning ahead to get them rested up fit nicely into the rest of the game. And it’s leagues better than the old faction system.
With that said, it is kind of hilarious that in retaliation for not getting a $75,000 holiday on time staff members will quite literally sabotage a gate and unleash a horde of Velociraptors on innocent people. Jesus Christ, Jeff, I only asked you to look after a dino that needed emergency care. Did you really need to get that entire pre-school group munched?
Another thing that’s funny is the research. You’d think the biggest suspension of belief required would be for the dinosaurs themselves but it’s actually for the fact that you need to assign scientists and allocate cash to researching wider paths. I am not kidding. Research into genetically modifying dinosaurs or into new medicines to treat their unique biology makes perfect sense, but I’m not sure why I have to spend time, effort and cash on figuring out how to build a bigger shop or how to make paths bigger. If we can’t figure that shit out I don’t think we have any business bringing extinct species back from the dead. Mind you, we can send people to the Moon but we still can’t invent a microwave meal where the plastic tears off cleanly, so what do I know.
Visitors to your prehistoric attractions now come in four different flavours, a fact that your dinos probably appreciate. This system feeds into how shops work, with each amenity being configurable to appeal to specific types of customers, thus if you opt to stick in an aquarium it’ll increase the running costs but could also boost profits. It’s a solid change that stops you from simply plopping down shops arbitrarily, although it isn’t a system that requires a lot of thought – just scroll through the different options and click whichever ones will boost the numbers. But you can delve further into it by attracting specific guests into areas using guest attractions and certain dinosaurs to really maximise your income. And that is important because your park’s rating is now solely determined by your total income, rather than the original game which did it based on a mixture of other factors. The rating doesn’t mean much outside of specific mission objectives, though.
In a game like this Sandbox mode is one of the most appealing features, a chance to just fire up a new map and create the ultimate Jurassic Park. Hell, some people might even skip everything else and head straight for Sandbox mode where they’ll discover…er, one map. For reasons I cannot fathom Frontier have locked away the other 8 maps, the dinosaurs themselves and some other stuff behind Chaos Theory and the timed Challenge modes, so if you want to unlock everything you need to complete them all. It’s a baffling choice to make people grind through some very tough scenarios. A couple of those Chaos Theory maps feel like they exist solely to piss players off in terms of the amount of stuff that gets hurled at the player.
There’s also a couple of odd choices in Sandbox mode, such as how both research and scientists are turned off or how you can’t choose a specific amount of starting money. And I’m also disappointed that we still don’t get any huge maps to build on. These new ones are bigger than in the first game, but they’re still quite confining and frequently have environmental aspects that must be built around. C’mon Frontier, I just want a massive map where I can design and build my perfect park.
In terms of bugs and glitches, I’ve run into a couple worth mentioning. First, dinosaurs have a strange habit of becoming rooted to the spot before eventually starving to death. Nothing I did managed to knock them out of this behaviour, either. I also found Rangers wouldn’t respond to commands sometimes. There have been bigger issues reported on various forums as well, so clearly some work needs to be done.
Without a doubt, Jurassic World: Evolution 2 is a better game than the first in numerous ways. It’s a little more robust in its gameplay, features even more lovingly rendered dinosaurs and fixes a few of the problems the first game had. And yet there are missteps yet again with clumsy micromanagement and busywork added into the mix, a Chaos Theory mode that bounces around in terms of difficulty and a Sandbox mode that doesn’t let you just play around. But the good news is that the original Jurassic World: Evolution improved quite a bit via updates, so if Frontier repeat that pattern Evolution 2 should be in even better shape down the line. Whether you’d rather jump in now or wait for that potential to be fulfilled is a tough call.