Wot I Think: Jurassic World Evolution

Jurassic World Evolution

I’m not proud to admit that I’ve forced dinosaurs to fight to the death in Jurassic World Evolution. What could possibly lead me to do something so horrible to these wonders of science-fiction? Capitalism, of course. I was being paid, and I needed to buy an ugly fast food restaurant. Every ‘Dino Bite’ that my guests have snacked on has been stained with Velociraptor blood. That’s my guarantee.

My sadness and guilt are especially profound because the dinosaurs are one of the few bright spots in this otherwise humdrum theme park management game.

Set just after the Jurassic World movie, Evolution puts you in the shoes of InGen’s new park administrator as you progress through missions across the Muertes island chain. After two decades, you’d think they’d stop trying to make parks on an archipelago also known as The Five Deaths, but I guess the real estate is super cheap. Each island comes with a specific challenge — limited space, a mismanaged park that needs saving, foul weather — but the moment-to-moment experience is dominated by a random assortment of tasks doled out by demanding department heads, dickheads all.

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It’s a lot more structured than you might expect from the developer of Elite Dangerous and Planet Coaster. There is a sandbox mode, but it’s only accessible once you get a decent park rating during the campaign, and even then you can only use buildings and tech that you’ve unlocked on the other islands. Frustratingly, it doesn’t really open up until you’ve devoured the entire game.

Evolution does at least avoid some of the pitfalls that other linear management campaigns have fallen into, injecting it with some permanence and cutting out a lot of the repetition that comes from starting over again. All of your research comes with you when you move island, including your list of dinosaur genomes (more on which later). New parks also start with a few buildings and a basic layout, helping you get on your feet a lot sooner. Once you unlock some other islands, you can jump back and forth between them, using new buildings you earned on, say, Isla Sombra to increase your park rating on Isla Muerta.

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That it’s the campaign and not a creative mode that’s front and centre is quite telling. Evolution promises to let you build your own Jurassic World, but in truth it’s always going to be InGen’s park. And for InGen, there’s only really one way to make a park. While the department heads — representing science, security and entertainment — use missions to seemingly offer up three paths, it’s all illusory. They aren’t separate paths at all, just three lanes you can jump between, all heading in the same direction. There are no real choices, no impetus to specialise.

The modular system that lets you turn a toilet into a pirate ship in Planet Coaster is nowhere to be seen, either, leaving us with only the extremely plain buildings that our bosses at InGen HQ have signed off on. It’s hard to believe that Frontier would ever make another park management game without such a great construction tool. It cut to the heart of the fantasy that these games purport to offer. Running a park is fine, but the real joy is in building it. By taking creativity out the equation, park construction becomes a chore where you’re mostly just fighting against the borders of the map as you try to cram in yet another ugly power station.

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Everything really boils down to your park rating and bank account. Placating guests is important, but they’re just a singular group with a unified opinion. There are no demographics or ways to make your park appeal to specific people, and all they want is lots of dinosaurs and amenities. If they get that, you’ll get more customers and more cash.

It’s the dinosaurs you’re meant to care about, not rubbish humans. Evolution might feel like a sterile tie-in at times, but then it produces these wonderful, scaly friends. And unlike your guests, who are just a crowd of nameless nobodies, they’re full of character.

The T.Rex doesn’t play nicely with others. If you put it in an enclosure with other dinosaurs, even another T.Rex, it will most likely try to eat them. You’ve got to respect the single-mindedness of this big, dumb killing machine. You might be OK with that, but dinosaurs cost a lot to make. You have to send out expeditions to find fossils, study the fossils, and then, when you have a workable genome, make the actual dino. Every stage costs cash.

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Big ol’ Diplodocus, on the other hand, is a social, friendly dinosaur who gets depressed if it doesn’t have enough pals. The gentle behemoth likes large enclosures with lots of trees, and it’s totally cool with hordes of smaller dinosaurs scurrying around below. It also has a tendency to peek over the fence to say hello to visitors. It’s lovely!

Clicking on them breaks down their traits, requirements and how they’re feeling at that exact moment. These are all reflected in how the dinosaur acts, as well. When I got my first Velociraptor, I gave it a nice big enclosure to play with, full of trees, grassland and multiple sources of food. It got pissed off almost instantly, leading it to make a break for freedom, forcing me to open up the emergency bunker and get a helicopter in the air.

This all took time, though, giving the raptor lots of opportunities for mayhem. As it chased stragglers, a guest fell over. All I could do was gasp, as there was no way my chopper was going to reach them in time. They tried to crawl away, but even on foot there was no escaping the very hungry raptor. It leaped into the air and landed on the poor tourist, claws first. And then it dined.

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It was kind of my fault. The Velociraptor is a pack animal, and without a pack, my first raptor was driven insane. Even a hatchery with no upgrades can produce two dinosaurs at once, so I should have released two of them together. Evolution isn’t forthcoming about these details, however. When you select a dinosaur that you want to generate, some bits of key information are missing, so it’s tricky to prepare for a new exhibit.

When I introduced a few more raptors into the enclosure, I hopped in my jeep and headed inside to take a closer look. This is Evolution’s version of going on roller coasters. You can jump into jeeps and helicopters whenever you want, and along with letting you get up close and personal with the dinosaurs, you can also heal or tranquilise ones in distress. The AI can handle these tasks too, but that tends to take a lot longer.

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Sitting inside the jeep, I got to watch as the raptors met each other for the first time, greeting their new friends with chirps, clicks and twitches. The quality and range of animation is exceptional, especially in a management sim where you’re mostly getting a bird’s eye view. Dinosaurs within the same family or suborder, like the Velociraptor, Deinonychus and Dilophosaurus (that’s the one that killed poor Dennis Nedry), can look quite similar and share traits, but even then there are noticeable differences. The Dilophosaurus retains its spitting attack and colourful frills from Jurassic Park, for instance, which it loves to show off.

They’re completely wasted on Evolution. This is not, lamentably, another case of a brilliant feature rescuing an otherwise iffy game. The dinosaurs, and by extension their enclosures, are the attractions that all these guests, in their droves, have come to see, but there’s so little you can do with them. An enclosure is simply a fenced in area with grass, trees and some water. The extent of the customisation is some light terraforming and… actually, no, that’s it. There are no props or bits of flair, no way to put your mark on it.

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Ultimately, there are two major things you need to worry about: space and visibility. Your guests need to be able to see the dinosaurs from their viewing platforms, while the dinosaurs need a specific amount of grassland and forest to roam around in. All other concerns, like overpopulation, are really just extensions of these primary issues.

When problems do arise, the solution is almost always a combination of adding more trees or grass, more space in general, and throwing some cash at additional places to gawk at stuff. Fine-tuning doesn’t go much beyond placing water and feeders near the platforms, getting dinosaurs closer to their admirers. You’re always going to be building slightly tweaked versions of the same attraction. So that also means no aviary, no places for aquatic dinosaurs, no biomes — just The Muertes Archipelago’s empty, though admittedly pretty, tropical jungles.

While the dinosaurs do have that long list of needs and personality traits, they only ever lead to the same situations happening over and over again. The dinosaur is happy and thus just hangs out in the enclosure, or it’s angry so it tries to escape the enclosure. The latter happens a lot. It only take one of their needs to go ignored for them to become uncomfortable, and when the comfort level go into the red, it makes a bee line for the fence.

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For a game inspired by a series of disaster movies about dinosaurs constantly escaping, Evolution is bizarrely lacking when it comes to security. You can upgrade your fence, but life finds a way. That’s as advanced as it gets, unfortunately. It’s somehow less secure than an ordinary zoo.

Now that I’ve seen it happen 50 times, I’m less enthusiastic than I was when my first raptor got out. It’s always the same. The dino gets angry, I call the chopper in, it usually escapes, I shoot it. It’s not a big deal. While they might snack on a few people, they’re easily stopped and the consequences are fleeting. You might lose some income for a few minutes and take a hit to your park rating, but once you open the shelter doors and people start spending money again, which they do instantly, it will all be forgotten.

Making disasters actually fun to deal with, or at least engaging, is one of the biggest struggles management games have, and so far the few successes have all been games that are built around these disasters rather than using them as some ancillary mechanic or occasional threat. Frostpunk is a great, recent example. Evolution is not. Whether it’s a storm, the electrical grid going down or a dinosaur escaping, it’s only ever a nuisance.

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The last movie really doubled down on the “Let’s fuck around with DNA” conceit, and Evolution, as the boring name suggests, continues the trend. While there aren’t many ways to influence your dinosaurs once they’re born, you can design them before you set them loose. The genetics menu lets you bolt on DNA from different animals to improve their traits, making them more resistant to illness or physically stronger. The more you’ve studied the dinosaurs, the more complex you can make them. There’s the hint of an RPG system, inexplicably including its focus on combat.

Most traits make the dinosaurs more dangerous, which makes sense given how chill and non-threatening a T.Rex is normally. It’s all so InGen can pitch their pets to various governments for their military applications, I guess, but that’s not really relevant to me, a park manager. I’ve yet to find a good reason to make the dinosaurs even more deadly. When they fight, you lose a dinosaur either way.

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The real reason why you might make these scientific marvels murder each other is because Evolution really, really wants you to. Some fella wearing Star Lord’s face constantly pops up to spout creepy lines about nature and instinct and how he absolutely would sleep with a raptor, while your three department heads will frequently task you with putting the animals in danger.

We’re not talking about nature just taking its course, either. We’re talking about pitting them against each other in battle, picking sides and putting them in dino jail just to see what happens. Whatever you might think about the rights of fictional clones of extinct animals, it’s still exceedingly gross. I can’t build a Triceratops petting zoo, but sure, blood sports, why not?

Evolution suggests that these are ethical conundrums, but it’s all a paper-thin illusion. Aside from the occasional interjection from Dr. Ian Malcolm, whose lines even Jeff Goldblum is incapable of rattling off with conviction, there aren’t any serious consequences to treating the whole place like your nightmarish laboratory. The attempt at critique barely even constitutes as lip service.

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Jurassic World Evolution is the most boring of all possible outcomes for a dinosaur theme park sim. There’s no outlet for creativity and, aside from the prehistoric pals you might make, managing the parks just isn’t a lot of fun. By the time I’d unlocked enough to make the sandbox mode live up to its name, I realised I had nothing left to build.

It’s a greater disappointment because it falls so short of Planet Coaster. Frontier has already made the game that shows Evolution where it went wrong. It’s not that Evolution couldn’t have forged its own path, but it throws away lots of proven systems, often without substituting them for anything else. I don’t want to bad-mouth cool dinosaurs, but cool dinosaurs can only carry a game so far.

Jurassic World Evolution is out on June 12 on Windows via Steam for £44.99/$54.99/€54.99.

56 Comments

  1. pentraksil says:

    I kinda expected this, sadly. It just looked like that from the footage. I was optimistic, but damn….Sounds like a huge discount material.

  2. Eraysor says:

    Not being able to prettify things is a massive bonus for me. I gave up on Planet Coaster because I couldn’t be bothered to plop down 6000 hedgerows next to my ride queues so that the guests would like them more.

    Looking forward to playing this.

    • Carra says:

      I gave up on Planet Coaster because it wasn’t much fun. Sure, you can make it as pretty as you like. But the fun for me is in managing a park, not adding flowers to my park.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Yeah, I desperately want more management and less decorating sandbox, but the game elements have to be good. I’ll just have to sit on my hands and wait for Two Point Hospital, although mini-me will probably enjoy cool dinosaur fighting when this one hits the sales.

      • spacedyemeerkat says:

        Yes.

    • Bull0 says:

      Yeah, kind of suits me too. The over the top customisation of everything in the park put me off Planet Coaster. That and the lack of gameyness

  3. Carra says:

    Still no feathers :(

    • Zorgulon says:

      At this stage Jurassic Park’s dinos are more like the Crystal Palace monsters than actual dinosaurs…

      I mean it’s never been accurate, what with the massive Velociraptors, but I actually think more colourful, bird-like dinosaurs would be more scary than these scaly creations, not less.

      • Mara says:

        I kind of want a Dinosaur film where they are the correct turkey-sized little monsters…

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        The raptors were always mislabeled Deinonychus-es anyway (link to en.wikipedia.org). Apparently this was actually a fully intentional change on the part of Crichton at the time, basing the creature specifically (and then accurately) on that particular dinosaur, only changing the name to its smaller more dramatic-sounding cousin.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          Not really the flat skull they have in the movie is visibly that of a velociraptor, Deinonychus has a more rounded skull.
          In the novels I remember the velociraptors being of the right size, they changed it for the movie.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            From the Wikipedia article (Popular culture section):

            “However, Crichton and Spielberg ultimately chose to use the name Velociraptor for these dinosaurs, rather than Deinonychus. Crichton had met with John Ostrom several times during the writing process to discuss details of the possible range of behaviors and life appearance of Deinonychus. Crichton at one point apologetically told Ostrom that he had decided to use the name Velociraptor in place of Deinonychus for his book, because he felt the former name was “more dramatic”. Despite this, according to Ostrom, Crichton stated that the Velociraptor of the novel was based on Deinonychus in almost every detail, and that only the name had been changed.[66] The Jurassic Park filmmakers followed suit, designing the film’s models based almost entirely on Deinonychus instead of actual Velociraptor, and they reportedly requested all of Ostrom’s published papers on Deinonychus during production.[66] As a result, they portrayed the film’s dinosaurs with the size, proportions, and snout shape of Deinonychus.[1]”

    • Excors says:

      That’s because InGen scientists genetically engineer their dinosaurs to not have feathers, in order to more closely match the expectations of park visitors who have previously seen Jurassic Park in the cinema.

      • pentraksil says:

        Eeeehhhh……There are no Jurassic Park movies in the Jurassic Park universe/cannon….The visitors couldn’t have watched JP movies since they do not exist…The lack of feathers is more connected to the DNA splicing process, using frog DNA etc.

      • Carra says:

        Yeah, been to a Jurassic world/fallen kingdom marathon this weekend and that’s pretty much the explanation. We designed them to what the public wants.

        I only find it somewhat sad that most people will have no idea how they really looked like.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      If they had feathers it would not be Jurassic Park/World.

      • Zorgulon says:

        Only because the newer movies made that choice… and a lot of other bad choices too.

        Heck, the raptors in JP3 had proto-feathers, they’ve actually slightly regressed in terms of dino design. It’s a shame they don’t have the courage for a redesign, it means we’re stuck with the same old boring mistakes for the foreseeable future.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          That’s a value judgement I am not remotely on board with. As a huge fan of the original Jurassic Park I would have been very displeased with unrecognizable feathery carnival dinosaurs in Jurassic World. If you’re going to do feather-beasts, make it a new thing.

          Also JP3 was the worst. “Alan!”

          Jurassic World made some dumb decisions but keeping the dinosaurs consistent was not one of them. (and the new one is a lot of fun)

          • Zorgulon says:

            I imagine a lot of people will agree with you – the filmmakers certainly seem to.

            I just think it’s a shame. Personally, as a kid I was obsessed with dinosaurs, and part of the fun of the Jurassic Park films was seeing creatures that actually lived brought to life, nerding out when I recognised, say, a Gallimimus or a Compsognathus or a Spinosaurus. That’s why I’m disappointed that they don’t take the accuracy more seriously. As it stands it might as well be Godzilla Park.

            And you’ll hear no arguments from me over Jurassic Park 3. I knew that film sucked when I was ten.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            I mean I don’t even disagree with you that seeing a faithful representation of current best educated guesses of what these creatures looked like would indeed be fascinating, though it might still take some getting used to for me. I just think it would work better as a new series.

  4. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    It sounds a lot like Operation Genesis, which I loved. Strange that neither reviews nor the development team themselves want to even mention that earlier game, despite there being many obvious similarities.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      It’s not a conspiracy or anything, I just never played Operation Genesis.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        I’m just saying that I consistently see no mention of the earlier game, even though this new game seems to lift a number of features directly, including: the way dinosaurs are moved, the way diseases work, the way acquiring dinosaur DNA works, the way dinosaur needs work, and the way you can take control of various vehicles to interact with the park directly. The only thing that seems to have been dropped is that they don’t seem to have retained the different categories of visitors.

        I know Operation Genesis wasn’t a smash hit, but I couldn’t have been the only person to have played it.

    • pentraksil says:

      The devs did in fact talk about it on some streams, mentioned it as a huge inspiration.

  5. Jimbo says:

    The same price as having a physical copy of the console version hand delivered to your door. Fuck that.

    • knowles2 says:

      because they still have to pay the same license fee to universal studios, they have to give steam 30%, so there is no savings to make the game cheaper than a physical copy.

  6. jimmynoshoes says:

    What is the performance of this like? It looks like the same engine as planet coaster, in which case I’m expecting it to perform terribly when the park is big and full of people.

    That being said, maybe that is why there is no customisation of things and just clones of the same tree over and over?

    • kernelforbin says:

      This is definitely not the type of game where every individual person is simulated independantly. They are one hive-mind, all with the same needs and desires. Because of this, the CPU load is much less than something like HOI4 or EU.

      In my 30 or so hours (so far) I haven’t run across any major performance issues. The game runs, sounds, and looks beautiful. Only minor bugs so far- randomly the rotate tool will break, and there’s some issue with incubating multiple dinos at once that causes them to fail, even with a 100% success rate.

  7. BobbyDylan says:

    Not a massive surprise. FDev seem to excel at creating solid 7/10 games.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      They are amazing designers. They honestly have some of the best in the business when it comes to visual and sound design. What they can’t seem to do is create a game which isn’t a vacuous, tedious mess.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        The word you’re looking for is artists. They have amazing artists. Their designers are awful, hence the horrible game design in all of their games.

        • CartonofMilk says:

          yeah i was coming in to say they have indeed terrible game designers. If they can one day get themselves a good one who knows what they could achieve.

  8. Roest says:

    “There is a sandbox mode, but it’s only accessible once you get a decent park rating during the campaign, and even then you can only use buildings and tech that you’ve unlocked on the other islands.”

    Stopped reading right there. That’s a design thing I thought that died in the 90s of the last century.

    • ulix says:

      This was probably designed like this to hide the shallowness of the actual gameplay, of the actual management side of things. Man, can’t we have another good management game already? I’ve played Prison Architect for over 400 hours…

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Does Factorio count? If you haven’t got it then get it, it’s freaking amazing and the greatest management game of all time.

        • ulix says:

          I have and like Factorio, but it’s not really satisfying the same itch. I want a game with some (relatively) complex AI agents (with several needs) running around and using my creation, like Prison Architect. Hope Two Point Hospital will be good.

      • lucidrenegade says:

        Rimworld…

    • kernelforbin says:

      It’s not as bad as it may sound. You need to progress through the story to unlock things you’d want to use in the sandbox island. Plus, the sandbox island’s optional removal of storms/dino breakouts/etc makes it pretty uneventful. I found myself playing the smaller, shitty weather island because it’s a lot more challenging.

  9. Relkin109 says:

    Does Jeff Goldblum have a big presence in the game or does he just have a few lines?

    • kernelforbin says:

      Goldblum, Star Dude, and Black Mirror one-off redhead all make appearances, but it feels very random. You’ll hear a short introduction for each island, but then just random one-off lines from each of these people triggered by minor events.

      It feels like they just had them read off a selection of one-liners and just drop them randomly throughout the game.

  10. johnnyr says:

    Yet another RPS review that can probably be ignored – the reviewer didn’t like it because it wasn’t what he expected.

    I’m not saying the game is going to be good, but RPS reviews have really been going downhill lately (Look at at the battletech review) and at this point they aren’t very helpful.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      I don’t like it because it isn’t very good. If you’re looking for other reasons, I offer plenty in the review.

      • johnnyr says:

        Right, and unfortunately what you guys think “isn’t very good” is pretty hit or miss. It’s subjective, but your reviews come off pretty badly. “I expected X, it’s not X, so it’s not a very good game”

        • Zorgulon says:

          I don’t understand why you feel the need to go to bat for this game. If you’re enjoying it, great! But to suggest that a reviewer give anything other than their subjective opinion (that indeed will either “hit or miss” your own impressions) is barmy.

    • Flank Sinatra says:

      IGN trashed it too, for many of the same reasons. Neat concept and pretty to look at but not much gameplay. Typical Frontier game.
      They probably left out half of the game’s content for future DLC. I’ll probably wait till the complete game, with DLC, goes on sale. Or until they release skins with the original Jurassic Park logo and color scheme. The blue and grey “World” logo is boring. I want to see my yellow and red JP jeep go through those giant King Kong doors. And it better have the original John Williams score!

      • invento says:

        It already has that, the jeep skin at least, not sure about he “King Kong doors”, but might be a unlock on Nublar.

    • Shinard says:

      Why do you mention the Battletech review, but not the giant pile of follow-ups saying “Oh damn, I’m really sorry for the Battletech review, it’s an accurate representation of the start of the game but after that it offers so much more”? That are prominently linked and recommended at the top of said review?

      • Caiman says:

        Long gone are the days when I used to trust the opinion of a single outlet when it comes to game reviews, because the need of the reviewer to get it done quickly usually overrides the desire of the audience (well, a portion of it) to see it done thoroughly. It basically means you don’t trust the first review you see. Oh wait, you pre-purchased the game? Oh. Oh dear. When will you learn?

  11. PampleMoose says:

    You’d think after Operation Genesis, or even Dino Park Tycoon (a true classic!) Frontier of all people would be able to take things to the next level with a modern dino park game, especially as the engine was already there for them. Alas, the curse of the movie tie in, I guess.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      “Frontier of all people”? That’s basically exactly what I expected from Frontier: it’s got excellent visual and sound design, but the gameplay is shallow. They have that issue in virtually every game they’ve made.

  12. klops says:

    So it’s still Dinosaur Zookeeper for me :(
    link to adultswim.com

  13. IonTichy says:

    I’ve only seen gameplay on stream, but I have to agree with this review. At first you get excited, because who wouldn’t at the thought of building your own JP? With dinosaurs that you can visit in your car?
    Then you start noticing the little things, e.g. why can’t I leave my car and walk around? Why is the building system so botched? So few decorations in general?
    Why is an escape of a dino such a small deal? Shouldn’t I be forced to deploy forces and command them to contain the threat?
    How does a blow dart heal a dino in seconds?
    For that matter: why are the lifespans so comically short and sickness so boring and easy to fix?
    Why are the missions so ill-timed and dull?
    et cetera, et cetera…

    This could have been an outstanding game, but it looks like a first test version and in that context a solid one, but which has not been developped further to be something special.

    Certainly not worth the 55€ price tag (which is only inflated because they had to pay the JP license).

  14. kernelforbin says:

    I’m about 30 hours deep in the game and understand where you are coming from. This game is extremely enjoyable if you’re looking for a more casual tycoon-style game. Super hardcore min/max strategy titles are niche, and so few people buy them anyway. I’m not sure why so much flak is being directed towards this game for opting not to be a Paradox game.

    The quest system is terrible, the whole idea of three competing ‘factions’ is silly. You’re telling me Security department is intentionally going to sabotage my fence and let raptors roam free because I didn’t do a quest to incubate some rare-ass dino I don’t even have discovered yet? No way. Each time you do a quest for one “faction”, you lose reputation with the others. Unfortunately you need to have enough rep with each in order to unlock critical things – heavy concrete electric fences, bigger power stations, more attractions, etc.

    With that said it’s still enjoyable if you liked Operation Genesis, or if you like the idea of a simple park builder with dinosaurs. This isn’t an Excel Spreadsheet kind of game. You actually have time to enjoy the scenery, watch the dinos, poke through menus to ponder your strategy. Every minute isn’t filled with clicking.

    Why that counts so little for people I have no idea.

    7/10 from me.

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