When Jeff Goldblum delivered the news that we'd be getting a sequel to Frontier's 2018 park builder Jurassic World Evolution sometime in the next six months at the Summer Game Fest last week, I was immediately raised from my E3 slumber. While not perfect by any means, JWE is pretty much the best option out there right now for people who love dinosaur games that don't involve any combat. Sure, the trailer for Jurassic World Evolution 2 only revealed a very slim portfolio of facts about the game, but using my sordid credentials as a giant Jurassic Park nerd, and a sinker of many hours into Frontier's park games, I reckon I can offer some reasonable assumptions as to what you can expect.
Let's get what's already been established out of the way first. As Jurassic World Evolution 2's director Rich Newbold revealed during the PC Gaming Show and Future Games Show, the game will be set after the events of the latest film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. At this point in the franchise's plot, all the dinosaurs have escaped from Professor Shitstorm's mansion in California after a black market auction got a little bit snarly, and they're now going completely bonkers in the woods and that. You'll be working alongside the Goldblum and Bryce Dallas Howard's characters to recapture the loosed beasts, and rehoming them in custom-built preserves.
You'll also be building parks beyond Isla Nublar in all-new locations, which also means loads of new dinos to house. These include aquatic creatures (featuring, but hopefully not limited to, the comically oversized Mosasaur from the movies - which, in fairness, I love) and more flaplords, hopefully in some more satisfying capacity than the ploppable-downable aviary in the first game.
From the look of the screenshots released so far, it seems the ol' beakmasters - and possibly more dinos - will be housed in large glasshouse enclosures, too. These will be customisable to some extent, and potentially filled with different biomes compared to the ones on the map where they're built. That's the other big thing to expect in JWE2: different biomes, including ye olde deserte, and some kind of alpine environment, as well as (probably) the temperate redwood forest environment familiar from Jurassic Park: Pete Postlethwaite's Big Adventure.
That's a fun premise, and one which offers a racier alternative to the first game's slightly dry fossil unlocks as a means for acquiring new dinosaurs. Veering into conjecture a little, I wouldn't be surprised to see an almost X-COM-lite rhythm to the game, with globe-trotting capture missions punctuating a park-building metagame. Let's say a triceratops is seen shouting at a bin in Cincinnati. You'd race there with helicopters and tranq darts to have a bit of a scuffle. Maybe an allosaur would show up. A schoolbus gets kicked over, but nobody dies, and the dinos are spirited away to live in a greenhouse. Lovely.
JWE already had the ability to jump into the mind of a jeep and do animal recaptures yourself, so I don't think this would be a wildly ambitious departure. To be honest, I really hope that's the way things go, for a slightly counterintuitive reason. I'd like to see all the growly, dangery stuff confined to dinosaur acquisition missions, because it would give the actual park-building a chance to be a bit more... well, routine.
Like many other dinosaur-likers, I have long pined for a movie about a dinosaur theme park that doesn't violently malfunction. I basically want one of those gentle docusoaps about the day to day running of a zoo, only with titanic birds from the deep past instead of poorly lemurs. Similarly, I'm desperate for a version of Jurassic World which mirrors that more sedate management fantasy, rather than staying faithful to the mandatory hubris of the movies.
Sure, there's an innate pleasure to watching a Jurassic movie and anticipating the exact moment that everything will go tits-up. But in a management game, it's just annoying. No matter how competently you managed your Jurassic World (Evolution), the game was constantly trying to start a piss carnival by chucking hurricanes at you or declaring sudden acts of sabotage.
"No matter how competently you managed your Jurassic World (Evolution), the game was constantly trying to start a piss carnival."
It really got in the way of what I wanted to do, which was make dinosaur enclosures and watch the gorgeously animated dinosaurs live in them. It felt a little like I was trying to enjoy a trip to an art gallery, but with a pack of smirking, hammer-wielding clowns creeping around in my footsteps. Stop too long to enjoy a Vermeer, or forget to spray a precautionary burst of clown repellant, and Crack! Wahey!, I've had my thumb shattered by a funnyman.
As well as the possibility of JWE2's management layer becoming more orderly, I think there's a decent prospect for it getting a little deeper, too. Even non-management fanatics recognise that JWE was a little basic on this front, perhaps to allow a greater focus on T-rexes breaking loose and guzzling people. But since its release, Frontier have put out the excellent Planet Zoo, and surely have an opportunity to carry across a huge number of features.
Most welcome would be a move from JWE's RTS-style plonk & play base building, to the freeform complexity of the Planet Coaster / Planet Zoo construction model. For those of us wanting to go Hammond on fulfilling our childhood daydreams, it would make a (Jurassic) world of new tools available.
Alas, I'm not sure this will happen - looking at the screenshot above, it appears JWE2's parks will use the same type of discrete buildings familiar from the original. These might be prefab templates made from base components of course, since those are a feature of Planet Zoo, after all. But I don't want to get my hopes up too much.
And that's the thing. Without wanting to come across as jaded or condescending, I am very much prepared to be disappointed here. After all, the first JWE was pitched less at management game fanatics, and more at the titanic cross-sell opportunity of Jurassic World's box office base. Which is fair enough. With that target deomographic, it totally makes sense to go light on complexity, heavy on perilous spectacle. And given the number of videos online in which shouting YouTubers make the various dinosaurs fight before a crowd of baying thirteen year olds, it was clearly a sound call to make.
Despite the commercial sense of going same-but-more for the sequel, however, I'm keeping my hope for a calmer, more complex park manager. And there are reasons for Frontier to provide that. Since JWE launched, competitors have begun to emerge. Prehistoric Kingdom, for example, while still blundering through the mists of alpha, is an impressive contender already, and is clearly using Planet Zoo as its benchmark, rather than JWE. If Frontier want to keep hold of the dinosaur zoo crown after the hype for the next film JW: Dominion has faded, that's the game they'll be looking to compete with.