Jurassic World Evolution, due for release in summer next year, is a theme park management sim with the added danger of dinosaurs roaming around. It’s being developed by Frontier, creator of Elite Dangerous, and will see you following in the footsteps of John Hammond as you try and build the world’s greatest dinosaur-themed amusement park. And, like the films, there’s the constant threat of something going wrong and your guests being eaten by rampaging dinosaurs. But that’s all part of the fun.
“We make games about things people are passionate about,” says game director Michael Brookes. “With Elite Dangerous it’s space and astronomy. With Planet Coaster it’s rollercoasters and theme parks. And for Jurassic World, well, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?” With games like Zoo Tycoon, A Dog’s Life, and Kinectimals in its long-running back catalogue, Frontier is no stranger to making games based around creatures great and small. “We have a history of bringing animals to life in computer games,” says Brookes. “Dinosaurs are the ultimate challenge, but one we’re happy to be taking on.”
“The core fantasy is building your own Jurassic World,” says lead designer Andrew Fletcher. “You have an incredible island setting, you can bioengineer amazing dinosaurs, attract visitors and try to keep them safe, and build a business. That’s what we see in the films, and that’s what we want to give players the chance to do themselves.” As in Frontier’s other, less dangerous theme park sim, Planet Coaster, you’ll actually build your park, placing buildings and facilities, decorating it, and creating enclosures for your dinosaurs that hopefully won’t fall apart and spill their deadly contents.
The game will be set across five islands, which fans will know as the Muertes Archipelago, or Five Deaths. “They’re the main locations in the game,” says Fletcher. “Isla Nublar will feature too, but we're not saying how it fits into the game yet. The cool thing about having multiple islands is that they have different characteristics and will throw different challenges at you. Each one represents a clean slate too. Every time you expand your empire, your operation strength increases and you get access to more resources, more dinosaurs. This means you can approach each new island in a new way.”
Like any good strategy game, there are multiple ways to win in Jurassic World Evolution. ‘Win’ meaning becoming successful in a particular field, and not having too many guests being turned into dinosaur chow. The three paths you can take are entertainment, security, and science. You can follow all three and have a balanced, jack-of-all-trades style park, or you can doggedly pursue one. Both are legitimate ways to play, and you’ll have a different experience depending on which path you decide to lean into.
“Entertainment follows the dream of John Hammond and Claire Dearing, where the dinosaurs are attractions,” says Michael Brookes. “You’re using them to attract tourists and make money. Security is about how fierce you can make your dinosaurs. How dangerous they can become. But also being able to manage them safely. There’s a very big risk/reward factor here. And science is about understanding how they lived, what they were.”
To complicate things you’ll have a team of advisors to wrestle with, each of whom represents one of these three paths. “They have competing personalities and they’ll demand different resources from you, which they do through contracts,” says Brookes. “So they’ll give you tasks that they want you to do, like researching a complete genome for a particular dinosaur, or constructing a certain facility.” I’m not sure yet, but it seems likely that ignoring one advisor to help another might affect your reputation with them.
“There’s a further layer of management above this which is managing disasters,” says Fletcher. “We all know from the movies that things don’t always go to plan, and we want to represent this in the game and turn it into an engaging gameplay system. You’ll encounter emergency situations like a heavy tropical storm that will damage your infrastructure. This can damage your park and upset your dinosaurs.” Something you don’t want to happen with thousands of tasty-looking guests running around the place.
But perhaps the most interesting feature in Jurassic World Evolution is being able to meddle with DNA and create your own dinosaurs. You’ll remember that in the most recent movie they genetically engineered the 50-foot-long Indominus Rex to try and attract more guests, and you’ll be able to do the same—but hopefully with less disastrous consequences. Or maybe you’ll create one with disastrous consequences specifically in mind. The beauty of these games is being able to create your own stories.
“You’ll start by sending fossil dig teams around the world, who’ll return with dinosaur bones that you can extract DNA from,” says Fletcher. “You’ll build the genome, and can even make slight adjustments to it. It’s about trying to key into the science of the movies. Once you have a genome you have to incubate the dinosaur and then set it free in your park.” Frontier have yet to reveal the intricacies of this system, and how much control you actually have over the creatures you create, but it sounds fascinating.
We haven’t seen much of Jurassic World Evolution in action yet, but the passion of the developer is clear. Frontier’s history of making strategy/management games is also encouraging, and I can’t wait to watch my carefully constructed park fall to pieces as tropical storms surge, hungry dinosaurs break free from their pens, and guests have their holidays spoiled. I mean, it wouldn’t be a Jurassic Park-related thing without everything going to shit, would it? We’ll check in with the game again when there’s a playable build available, but for now colour me interested to see more. And fingers crossed they throw enough money at Jeff Goldblum to get him to play an advisor.