Published on November 23rd, 2021 | by Richard Banks
Jurassic World Evolution 2 Review
Summary: There's still some way to go to make the JWE franchise a viable management sim, but this sequel goes a long way to right a lot of its predecessor's wrongs.
It’s strange that, while Jurassic World Evolution is Frontiers lightest park management sim, it’s their franchise that draws me back the most. It’s the John Williams strings, the growing orchestral beats while I watch my Brachiosaurus reach into the conifer trees to munch on a mouthful of leaves. Down below, a herd of crest-headed Parasaurolophus scatter into the forests, spooked by an Ankylosaurus swinging its massive armoured tail in defiance to the fences of its enclosure. Somewhere deep in the park, the haunted screech of a Velociraptor can be heard as it closes in on an unsuspecting goat. These are the moments that make JWE an experience no dinosaur fan should forgo, but they, unfortunately, come at a cost.
Under the surface, JWE2 is exceedingly similar to its predecessor. When compared to Frontiers other, frankly, often overwhelmingly dense management sims, JWE is the most user-friendly, obviously catered for fans of the franchise rather than simulation Aficionados. Parks are crafted in the same fashion as JWE, as you create suitable environments for different species of dinosaurs based on their size, terrain and companionship needs. Just like in its predecessor, Keeping your dinosaurs safe and secure within your park in JWE2 requires the likes of power sources, ranger outposts and paleo-medical facilities before it’s considered fit for purpose. A new addition to JWE2s key operational output are scientists, a group of experts almost as tricky to manage as your dinosaurs. You can use them for all manner of tasks, like sending them on excavations for new fossils or flying them out to capture roaming beasts terrorising suburban America. They are also used for researching and distributing medicine to your dinosaurs, and why many of these elements aren’t drastically different to JWE on their own, they feel more fleshed out with the added micro-management of the Scientists as an added task to becoming a successful dino entrepreneur.
To give Frontier credit, they have listened to many of the aspects of the feedback placed upon the original JWE. Added cosmetic additions to amenities, like shops and food courts, allows you to make your park feel more like your own, while additional foliage and signage lets you feel more in control of your parks overall image. It’s not perfect, but it helps ingest a lot more personality into your park designing skills. What’s still lacking improvement is some of the basic park management traits you expect from a game such as this. You still can’t set ticket prices and visitors are still lifeless, carbon copies of each other who, outside occasionally getting eaten by dinosaurs, can’t be interacted with. Frontier has tried to give visitors more personality by giving them traits this time around, like making certain visitors Adventurous so they’re more likely to pool around carnivorous species, but it’s still not enough to make them feel like an interesting aspect of JWEs algorithm.
The same goes for shops and other visitor attractions which, while the addition of cosmetic changes is more than welcome, still feel like the most underbaked aspect of the game. You can change what your shop sells, for example, you can set up a doughnut shop instead of a steak house, but you can’t set menu prices or employ and monitor staff for the buildings. Instead, you can enrich your stores and food courts with fish tanks, fossil displays and other attractions to increase the income they bring in, but as these additions don’t add any physical changes to your buildings, it becomes an exorcise in simply picking the one that makes you the most money.
It wouldn’t matter if you could see these fish tanks and TV screens in your shops though, as visitors don’t enter buildings anyway. For example, if a visitor walks up to a shop, they simply disappear into nothingness. It’s a little odd, to be honest, zooming in to a restaurant and seeing a series of empty tables, even though the game tells you that there are currently 84 visitors in the building. The same happens with viewing platforms, where one visitor will stand on the same spot rocking back and forward, completely oblivious to the dinosaurs below. It makes your park feel weirdly empty, despite being packed with visitors and staff.
Just like in the first game, rangers can be deployed to fix buildings, take photos and do health checks on your dinosaurs. You can still take direct control over jeeps and helicopters to personally achieve results, but while piloting your chopper to take down that allusive escaped Triceratops is a fun minigame, vehicles are still struck down with more than the occasional bug -it’s not unusual to find your jeeps spinning on their roof because a dinosaur has nudged them in just the right spot to send them into a glitchy dance. They’re both weirdly lifeless too, especially jeeps, and it’s strange to see a ranger vehicle tossed into the air by an aggressive dinosaur, only to recover with the ranger in the open-air backseat acting like he wasn’t just subject to a terrifying encounter with a T-Rex. It’s the type of missing attention to detail that draws away from JWE2s otherwise obsessively intoxicating dino-sim charms.
There’s no tutorial for JWE2, instead, the game’s campaign acts as your go-to guide for the ins and outs of dinosaur management. It’s short though, racking in at a measly five or so hours before it’s all over. It’s a shame, as while the missions are relatively simple, I had a lot of fun with the campaign. It follows the events of JW: Fallen Kingdom, so the change in environments as you travel across the US trying to contain wandering dinos felt fresh and exciting while it lasted. The campaign, however, isn’t the biggest draw of JWE2s four modes; that trophy goes to Chaos Theory. Ever thought you could successfully recreate John Hammond’s dream for a dinosaur park from the first Jurassic Park movie? Go ahead. Think you can manage the modern-day equivalent without needing to call on Chris Pratt and his Velociraptor buddies? Give it a go. The mode only offers six missions, but each lets you try your hand at correcting the mistakes made in each movie, and it’s fantastic. There’s something so exciting about trying to make The Lost World’s park work while the San Diego skyline shines in the background, all while Jeff Goldblum witters away his usual funny Goldblum-isms in his returning voice-acting role as the iconic Ian Malcolm. The other two modes are a standard sandbox, which lets you use the game’s assets without the restrictions of money management and unlocking requirements, and a challenge mode, where you compete for tasks within an allotted period to earn rewards for use in other parts of the game. The latter two modes are fine, really, but nothing can come close to Chaos Theory’s excellent star quality.
The main draw of Jurassic Park is, the dinosaurs, and they’re the stars of the show in JWE2. There’s not a single feather insight (it’s easy to forget this based on the Jurassic Park franchise and not real-life dinosaurs), but the models are incredibly detailed and lovingly bought to life. Every fold of rubbery flesh, every bird-like twitch of a Compsognathus bird-like eye feels like it’s pulled from the pages of a history book. As well as the return of DLC-only winged reptiles from the first game is a feature that fans practically begged for the first time around – aquatic creatures. Something is awe-inspiring about creating a giant lagoon, big enough to house a Titanic-sized Mosasaurus, and then watching the beast devour a modern-day shark as if it’s a teeny goldfish. Are some of your dinosaurs requirements a little frustrating? There’s no joy in having to get particularly fussy dinosaurs terrain just right to stop them destroying fences constantly, and some terrain choices are downright weird, but it’s a small sacrifice to overcome to enjoy the best aspect of the game.
Watching dinosaurs do their thing feels more special in JWE2. Each species will plot out their territory, which, in shared species enclosures can lead to interesting encounters, like fights breaking out between your dinosaurs. It adds a new layer to your park management checklist too, as no one will want their prized Dilophosaurus croaking it because of too many scrapes, so ensuring your dinosaurs needs are well balanced is critical to a successful park.
I also enjoyed the change to creating dinosaurs. Now, viable eggs can be incubated by scientists to bring more than one dinosaurs to life at a time, the caveat being that some of the poorer quality eggs birth dinosaurs with defects like shorter life spans and higher disease susceptibility. Finding and processing better quality fossils on digs still helps to synthesis better quality dinosaurs, but the risk of dinosaurs failing is reduced thanks to shortened incubation times and more control over the process.
Most gamers will opt for JWE2 on PC, but reviewing JWE2 on PS5 wasn’t the scary experience it could have been. It’s an alarmingly good console port, far outweighing most other games of the genre that try and bring click-heavy gaming to TV screens. Frontier has crafted a user-friendly UI that, while benefiting from JWEs astoundingly light sim features for a, um, simulation game, doesn’t feel clunky or cumbersome.
I understand the reasons behind the simple management ethos that Frontier have gone for with the JWE franchise, but I still think they’re a way off getting it right. I can’t understate why they allow visitors to feel so lifeless, and the lack of customisation across the board to help you create ‘your’ park is still noticeably poor. That being said, it’s not too late for JWE2 to go from great to fantastic. JWE started much flatter than this, a content-lite shell of a game, bought out far too early. By the end of its run, and thanks to a series of fantastic DLCs, it evolved into something else entirely, and while it might not have represented Frontiers true Jurassic vision, it became a game that the developer can be proud to add to its collection of fantastic management sims. Can I endorse Jurassic World Evolution 2? I’ll, uh, find a way.