You could’ve tracked me down in any given year of my life and gotten me excited about the idea of running my own dinosaur park, and Jurassic World Evolution 2 makes good on a lot of the important parts of that promise. While it lacks the customization and management depth of Frontier's other recent, excellent park-builders, Planet Coaster and Planet Zoo, getting to see these prehistoric beasts at eye-level from one of those stylish ‘90s tour Jeeps has never looked more enticing. At least until you lightly bump into a goat and the physics engine sends several tons of steel hurtling into the air like a Looney Tunes gag. Yeah, there are still some rough bits.
The stars of the show are, of course, the over 70 species of unlockable dinosaurs, aquatic reptiles, and flying pterosaurs you can put on display. And they are fantastic replicas of the models used in the movies, with lifelike animations and spot-on sound for everything from the iconic T. rex to more obscure, but equally cool, species like the Baryonyx. The armchair paleontologist in me is a bit disappointed that they don't reflect newer research on dinosaurs that has come along since 1994 – there’s nary a feathered velociraptor in sight – but on the other hand it's a Jurassic Park game, so I can understand why they wouldn't want to diverge from the look of the films.
Caring for them involves creating enclosures with food, water, and appropriate terrain, much like in Planet Zoo, but here their needs are quite a bit simplified and sometimes counter-intuitive. Raptors don't need trees or tall grass? What? Climate doesn't seem to play a role at all either, as any species can live perfectly comfortably in the Canadian wilderness just as easily as the baking Arizona desert with no heating or cooling facilities. It's cool that there are so many different terrain types this time around, but the fact that they don't present any unique challenges is a let-down. It's a trade-off, I guess, because the loose set of rules also gives you a bit more freedom with the overall look of your habitats.
I wasn't that impressed with the other park management aspects, either. You can't even set basic costs like ticket and snack prices, and while I didn't miss that micromanagement too much, the park feels less alive when you don't have to hire or take care of souvenir shop cashiers or janitors.
Rangers, who are responsible for repairs, feeding, and capturing escapees, are nameless, faceless grunts whom you apparently have an unlimited supply of. Likewise, you can't click on individual guests to learn about them, so the simulation of their wants and needs is as deep as a puddle. So is all the water in the park, by the way, outside of special enclosures specifically for aquatic species. Your scientists, who bring back fossils, hatch dinosaurs, heal sick or injured specimens, and research new buildings, are the only hires you'll care about, and they can now sabotage your park if you don't allow them regular vacation time, which adds at least a little bit of tension to staff management.
Spare No Expense
Maximizing income is a simple minigame of adding modules to your amenities to appeal to specific guest types, which boils down to mousing over the list, seeing which ones will add the most profit, and then building those. Streamlining the busywork so you can focus on the dinosaurs makes sense to a certain degree, but I feel like Evolution 2 takes it a dino-sized step too far. Even if it is a much richer experience than the first game, the gap between this and most other park sims is significant. The ability to speed up time is a really welcome addition, though, especially when you're just waiting to have enough money to hatch a new species or repair a critical facility. The absence of this feature created huge chunks of boring downtime in the original, especially when a storm knocked out power and your dinos ran up a huge bill by eating guests and you had to pay it off by just waiting it out; this lets you mostly skip over all of that.
Visual customization is also fairly lacking. While some buildings, like food and beverage stands, let you choose the style and color of every single piece individually, others have only one or two pre-made appearances. There's a terrain sculpting tool that works decently, but it's nowhere near as powerful as the one in Planet Zoo, and paths built along slopes don't even level themselves off, so you can end up with something like a sidewalk canted at a 30 degree angle with guests merrily strolling along when they should be tumbling to their doom.
Breeding your own dinosaurs is at least a bit more strategic and meaningful this time around. Most species will come with genetic problems, like short lifespans or aggressive tendencies, and those have to be compensated for by your scientists by adding DNA from other species. It also provides an incentive to complete the genome of species you already have the ability to clone, since that allows you more room to add genetic modifications.
The personality of each dinosaur really matters, and when my star raptor, Victoria, kept getting into fights, I was left with a tough choice. Putting her with other raptors resulted in frequent, expensive vet bills for both her and whichever other member of the pack she had decided to bully. But raptors can't live comfortably in isolation, so I couldn't just place her in her own, separate enclosure, either. Ultimately, I just had to let nature run its course: she kept getting in fights, and I withheld treatment until she died of her injuries. As Ian Malcolm might say, "F- around, find out." In the next batch of eggs, I made sure to throw out the ones with that trait.
You Didn't Say The Magic Word
This sim is also packed with unlockables, which can be nice if you want help setting goals, but frustrating if you merely want to jump into sandbox mode and build the park of your dreams. There is, astoundingly, only one map available in sandbox at first, and all of the rest must be unlocked either in frustrating timed challenges or story-based "Chaos Theory" scenarios, which mostly follow the plots of the various Jurassic films. This is probably the place you’ll want to start, since they give you a reasonable amount of freedom to play how you want and feature cameos from major series characters, including some of the original actors like Jeff Goldblum.
You'll also have to unlock the vast majority of the available dinosaur species, but I didn't mind this as much. Most of the important ones from the original film are available very early on, and it was nice to still be discovering new species to mix things up even more than 30 hours in. Pterosaurs and aquatic species especially got a lot more love this time around (they weren’t included at all when the first game launched), with more customizable enclosures that let you focus your entire park on them more easily, if that's your thing.
There is also a campaign mode which changes up the formula in some interesting ways: after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service – and the CIA for some reason? – have recruited Claire Dearing and Owen Grady to help them capture wild dinosaurs and place them into non-profit sanctuaries. The former is voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard reprising her role, but Chris Pratt must’ve been too busy voicing literally every animated character and is nowhere to be found. It's only a few hours long and feels more like a tutorial than anything, because disabling the already meager economic aspects of Evolution 2 leaves you with even less to do. But the scenarios themselves are fairly novel, giving us our first look into a world where humans and dinosaurs have to coexist.