Though the Jurassic Park film franchise has fun ideas throughout its sequels, and fans of the series get plenty of enjoyment from them, fundamentally the thematic arc is over after the first movie and the subsequent stories seemingly only exist out of greed and not genuine interest. Frankly this fits directly into the core argument of the book and film, how the drive for building wealth via unchecked capitalism is inherently a bad quality and will do more harm than good; and surprisingly this is a driving force behind the latest video game in the series, the park-building Jurassic World: Evolution 2. Playing this game, you will find yourself literally checking all of the character beats from Jurassic Park as you’re wowed by the potential of your parks and then immediately met with reality after it comes crashing down and you’re buried in lawyer fees.
Like its predecessor, Evolution 2 has a variety of playable modes but the crux of it all is fully customizing your own Jurassic Park/World experience ranging from building dinosaur enclosures, picking the placement of restaurants and slurpy stands, constructing a web of monorails and hotels, and also dealing with disgruntled employees. To that effect, JWE2 really takes the manager part of Park Manager to heart, as making sure you hire a staff that will keep every element of your operation running smoothly is key to building up wealth in the title. In fact, the scientists that make up your staff have a hand in almost every aspect of your game except for construction, so don’t be like John Hammond and hire cheap labor or overwork them to the point of willingly sabotaging your operation.
The importance of the scientists in the larger context of gameplay is a pretty big change from how the first game functioned, but it mostly works. Long gone is the “Reputation” element that divides your park’s focus and investments into Science, Entertainment, or Security; instead, it’s the types of attractions that you have that will dictate what kind of audience you’re bringing in. But you’ll be so busy with the constant need for the scientists to take on any number of new tasks that you won’t even notice that this is missing. It can be… a lot. You might feel like you actually managed a group of people when you finish playing, and sometimes it becomes banal.
Digging up fossils, extracting DNA, synthesizing dinosaurs, incubating the eggs, and, most importantly, researching the new avenues and upgrades you can make in your park are all at the bidding of the scientists on your staff. This makes the game sometimes tedious, especially as you need to find a balance between their stats and combining them together to finish your objectives, and it will often end up putting you in the position of sitting there while you wait for the employees of your park to finish their jobs so you can then do whatever you’d like next.
Even accounting for all of that, the game is still engrossing to the point that you won’t realize how long you’ve been playing it. Watching dinosaurs traverse the habitats that you built for them is just as fun as the building itself. In addition to all of the things that were entertaining about the first game’s construction elements, including customizing the DNA and physical appearance of your dinosaurs, JWE2 introduces new pieces of the Jurassic World franchise that were missing, namely flying and sea-dwelling dinosaurs. While decorating the enclosures for these dinosaurs isn’t quite as fun as it is for the traditional dinosaurs, it’s still a new wrinkle to be added into the mix, and one that fans were eager to have already.
To start with the playable modes in JWE2 there’s the Campaign, which should have been labeled the tutorial because it can be completed in a few hours and seems to only fit the bill of catching you up to speed on the gameplay changes and the new additions. The Campaign is also present to really show off another major addition to the game, which is the variety of locales that are included. Previously you were limited to the tropical islands of the original film, but now you’ve moved into that post-Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom realm of dinosaurs living in the wild of the United States. Your sandbox now has deserts, forests, mountain ranges, and more.
Beyond the campaign is Challenge mode, with specific locations that you must master, and Chaos mode, which fans of the five feature films will almost certainly be thrilled by. With Chaos mode you’re thrust into “What If” scenarios surrounding each of the movies in the series and are given the task of making it work. It’s fun but difficult, and in a way that seems to be entirely in line with the ethos of the movies as a whole. If things are going really well and people are happy and you have a lot of money, consider saving the game, because one wrong decision or issue at that point could literally bring it all crashing down. Some will find this an exhausting wrinkle in the entire machine, and it certainly can be.
The main game mode that many will just want to play is Sandbox, where you are given all the toys and told to go wild. In JWE2, however, you must play all of the other modes to even unlock the elements you’re going to want in the Sandbox. Want to make the Mosasaur lagoon? Gotta play the modes where that is unlocked. Want to build your park in San Francisco like The Lost World? Gotta play the mode. It’s not an inherently negative trait about the game, but it’s one that could make some think twice about the amount of time they want to invest — and these investments, as you’ll come to find, are a key element of the metagame of JWE2.
There are larger negative traits in the game, however, such as game-breaking bugs that wholly crush the illusion of what you’re doing like a dinosaur that is clearly dead but still up and moving around so you can’t get rid of it. Vehicles can also make contact with a tree or a goat and go flying into the air like a cartoon, and sometimes the game won’t let you traverse through certain types of terrain at all for no reason. Furthermore, the dinosaurs that were once incredibly ferocious and eager to bust out of their confines and kill everything in their way in the first JWE now seem to have the personas of cats. You might not get a minute without a dinosaur getting a cold or starting a fight with another dinosaur and breaking a tooth. They’re needy and will always command your attention. That said, it’s adorable to see them sitting on the ground, chilling and relaxing.
Jurassic World: Evolution 2 makes enough changes to the gameplay of its predecessor that it eclipses wholly feeling like just an expansion pack, but with the cosmetic additions, new locations, and customization options for buildings making up the bulk of visible changes it can seem like that’s what developer Frontier was after. Though the game has frustrating moments, it’s inherently captivating from the start. Those eager to jump back into the world of the franchise with a game that offers more than the original will have fun with its new additions, but the oft-laborious tasks that come with actually running a dinosaur park and managing a team might make this feel less like a game and more like a second job to others. Considering the larger subtext of the book and film that spawned this entire thing though, can we really be mad when the game punishes us for attempting to squeeze wealth out of nature?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Jurassic World: Evolution 2 is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X and Series S. A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox One.