Back in 2016 Frontier Developments launched Planet Coaster, a very well-received simulator about building the best theme park you can and then making sure it runs as smoothly as possible, ironing out minor problems in design while making sure the guests are well catered for.
Two years on, Frontier is preparing to release Jurassic World Evolution - it will launch digitally for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on the 12th of June 2018, with a physical release following on the 3rd of July. Evolution is a game based on running a park in a world where such endeavours are always spectacularly ill-fated, mostly on account of the attractions' fondness for escaping their designated areas and killing people. At first these two elements - theme park design and inevitable, catastrophic failure - might seem like odd bedfellows, but it's in that tension between the ability to design a wonderful park and life's tendency to find a way, as it were, that Jurassic World Evolution really stands out.
Aoife and I got a couple of hours' worth of hands on time with Jurassic World Evolution earlier this month and what we played was very promising. As you might expect, the game is built on the foundations laid by Planet Coaster, so the actual mechanics of putting a park together should feel very familiar. The main difference, of course, is that you're not building rides but engineering living, breathing dinosaurs - there are whole layers of strategy built around fossil acquisition and research that open up new species of dinosaur with differing advantages (such as a longer lifespan or defensive stats) as you sequence more of each dinosaur's genome. Strange though it may sound to be doing DNA research in order to unlock what are, effectively, upgrades, it all hangs together very well. The park feels as much like a scientific facility as it does a tourist attraction and, with new systems such as power distribution to take care of, there's more for you to think about in the day-to-day running of your own Jurassic World.
If Jurassic Park taught us anything 25 years ago, however, it's that dinosaurs rarely, if ever, stay put. Indeed, if you know where to look, there are numerous little signs that failure is not only an option, it is to be expected. The power distribution system opens up avenues for electrical failure, for instance, rendering your electric fences ineffective; tropical storms create holes in perimeter fences for dinosaurs to escape; a dinosaur dissatisfied with its enclosure, perhaps starved of attention or sufficient foliage, might make a concerted effort to get out and rampage through your carefully constructed park.
The very existence of ranger stations and helicopters with tranquiliser gun-toting sharpshooters in the game are indication enough that at least some of your time in Jurassic World Evolution will be spent putting out fires - or cleaning up body parts. As you progress through the campaign, you'll also meet a cast of characters with all the attendant flaws you might expect from having seen the films. You'll be doing missions for the scientist who only sees the dinosaurs as specimens and is blinded to the ethical implications of their work, the overzealous security officer who wants to run a ship so tight the park would never make any money, and the entertainment guy who sees everything as a commercial opportunity and doesn't seem to grasp how dangerous these creatures truly are. They wheedle and encourage you as you go, coaxing you into making the same mistakes Hammond and his successors have made time and time again on screen. As such, Evolution is a very different kind of park simulator, one in which failure is not only programmed into a bunch of the game's systems but given a starring role.
Jurassic World Evolution is also very faithful to the franchise, an adherence that shows in everything from the dinosaurs (which are really well animated) right down to the paddock gates. Having the mellifluous tones of Jeff Goldblum narrate key parts of your experience certainly doesn't hurt, either. He was on hand to talk about his experiences reprising the role of Dr Ian Malcolm to Aoife, in fact, although you should be warned that keeping him on topic is about as easy as keeping a pack of velociraptors safely inside their enclosure.
Evolution is still in development - the park doesn't open until the 12th of June - but already it seems like a game in rude health, one that works despite its systematic, voracious insistence on going horribly wrong.
This article and the videos herein are based on a trip to Universal Studios in California. Frontier Developments paid for flights and accommodation