My obsession with the Jurassic Park franchise started as a kid, when I first read the titular book by Michael Crichton — his mix of science and science fiction was a staple of my childhood. I thought The Lost World and Jurassic Park III were kind of terrible, and yet I saw them in theater and loved them both. And when it came to Jurassic World, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen it, even though I know very well that it’s problematic.
That’s why I was so excited to hear about Jurassic World: Evolution, a new video game that allows you to build a virtual theme park and grow dinosaurs.
I picked it up for the Xbox One, though I didn’t think I’d actually play it a lot. I have found that the commitment of console games means I don’t play them often (unlike the ease of picking up the handheld Switch), but this one was different. I have spent countless afternoons and evenings enthralled with my dinos, and there’s still so much to uncover and unlock. If you’re interested in the mechanics of how it works, FANGRRL Brittany Vincent can help you there, and as she attests, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun.
You start out on an island where you have a somewhat established park and the mild weather, which is nice. It gives you the chance to learn the ins and outs of the game with minimal frustrations and no real disasters to contend with. The fact that you are limited to herbivores (that is, until you go uncover carnivore fossils) also helps you take the time to learn how to play the game. Even if your dinos escape, you don’t have to worry about them eating your guests (though they will still get freaked out).
I’m a science nerd, so it’s not just the park-building aspect that appeals to me. I love sending out teams to find new fossils and figuring out how dinos interact with one another. You can’t just dump them all into one enclosure, nor can you assume all herbivores and all carnivores can get along. (Let's not talk about the time I accidentally deleted a fence between my herbivore and carnivore pens. Unlike SimCity, there is no pause button here.) Each dinosaur species prefers a different number of its own species, and there’s only so many other dinos it’ll tolerate. They also have varying amounts of grass, water, and forest requirements. If their comfort level drops because something isn’t right, watch out — they’ll attack the fence, and it doesn’t take a big dino long to escape into your park.
On just one island, for example, I have five different enclosures — two herbivore and three carnivore. The notoriously fickle velociraptors get their own private section that has double electric fences. It’s enough to keep them contained, even when a storm moves in that upsets them (and really, everything upsets them).
As you’re playing the game, you get to choose whether you lean towards scientific goals for your park (which I do), or if your motives are based on park entertainment or security. You can fulfill contracts for each and make some catch, and you can also breed your dinos based on these goals. This is where the STEM component of this game comes in, and honestly, I think it would be a lot of fun to play with a kid who’s interested in science.
Once you have harvested enough dino DNA to create a dinosaur, you can play around with its genome to enhance or downplay certain characteristics. You can research different modifications to make to the dinosaurs' genome, which is very easy — basically, you just have to ensure you have enough research teams (meaning you aren't researching something else at the same time) and the money to throw at it. Once you do that, you can unlock all sorts of interesting genetic modifications for your dinos.
If security is your thing, you can up their natural aggression so they get into fights (bad for the dinos, but good for....being mean to the dinos?). Or if your priority is entertainment, you can change their skin color and pattern (sadly, there are no feathers in this game though, as far as I can tell). These are called cosmetic modifications. Stat modifications can affect life span, attack, defense, immune response, and more.
Where it gets really interesting, though, is weighing what kind of modifications you'll make. Everything has a cost, and it's up to you (or the kid you're playing with who you're trying to teach about STEM) to determine the costs and benefits of each modification.
I personally am very attached to my dinos, so most of the modifications I make are in the science vein. I usually up the lifespan and immune response of my dinos to make sure they can live longer and fight off more infections. Anything to cut down on the heartbreak of the “dead dinosaur” alert.
However, these kind of modifications come with a cost. Every time you tweak the genome of a dinosaur to increase one feature, something else has to offset it. It's super interesting to play around with the different modifications and take a look at how changing one thing affects the dino. You can even breed multiple dinosaurs of the same species with slightly different genetic modifications to examine the subtle differences between them.
This is why it's so important to maximize the dinosaur genetic code. Once you mine enough fossils to get 50% of a dino's DNA, you can go ahead and breed the dinosaur. But their viability, and robustness, will be low. The higher the percentage of DNA, the more viable the dinosaur is and the more changes you can make. Many genetic alterations decrease the viability of the dinosaur, meaning more of the dinos you breed will die before they ever hatch. If you're interested in playing around with genetics, it's important to have viable dinosaurs.
This game is a stupid amount of fun for many, many reasons. One of the things I love the most, though, is how surprising the ethical and moral decisions you have to make are. Are you going to breed dinos to fight for the amusement of spectators, knowing one won’t make it out alive? Are you going to put dino welfare above that of your park guests? What lengths will you go to in order to ensure that the cash for your park keeps flowing in? These questions, along with the STEM possibilities, surprisingly make the game something that’s great for parents and kids alike.