Continuing advances in genetic science mean that one day, breeding dinosaurs and housing them in a park might graduate from being a figment of the imaginations of Michael Crichton and Hollywood into reality.
That won't happen any time soon, but in the meantime, we can satisfy our dinosaur-rearing ambitions with this fully licensed Jurassic World simulator game from Frontier Developments (of Elite: Dangerous and Zoo Tycoon fame). And it's rip-roaringly good fun.
A true sim game
The long-standing British developer has come up with a very polished, beautifully structured, utterly convincing (bar all the science that has yet to be conjured into reality), and at times brutal visualisation of the parks that featured in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies.
The game borrows heavily from the movies, too, with the first thing you hear in the game being Jeff Goldblum's voice, with its reassuringly weird cadences, and most of the movie franchise's main characters appear in audio form at some point. But you never see them in person, as Jurassic World Evolution is very much a sim game.
You get to try your hand at building and nurturing Jurassic world parks on the five islands that constitute the archipelago of Las Cinqo Muertes. Plus you can head to Isla Nublar, which is separate from the Career mode and offers a true sandbox with an unlimited budget. Initial conditions and constraints on each become progressively more stacked against you; reaching a specific star rating on each one opens up the next.
Plenty to get your claws into
The first island essentially functions as an extended tutorial, although it must be said that Jurassic World Evolution isn't one of those games which believes in too much hand-holding. It mainly takes you through the key buildings that house the key processes which work together in the game and then leaves you to it.
There's the Hammond Creation Lab, which lets you incubate dinosaurs before releasing them into your park. The Expedition Centre lets you send crews off to dig for fossils around the world, while the Fossil Centre lets you extract their DNA. A Research Centre lets you research all manner of things, ranging from cures for dinosaur diseases to building upgrades.
On top of those are the buildings crucial to park operations. A Ranger Station lets you look after dinosaurs and fix anything in the park that breaks. An ACU Centre provides a helicopter crew to tranquilise dinosaurs that are running amok, transport them and sell them. All buildings must be plumbed into the power grid (power often becomes an issue) and connected to the system of pathways. Plus you can add buildings aimed at guests, like restaurants, gift shops, hotels and so on, if you're looking to improve your rate of income-generation.
A trio of mission strains
Three different factions at your Jurassic World outpost give you missions: Science, Entertainment and Security. The last of which often comes up with some strange requests which fall more into the science category – but they do sometimes encourage you to do things like breed carnivorous dinosaurs so they can test the ACU team's responsiveness should they start threatening guests.
Populating your park with dinosaurs is intensely engrossing. You can, for example, try breeding a dinosaur once you've acquired more than 50 per cent of its genome, but unless you bump up that percentage (and upgrade your Hammond Creation Lab's success rate), you'll find a lot of eggs fail to hatch – so it pays to send out more expeditions to find more fossils.
You have to be careful when you start breeding carnivorous dinosaurs, as they will hunt and kill herbivorous ones, even if you provide them with goats to chomp on via live bait feeders. And if you put too many dinosaurs in an enclosure, they will get agitated and start breaking out – which is likely to lead to the deaths of members of the public, unless your ACU team is completely on the ball. You can pilot ACU helicopters and Ranger cars yourself; from the latter, you can take photos which provide another source of income.
So you must choose between things like wowing the public with big carnivorous beasts or playing it safe by staying herbivorous. Sometimes, the game tries to force your hand via contracts, which are frequently offered and vary wildly – from healing sick dinosaurs flown in from elsewhere to assisting one dinosaur in a fight against the other. Often, you get Goldblum's Dr Ian Malcolm character popping up to highlight some egregious example of science taking a back seat to commercialism.
But disastrous situations can be fun to witness – Jurassic World Evolution is definitely one of those games you will sometimes play badly on purpose, just to recreate some of the things that happened in the films.
As the game progresses, you have to work increasingly hard to keep both your dinosaurs and your guests happy. The more dinosaurs you have – and especially the more big carnivores you have, which get the highest ratings – the happier your visitors will be. But if, say, your carnivore enclosure is too packed, dinosaurs will get agitated, break down the fences and start killing off your guests (who, in the game are ineffably stupid: whenever a dinosaur is on the loose, you must direct them to the underground shelter).
It's possible to find yourself on a spiral – once a certain amount of visitors die – which sees your park pretty much abandoned by punters who are too scared to visit it, at which point you can plummet from having millions of dollars to play with into massive debt. Luckily, you can restart any island at the beginning, and it's a good idea to create plenty of saved games.
It isn't without its annoying quirks though. Sometimes, for example, you will be offered contracts to do things you've already done, such as build a dinosaur's DNA beyond the 60 per cent mark, which can lead to a feeling of unnecessary randomness. And if some disaster strikes – which is bound to happen on the latter islands – and you can't initially work out how to deal with it, you might end up having to reboot your island, which is annoying.
If you prefer your games to offer a considerable amount of brain-fodder without skimping on the entertainment factor, you should love Jurassic World Evolution.
As long as you're prepared to delve into its hidden corners, researching, say, which dinosaurs like company from their own species, and are prepared to take extreme approaches such as building several layers of fencing if you take the carnivorous route, and as long as you're happy to work out for yourself how its processes mesh together, you will find playing Jurassic World Evolution a hugely absorbing and surprisingly addictive experience.
Those with short attention spans will probably find it frustrating after the initial few hours, but anyone with a more than fleeting interest in dinosaurs and those who love sims will find that the way in which it lets you play god is irresistibly compelling.