Friday, 22 June 2018

Life... uh, finds a way.

So, 2018 has been pretty trash so far if I'm honest.  Between restructures at work, my fiancé leaving me and other stuff I'll be surprised if I make it through the year at this rate. Hence, the lack of updates, I've generally been having some downtime while I got myself back to an even keel.

I've not been entirely unproductive though, I finally finished the Brotherhood unit, finished building a unit of Destroyers and made a start building a second Tactical squad.  All of that to come in another update though.  In this update I want to talk about Jurassic World: Evolution.

Now, I love dinosaurs, always have, from being very little I wanted to be a Palaeontologist, even back when the other kids wanted to be Doctors and Astronauts, and I still love them now, even to the point of considering quitting my job and doing a Palaeontology access course at Uni so the second I saw this game it was a must have for me, plus Jurassic Park has been one of my all time favourite movies since it came out and my mum took me see it all those years ago.
Jurassic World: Evolution is a park management sim sent in the JP/JW canon. Its made by Frontier who also made Planet Coaster(A game which has sat on my wishlist since...forever really) and Elite Dangerous. Think, Zoo Tycoon but with dinosaurs.  Right, blurby bit out of the way.

The premise is pretty straight forward, the game dumps you on Las Cinco Muertes, the Five Deaths, islands from the films, Matanceros, Muerta, Tocano, Pena and Sorna.  The only one they visited in the films, I think, is Sorna which is the setting for both the Lost World and JP3.  Isla Nublar is also available as a sandbox island but I'll talk more about that later.  So the game drops you on the first island, nicely narrated by Jeff Goldblum, and effectively says "build a park".  Parks have a Star rating, between 0-5, better dinosaurs and better facilities means more stars.  Once you 3 Star and island it unlocks the next island.

The mechanics are solid if a little basic, you send dig teams out to sites to dig up fossils, you extract genomes from the fossils, once you have 50% you are able to incubate that dinosaur.  Once you have your genome you can modify it(various cosmetic skins and improved stats), but modifications reduce how viable the genome is, so higher genome percentages are better. 

Some dig sites are locked to begin with, as a way to keep a feeling of progression certain sites need a certain number of Expedition Centres (the building you send your dig teams out from) in order to be able to look for fossils there, you can only build a single Expedition Centre per island so it means you can't get certain dinosaurs until later in the game. Its a simple system but it does keep you thinking "oh I want to get to the next island to get X".

Once you have your dinosaurs it becomes a game of keeping them happy.  And believe me, that's sometimes not as easy as it sounds.
Ankylosaurs, for example, are not very friendly.
Dinosaurs have a "Comfort" rating which is measured on a few things, access to food and water obviously, whether their enclosure meets their needs which is represented by the "Forest" and "Grassland" traits, this one can be particularly finicky if you have a small enclosure as it may be impossible to meet both needs if the dinosaur requires a lot of both, and their desire for company represented by "Social", how many of its own species it wants, and "Population", how many dinosaurs in total can be in the enclosure. If a dinosaurs "Comfort" falls below a certain point, which differs from species to species, they become unhappy and start smashing fences down. 

Clever girl...
Some dinosaurs aren't fussy, the Edmontosaurus for example is quite happy to be on his own in an enclosure with lots of other dinosaurs, and some are picky little divas! Chasmosaurus I remember being particularly picky as it wanted to be in a group of at least 3 of its own kind, but not more than I think 8 dinosaurs total in the enclosure.  That lead to a string of frustrating breakouts.

Here's some Edmontosaurus being not fussy.
Besides the needs of the dinosaur's you need to juggle three departments, Science, Entertainment and Security,  They'll give you one Mission per island and as many Contracts as you want to do.  These missions and contracts increase your reputation with whichever faction you do them for and, typically, reduce it with the other 2.  Its a real balancing act as if your reputation runs low with a faction there is a chance they will start sabotaging you. 

Dom, get on to recruitment. Get them to look for a security team that can work as a team. They may have to escort the current security team from the building for not acting like a team
So, that's the basics of gameplay, there's a little more nuance in some areas but that is the core things you are working with.  Other factors are Weather, some islands are prone to storms which damage buildings and agitate the dinosaurs and occasionally (or regularly if you are particularly unlucky like me) Twisters which can really ruin your day by blowing holes in fences, taking out your power lines and damaging a lot of buildings.

Is it good?  Well I'm 45 hours in on a game that's been out 10 days so I'd say that speaks for itself.  is it perfect... well, no, it could be, with some tweaks.

Before I get into my particular pros/cons however I'd like to law out some caveats:  If you have spent any time on either the SubReddit or the Steam Discussion boards you will have heard JP:OG had this and JP:OG had that,  I've never played Operation Genesis so can't compare it. Perhaps less relevant, I really didn't like Jurassic World, if I had to rate all 5 films they would be in best to worst order: Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic Park 3, Jurassic World, so that may give some context, or may not, who knows.

Its like Disney Land, except in perpetual darkness, and Mickey can (and will) swallow you whole.

Graphically the game is stunning, like, as good as the films level of gorgeous.  The pictures peppered throughout this article are a mix of screenshots I've taken and promo shots I've nabbed off Google so should give you a good idea of how it looks.

Dinosaur variety, the game launched with 37 species of dinosaur, 42 if you bought the deluxe edition(which I did, obviously!), now today the Fallen Kingdom patch has landed giving another 6 species for free, so now we are at 48.  As someone really into dinosaurs this is brilliant,  with the exception of compsognathus all dinosaurs from the movies are in the game, plus others. Currently the game is missing Pterosaurs and Aquatic Reptiles but the developers have hinted that it could be something they look at down the line.  Are there dinosaurs missing I'd like to see?  Of course, Iguanadon, Ornitholestes and Amargasaurus to name a few, but with so many dinosaurs out there there are bound to be species not in the game that people want, but Frontier has a good track record with supporting their game post launch. I wouldn't be surprised if after all is said and done the roster is more like 85-90.

Rar Rar Rar...Grrr
Challenge, although the mechanics are relatively simple the game still offers a challenge.  The usual thing to happen, to me at least, is a cascade failure, its all going fine and you're keeping everything ticking over then suddenly its sabotage, then dinosaurs are out, then a storm hits, then by the time you get dinosaurs back in their enclosures the more social ones are annoyed and breaking down the fence, then the Science department sabotages you again because I'm sorry Dr Dua but can you not see I haven't been able to do whatever it is you've asked because shit went south when you decided to open all the gates last time!  Two and a half hours later you've got the dinosaurs back in their enclosures, everyone is happy and it all goes back to normal. And you're wondering in your head if you could ask the Security division to march the Science guys out back and shoot them all...

AI,  the AI is...strange, to say the least, dinosaurs wander about, eat grass, hunt goats, whatever.  Herbivores, don't herd, even the ones that say they want lots of their own kind around (I'm looking at you Parasaurolophus), Raptors don't become a pack oh and if you put a carnivore in with herbivores it will kill and kill and kill until something kills it in return.  Now you're probably thinking, regarding the carnivores, that makes sense, which it does, sorta... except they don't kill because they're hungry, its almost like they're killing for sport! (Gotta get those quotes in). A good example is (mild spoiler), on Isla Sorna, when you first get to the map there are dinosaurs already on the island, there is a Spinosaurus and 15 Stegosaurus, the Spinosaurus will make its way from Stegosaur to Stegosaur not even missing a beat from killing one to the next until (about 4 Stegosaurs in) it dies.  And I restarted that island 4-5 times to see if it played out the same each time, and it did.  I dunno how easy it would be but really it should be tied into the Hunger stat, if its not hungry, it wont hunt, unless its the Indominus...

On a similar note, Comfort needs to be switched to go off the size of the enclosure, its currently a radius bubble around the dinosaur, or they need to be tweaked to search out comfort in their enclosure before breaking the walls down.  I've had dinosaurs wander into one corner of the enclosure, get annoyed because they don't have any friends (despite 6 of the same species being in there), or there's not enough forest (despite the enclosure being half trees) etc and then kick the fence down.  While we are talking about that, can we get a notification when a dinosaur is attacking a fence? The first we know at the moment is when it goes "Fence Broken!" "Dinosaur Threat!", which is rarely useful.

Terrain constraints, each of the "campaign" islands offers a unique challenge, so smaller maps for those, I'm totally fine with, but for the sandbox, I'd really love a truly massive map!  Isla Nublar, as it is, isn't that big,  if you're clever with your enclosures then you will be able to fit all the dinosaurs in, but you do have to be clever about it.  I'd love to see either custom maps or a random generator.  Also, the terrain tools can be a bit of a diva, once you get the hang of them they are ok, but I would like to see smaller brush sizes for the tree/water placement and maybe a few more terrain deform options.

Automation,  one thing I love about sim games is automation, I've played a lot of Surviving Mars and I love getting a colony to the point where it can almost run itself and I only need to step in if birth rates are up and I need a new dome or something.  JW:E has nothing in the way of automation,  you need to manually tell your ranger teams to go refill the feeders, send helicopters to remove dinosaurs who have died, even manually release dinosaurs when you incubate them which forces you into a little cinematic as it leaves the incubation lab, which is lovely, the first time you see it for each species, but thank you very much I've hatched dozens of Struthiomimus, I don't need to see it again.  You can skip the cinematic but only once its started, I'd rather you just had a remote release option so you could carry on whatever you are doing elsewhere.  I'd even be happy to use an upgrade slot on my ranger station to give them a radius in which they will automatically refill feeders and medicate dinosaurs.    

I've seen people talking on the SubReddit about more cosmetic options, different building skins, small decorations for park (like benches, signs etc) which, I agree would be nice, but I think we will definitely see them patched in later so I'm not raising them specifically as an issue... yet.

Finally, bugs, I've been really lucky and only really encountered one so far, where I tranquilised a dinosaur too close to the incubation lab and when m transport team tried to move it it stayed on the ground while the helicopter chugged off into the distance dragging its lines across the map until eventually it pinged out of existence and the dinosaur woke up exactly where it had been tranquilised so I had to start over getting it into its enclosure.  Its a minor thing and hadn't happened on any of my previous islands.  I have read of a few others online, one interesting one is that Dinosaur Visibility doesn't, currently, effect your parks rating, so someone managed to make a 5 star park where the guests couldn't see a single dinosaurs.  That something I suspect will be fixed fairly quick though.

All in all its a good game that I'm having a lot of fun with, its not perfect, but then again, most games aren't these days, and I think with a little polish it could be one of the greatest dinosaur games ever!