"Thankfully, forgotten are the earlier attempts which have Jurassic Park as a shoot-the-nasty-dinosaurs snorefest. Instead you're presented with a simulation which gives you the chance to build and run your own park full of dinosaurs. While the game lasts, it's an intriguing and worthwhile task."
The attraction of the Jurassic Park franchise has always lain in the dinosaurs. Let's face it: we all got caught in the hype; the possibility of one of them chewing someone's face off is just to irresistable to pass up. So is the potential to make oodles of cash off it, it seems; Jurassic Park is guilty of squeezing every last possible penny out of its popularity, appearing in literature, the silver screen and, yes, video games.
Upon hearing about this title on its launch date, I got quite excited about the prospect of a Jurassic Park game that might actually not suck - a lofty aspiration indeed, given the series’ past. Shortly afterwards, I forgot all about my initial excitement until I recently had the chance to stealthily 'borrow' the game from a friend, who is probably cursing my name at this very moment.
Thankfully, forgotten are the earlier attempts which have Jurassic Park as a shoot-the-nasty-dinosaurs snorefest. Instead you're presented with a simulation which gives you the chance to build and run your own park full of dinosaurs. While the game lasts, it's an intriguing and worthwhile task.
The game manages to feel familiar to other park-building sims, yet at the same time is different enough to be a little more engaging. The standard sim fare is present: build your park with adequate paths, eateries, toilets, and attractions to pull in the public. The difference is that your attractions are huge, extinct lizards.
You start with your island of choice, complete with everything any self-respecting exotic park location would come with: trees, mountain ranges, rivers, and so on. It is your task to turn this rather ordinary-looking slab of land into the most successful theme park in the world. You start with the bare minimum, including basic conveniences such as toilets and food stands, pavement, basic security measures such as dinosaur enclosure fencing, and two dinosaur species ready to produce. All this is well and good, but you need to do three things to ensure the growth of your park: make money, research better accommodations, and produce more dinosaurs to keep the crowds happy. It's not as easy as it sounds, as the crowd consists of a variety of people looking for different things to enjoy at your park, be it excitement or an authentic slice of prehistoric life.
Luckily, you are not alone in your duties -- you have the original Jurassic Park cast at your side as staff. You send Dr. Grant away on palaeontology digs to find new strains of dinosaur DNA so you can breed new species. Also returning is Dr. Wu, who oversees all your research needs, such as the extraction of the dino DNA and research into park-beneficial projects, such as stronger dinosaur containment fencing, vaccines for various dinosaur diseases, and attractions for your park (e.g. balloon rides and safari jeep tours). To ensure the list of returning faces is complete, you'll also gain Dr. Sattler for any veterinary needs that may arise and even have Muldon is on hand as head ranger. All the familiar faces are present in game, which is meaningles dribble for those new to Jurassic Park, but a nice little touch for those already familiar with the franchise.
Explore the research and development stages and you'll find you have two different sets of research labs set up, which function independently of each other. The first allows you to research the various attractions, vaccines, and so on. (You can research a lot of things, actually; it will take you quite a while to exhaust your options on this one.) You have to be clever with your choices here, as each project is equally important. Vaccines are obviously a priority to prevent your attractions from picking up various illnesses, but you need to make money to fund your park, so the rides are vital for squeezing more money from your visitors. Just as vital is upgrading the strength of your dinosaur-holding fences, bulking up your security, looking into a visitor holding centre for your guests should an emergency break loose, updating your various methods of extracting DNA and hatching your assorted beasts, and so on. Keep in mind that all this still costs money, so ensure that the cash keeps rolling in.
The other side of the R&D stage is the DNA extraction itself, and the only way to get this is to send digging teams out to find the fossils you need. Depending on the quality of the fossil in question, you can extract a percentage of DNA from it or sell it on the fossil market. When you have extracted 50% of the DNA, you can start cloning the species for your park; get the percentage up further and that species will be much healthier and generally better adjusted. Your dig teams can also find veins of silver, gold, and opal, which are handy for bringing in extra money. As a bonus, up for grabs are chunks of amber, which can be sold for vast sums of money or extracted to get a reasonable chunk of random dinosaur DNA.
You start the game with only one palaeontologist team; however, three more can be purchased. You also start with only one dig site, but you can unlock one of eight more with each 'star' you gain, marking the success of your park. Reach a five-star park and you have completed your task of making the best theme park in the world. Of course, there are obstacles.
Not surprisingly, there are various drawbacks to fielding a park full of lizards that can stamp out or devour your paying customers, and if adequate precautions aren't taken, this is exactly what you might get to witness. That’s not bad enough? Watch how one of your dinos catches a tick infestation, and if it is not treated soon enough, watch how it spreads throughout the park like the parasite plague it truly is. You also have the volatile weather that any island stuck in the middle of nowhere must face, ranging from heat waves to thunderstorms to twisters. These will affect your visitors as well as your dinosaurs. Watch as a stray bolt of lighting hits your safari jeep, leaving it destroyed with the passengers stuck in a dinosaur enclosure, or as the hot air balloon is downed during a twister and those onboard crash into the raptor pen. You can rescue the unfortunate souls, of course -- but only if you have the correct equipment to do so. Have you installed a ranger office with a helicopter? Has the helicopter been researched sufficiently to fly in whipping rains and wind? Can you reach them before they become bite-sized snacks?
It's continuous risks like these that help make the game undeniably addictive and a joy to play. The dinosaurs themselves look great for the most part, and there are no real complaints concerning the sound, either. The music is suitable, if forgettable, and the various roars of the dinosaurs and the voice clips of visitors and staff are nicely executed and used cleverly. The largest problem is that when your park hits five stars, there is nothing left to do to it. Of the nine available dig sites, you can only unlock five, which hugely limits your species of dinosaurs. As it is, you can't have more than sixty dinosaurs in your park, and buildings such as hatcheries, the very things you need to churn out your new living attractions, are also limited. Maybe you'll have the urge to play through a few more times, choosing a new dig site or two so that you can raise the odd different species. But this doesn't bring much new to the game bar a few new models to look at, which is really a shame. Sure, you can do various mission-based extras, such as herding dinosaurs from the ranger helicopter (complete with sniper onboard with a zoomable scope) or by taking control of a jeep and taking various pictures of dinosaurs, which can be sold off for extra funds. However, these missions are too far removed from the sim aspect of the game to be little more than a distraction.
If it grabs you, you will lose hours of your life to Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. Unfortunately, once you have built your dream park, adding to it is pained and pointless. It's a shame that once you hit the intended target of five stars, the limits were not unlocked; sadly, you weren't allowed to dominate the entire island with prehistoric horrors. Instead, your park is stuck in limbo. Once you've achieved the game's goal, you have nothing to do but build till you reach the limits of buildings and dinosaurs, watch the money come in, and deal with hostile weather and the day-to-day keeping of your beasts. There aren't any XBox exclusive add-ons to ogle at, either. The custom soundtrack option would have been a nice addition, at least.
Like dinosaurs themselves Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis will lead a vigorous and thrilling life that is suddenly cut short before its time. Everything was done right, but the game just doesn't last long enough.
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