‘Jurassic World Evolution 2’ hands-on preview: can life find a way?

No one is coming to my Jurassic Park. The gate is open, merchandise ready, fast food presumably cooling rapidly. I’ve even managed to persuade the Amargasaurus that inside the buzzing electric fences is better than out. And yet, nobody comes. The paths may as well have tumbleweeds. Not a single human can be seen other than my helpful rangers doing their rounds. John Hammond would not be impressed.

Finally, I ask my demoist, who politely points out that I haven’t built any viewing platforms for any of my carefully cultivated enclosures. “They won’t come if they can’t see the dinosaurs,” he explains. I might have carefully balanced each enclosure’s flora and fauna for my precious creatures with the upgraded terrain tools but I’ve already failed and no one has even been maimed by an extinct reptile yet.

I’m suddenly reminded of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Ian Malcolm obnoxiously knocking on the jeep’s camera in the original movie; “You do, uh, plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour?” And sure enough. The dust hasn’t even settled on my first new viewing platform and the guests are flooding in. Lambs – or goats – to the slaughter. Life, it seems, finds a way.

Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2. Credit: Frontier Developments

Jurassic World Evolution 2 from Frontier Developments, once again wants to remind us that building an amusement park where the attractions eat the tourists isn’t meant to be easy. And for the sequel, the team has upped the ante. Flying and water dinosaurs are making an appearance for the first time as aviaries and lagoons are added to our build menus, and the construction and management options are significantly more in-depth.

Frontier is also introducing a new Chaos Theory mode where we’ll get to play through iconic moments from the movies to find out if we could have averted catastrophe where others have failed so gorily. This isn’t what I’m here for in my hands-on though. I’m playing through a chunk of the story campaign somewhere near the beginning of the game and testing my dino mettle in the Challenge mode which, as you’ve probably gathered, isn’t going particularly well.

The first big change for the sequel is that we’ve left the Muertes Archipelago behind. The catchily named Islands of the Five Deaths have been abandoned (what with the volcano and all) and, following the story of the movies, dinosaurs are now free roaming the earth. The early campaign chunk I play is set in Washington where the task of tranquilising and containing two angry Carnotaurs is top of the to do list. The pine trees, snowy mountains and expansive lakes are a stark change from the traditional jungle iconography of the series. Seeing Brachiosaurus necks looming on a very different horizon is a thrilling change of scenery. Especially when a blizzard sweeps in and coats the park in a thick layer of snow.

Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2. Credit: Frontier Developments

But Jurassic World Evolution 2 isn’t going to let you take in the view for long. Those Carnotaurs aren’t going to tranquilise and airlift themselves into a secure enclosure. Those who’ve played the first game will have a serious head start. Once again, your theme park requires specific building types to supply rangers for food and enclosure management, and a helicopter pad for shifting dinosaurs dramatically across the sky. This means that moving dinosaurs around can still feel a little laborious as you send staff out to stun and then lift them back to safety. Especially given that they’ll probably escape a lot more than you’d like them to. But the big changes for the sequel are immediately apparent when you zoom in to check out the Dino DNA in action.

Supplying your carnivores with prey has always had a grimly satisfying element as a poor goat scampers around an enclosure, but getting up close and personal with these dinosaurs is particularly monstrous. My Carnotaur effortlessly chases down a goat, but doesn’t immediately grab it, instead choosing to violently headbutt and send it flying before glomming it head-first. There is a brutal reality to keeping these toothy wonders under control and that’s before they escape into a packed theme park. This is something the dev team really focused on for the sequel.

“We’ve given the dinosaurs a lot more behaviours and more dynamic movement,” explains game director Rich Newbold. “So adding things like preening or little social interactions that the dinosaurs do a lot more dynamically now. The fighting and hunting systems have changed as well. They’re a lot more fluid and it’ll happen now more in motion as well. We wanted to add a lot more realism to the dinosaurs because even though they are kind of science fiction-y – the old ‘bringing them back to life’ – they are animals.” Watching from a first person perspective as the Carnotaurs then roll my ranger’s jeep as they scream in terror, I can feel that this is only the beginning of the carnage that these creatures can cause.

Another new element for the campaign are additional story sections that we’ll experience from ground level. I send my rangers out on a journey across the map to find a dangerous dinosaur. The debris of the Allosaurus’ rampage must be scanned to track a path all while Bryce Dallas Howard’s Clare Dearing and, err, not Chris Pratt’s Owen Brady bicker affectionately. It’s an enjoyable change of pace.

Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2. Credit: Frontier Developments

“We looked at the systems that we already had from the first game and we wanted to have in the sequel,” explains Newbold. “The player can drive cars… they can drive helicopters… Can we do something interesting with that that’s something different for the player to experience as they’re playing the game? At its heart, it is a park management game, but we provide different opportunities for players to kind of cleanse their palate, to do something new and interesting and look at dinosaurs in a new way.”

Primarily though, your view of your park is going to be from the sky where a slew of new management options have opened up. The challenge feels significantly steeper this time around too. Where power no longer needs endless overhead wires uglying up your park, instead indicating a handy ring of wire-free electricity, the generators themselves need to be fueled, which costs money. And of course, everything costs money. From sending your scientists out on expeditions to find DNA to make new dinosaurs for your park, to the new option of synthesising multiple eggs at once in your hatchery, everything comes at a price. Upgrades, research, fuel, ranger stations, shops, restrooms, repairs. Sparing no expense might not be an option here, especially as you start out.

Scientists too, have a bigger role this time around, as they each have traits and specific abilities. Some will let you hatch eggs faster while others will have a speciality in genetics that will extract more DNA from fossils than other scientists. This also adds a new threat as scientists can become jaded and exhausted if you work them too hard and you’ll need to send them on paid breaks if you want to keep them happy.

Jurassic World Evolution 2. Credit: Frontier Developments

“It’s all about you hiring scientists to get that balance right across your park for what you’re going to need to do.” confirms Newbold. “You can only use some of them at the same time. If you’ve got your geneticists extracting dinosaur fossils, they’re not going to be able to synthesise eggs for you at the same time. It’s giving a bit of depth to those decisions as well, no matter what you’re doing. Who am I going to use? Who’s the best for it? But also you don’t want to overuse your staff. They will then get too tired and if they are not happy, they become disgruntled.”

“That’s the authenticity of the Jurassic Park experience where Nedry was disgruntled and he’s going to sabotage your park. So we thought it was a great opportunity to add that layer of management, but also really bring that authenticity of what Jurassic Park is.”

Jurassic World Evolution 2 is about finding the perfect balance between your guests’ and dinosaur’s comfort. Fresh new territory tools are at play in your dinosaur enclosures where you’ll need to supply just the right levels of ground fibre, sand and forest for that particular species. Similar to Planet Zoo’s enclosure tools, you can paint in these new additions but you’ll also have to work out who is happy to spend time with other species before you decant an entire hatchery of veggiesaurus into your meatasaurus paddock.

Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2. Credit: Frontier Developments

This is about dinosaur wellbeing, not just the relentless pursuit of cash. It’s another level of management that requires reading into each creature’s likes and dislikes. Stats are key across all of JWE2 and it’s easy to feel a lot like Clare Dearing in the Jurassic World control room. Guest happiness is paramount too. You’ll need to keep them happy with amenities while also researching new creatures with better appeal for crowds who aren’t even remotely impressed with your average stegosaurus anymore. Even if that could mean a zero-star score on Trip Advisor the next time an attraction gets loose.

The systems at play initially seem intimidating in a short play session but as in depth simulation experiences go there’s plenty to bite off and chew here. Literally. I want to play for hours more. But what’s key is that Jurassic World Evolution 2 fluently speaks the language of Jurassic Park. The struggle of electric power and literal power. It’s not meant to work perfectly. It wouldn’t be Jurassic Park if we weren’t struggling for something that can’t exist.

“For me, it’s always being on the knife edge of controlling something and how far you can push it before something goes wrong,” says Newbold. “It’s how far you can push it before chaos or that kind of inevitability of something’s going to go wrong. And that’s what I always take from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is these millionaires, billionaires creating these theme parks as they think they can control them. That hubris… I’ve always wondered if it’s not just a dinosaur management game, it’s a disaster management game. It’s about making these things and how you’re going to manage when a disaster comes in.”

“So I always kind of see it in two different ways. It’s always dinosaurs as the focus and building theme parks. But what are you going to do when it goes wrong?”

As someone who has just unlocked Velociraptors, I couldn’t possibly imagine…

This hands-on preview was played on PC. Jurassic World Evolution 2 will launch on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam on November 9