I need to keep 900+ guests in my park for three consecutive minutes.
This is a doddle, I reckon. I’m making $350,000 a minute here. Everyone seems pretty happy. They’re lapping up the new gift shop which boasts a “fun” rating of two whole stars. Like a lot of the challenges to date – some of which I’ve completed by simply removing an upgrade and putting it back again – this seems pretty straightforward.
I watch the counter as it creeps up… and then a dinosaur unexpectedly karks it. I yelp, hit the shortcut to the ACU – the team that removes the deceased – and hope I can get it out of the park before any guests clock it. Apparently not. Numbers plummet. I hover over the corpse of my recently departed Triceratops and discover he’s died of old age. Unfortunately, there’s no way to convey this to the guests bolting for the exit.
It takes seven attempts to complete the contract. Everytime I think I’m getting there – twice getting within ten seconds of my goal – something happens. The guests are contrary creatures; I’m blamed for everything, from deaths to the weather. But I keep trying, way longer than I should, imprisoned by that “just one more try” mantra that’s impinged on my sleep this week far more than I like to admit.
This is the third time I’ve restarted this island. On the first attempt, I couldn’t work out how to power up a new power station (pro tip: a new station needs to be powered by the original one. You’re welcome). The second time, I incubated a load of Ceratosauruses and chucked them in with my hippy-like Struthiosauruses to a result that wasn’t dissimilar to the prom scene in Carrie. No, there’s no actual blood – not much, anyway – but it was pretty distressing, watching the corpses pile up in the enclosure. At that point I didn’t have a ACU to remove them – actually, I didn’t even know I could remove them. It’s also at this point that I stop naming my dinosaurs: it’s harder to watch them die when I’ve christened them with cheeky monikers.
After that, I stopped incubating Struthiosauruses altogether and just let the Ceratosauruses roam free. Guests love them, but turns out they don’t just eat the herbivores, but also each other. Cue more dead dinos. And, regrettably – but perhaps inevitably – dead guests. I spend a lot of time opening emergency shelters as dinosaurs break loose. And don’t think that just because you’ve given the ACU team a directive to tranquilise a dinosaur they’ll get it done – sharp shooters these guys ain’t.
I’m getting frustrated now.
I don’t know what possessed anyone to incubate new life in a place called Las Cinco Muertes – “The Five Deaths” – but that choice comes from the Jurassic Park franchise rather than developer Frontier. We’re here nonetheless, charged with setting up, developing, and maintaining Jurassic Park facilities, and you don’t have to be a fan of the movies (I haven’t seen one – don’t @ me) to get a tingle of delight at hearing Jeff Goldblum’s and Bryce Dallas Howard’s distinctive voices.
Everything’s up to you; where you put the buildings, pathways, how many food concessions you have, what you sell in them, how much for, and the numbers of staff you employ there. There’s no story per se, but you’ll work to three factions – science, entertainment, and security – picking up “contracts” that give kudos to one of these areas to the detriment of the other two. I don’t understand why security care about my genome development, though, nor why science wants to boost crowd satisfaction; it’s as though the contracts are entirely randomised and available via any faction, regardless of whether or not they’re aligned with their natural remits.
Beyond the park management, there’s also an expedition and research remit, which means you’ll frequently deploy research teams to scour the globe looking for new dino DNA to use in the lab. The more material you collect the better your genomes, and the higher quality your genomes, the better your chances of incubating successfully. With over 40 species to scope out and extract – not to mention the genetic modifications you can tinker with – it’ll keep you busy.
Progression is so slow, though. Moving onto your second isle will take many hours of slog in your inaugural one. And even if you have several million dollars squared away from your original venture, you’ll start afresh – read broke – in the new one. Here, you’ll also encounter flash storms, which means as well as power outages and sabotage attempts (made, bizarrely, by neglected members of those aforementioned factions), you also have to contend with storms, and, on a latter island, bankruptcy. Eventually you’ll unlock Isla Nublar, a true sandbox that inhibits neither your ambition nor your cash. Enjoy it – you’ve earned it if you reach this far.
The tutorials are pretty thin, too, which means much of what you learn will be trial-and-error. Some of the contracts make no sense (at one point I had to go without a visitor death for six minutes, even though I didn’t have any carnivores in the park at the time), or are just stupid (like the time security wanted to check its emergency response by unleashing a live dinosaur on the unsuspecting public). Nor does the game properly explain how to boost your dinosaur rating, or how to stop them feeling uncomfortable. Periodically one will go berserk and hammer at a fence until they’re free – a problem I swiftly overcame by adding three layers of fencing that gives me time to get stuff repaired before I tranq the dino, return it to the enclosure, and have them wake up happy again.
You don’t get any tangible feedback from your visitors, either. While you can hover over your dinosaurs and get instant feedback on their health and happiness there’s no such mechanic for guests, which means the overall satisfaction level – hidden away on a menu and not clearly explained, incidentally – is generic and homogenous. It makes the people (all adults – there are no children here) ambling through the park curiously unimportant, which is a shame given you can zoom in on their chirpy little forms.
Eventually, you’ll settle into a pattern of humdrum busy work. In later isles, with more dinosaurs, my rangers spend all their time in the enclosures. You can’t assign a ranger – or even a team thereof – to do a single action like “resupply feeders”, which means instead, you have to toggle every single depleted feeder separately, which is irritatingly time-consuming given you might have 20+ feeders needing a top up and you can only give them instructions to do four at any one time.
Don’t get me wrong; I loved my time in Las Cinco Muertes, and there’s immense satisfaction to be found in just sitting back and watching your creations roam. But with a brutal learning curve, weak tutorials, and a lack of meaningful gameplay once your parks are mature, even the most ardent paleontologist may struggle to keep coming back for more.