I feel pretty confident in saying that, unless they’re too young to know better, the one thing that most Jurassic World Evolution players will have wanted all along is some Jurassic Park DLC. Forget the actual functioning dinosaur zoos, leave the silly hamster balls in the garage, and break out the classic Range Rovers and their iconic early 90s liveries.
Finally, after almost 18 months, Frontier have acquiesced and are giving us what we’ve wanted all along in Return to Jurassic Park.
But, if you think back to those original films, John Hammond’s pioneering theme park never actually managed to open for the public. There were three films of unmitigated disasters, so how do you create a theme park management sim and not a third person survival horror? Well, you go all alt history and splice together the DNA of Evolution with the theme of the original trilogy.
Set almost immediately after the first film, Hammond has somehow managed to convince Alan Grant, Elllie Satler and Ian Malcolm to come back to the park and work with him to create something far less dysfunctional. Somehow, Frontier have quite brilliantly managed to reunite Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, with only the sadly deceased Richard Attenborough being replaced by a soundalike.
You return to the island with everything exactly as you might imagine it from the end of the first film. There’s security fences that have been torn down, the power station and visitors centre are damaged and non-functional, and the first order of business is to take direct control of a Ranger truck and drive around repairing things – you can’t issue them orders without powering up the Ranger Outpost. As someone who hasn’t touched Evolution since shortly after its release, not being able to simply click on something and toggle the repair had me stumped for a few minutes before I gave up and asked for help. That shouldn’t be a problem for seasoned players, with the recommendation to have played the main game first, but a little light hand holding wouldn’t have gone amiss here.
Players old and new will have to get used to the rejigged working of the park, though. Frontier have gone back and reimagined how the park would work in Hammond’s original early 90s vision. This means that visitors arrive at the park by helicopter, landing and going into a building that also serves as an hatchery for your baby dinosaurs. That then leads to the Visitor’s Centre, which is a hub for all of your research, expeditions and fossil management.
From there, visitors to your now totally safe park can go and visit dinos you have set up in pens. Compared to Jurassic World where they would go and visit various attractions, the original Jurassic Park is more of a safari tour, and that’s exactly what Return to Jurassic Park does. With the central hub safely fenced off, you create your various dinosaur pens and set a safari-style tour to drive past, or even through them, regularly passing through those iconic Jurassic Park gates.
You can have more freeroaming areas for the more placid dinosaurs to roam around in, but beware of charting a path through a T-Rex enclosure. If they’re feeling a bit peckish they might come and charge at your tourist convoys and batter the 4x4s around. That’s a new element, both in the DLC and as a free update to the game, where dinosaurs can attack vehicles. It adds an element of peril for Rangers as well, who might need to beat a hasty retreat, firing off flares to try and distract the dinos attacking them.
The expansion isn’t content to simply replicate what was there in the first film. It draws inspiration from the original book and the rest of the trilogy, letting you create an Aviary for Pteranodon (which we didn’t get to see committed to the big screen until the third outing). Through it all, you also have plenty of cosmetic options when breeding your dinos, letting you pick skins from ’93, ’97 and ’01, as well as the more modern films, if you want.
There’s a whole campaign to work through, with Sattler and Grant being increasingly enamoured with the concept of the park while Malcolm snarkily reminds them that it can (and already has) gone horribly wrong. Beyond that, you can delve into the Challenge mode and Sandbox to create the Jurassic Park of your dreams.
The only thing missing (maybe), is the ability to merge Park and World together, given the way the two park designs work differently. It could have been cool to have a gradual shift and technological evolution between the two, but I doubt too many will complain.
Thematically, Return to Jurassic Park is absolutely spot on, and from our hour or two with the DLC, a lovely dive into what Jurassic Park could have been. You know, if not for all the running and um, screaming.