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Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

Developer:  Blue Tongue Software
Publisher:  Universal Interactive
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Simulation
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted: 

5-27-03

The Jurassic Park license isn’t the powerhouse it use to be. Before the name was almost synonymous with “blockbuster”, now the aging franchise is having difficultly simply maintaining name recognition. Making a movie as terrible and poorly received as Jurassic Park III doesn’t help any, and neither does releasing a sub-par game at regular intervals, whether the public wants it or not. They’ve tried a fighting game and that didn’t work, they’ve tried a lightgun game and that didn’t work, they’ve even tried a top-down shooter on the GBA; didn’t work either. However, there seems to be some hope on the horizon for the failing franchise, as Universal Interactive has finally stumbled on a genre that suits the license: the ‘management sim’. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis marries Jurassic Park with Zoo Tycoon and comes out with a damn respectable package in the end. It may not be the greatest ‘sim’ ever made, but it is definitely the best you’ll find on a next-gen console.

Operation Genesis succeeds because the management sim fits perfectly into the world of Jurassic Park. The first movie already gave the perfect setup: John Hammond and his INGEN crew used DNA extracted from amber to breed dinosaurs and use them as the main attraction to the greatest theme park ever created. Operation Genesis just walks in, takes that idea, and places it in the video game world, letting you extract the DNA, breed the dinosaurs, build the park, and make sure all hell doesn’t break loose.

Of course, building and running the park isn’t as simple as it sounds, though, as you will have to manage every facet of operation, from choosing which dig sites to explore for fresh fossils, to making sure your dinosaurs are up on all their vaccinations, along with all the standard management sim stuff like building placement and researching new technology. At first the multi-tasking can get a bit daunting (making your park more appealing to thrill seekers while adjusting the price of the food while building a new herbivore enclosure while making sure security is tight around your T-Rex cage while extracting DNA for a new species of dinosaur while deciding what to research next while quarantining a sick Stegosaurus is a lot to handle) but after the initial chaotic stage that all parks go through, when the game settles down, everything runs smoothly; almost too smoothly.

The problem with Operation Genesis is that once you get everything up and running, nothing much happens. Building your park from the ground up is a blast. Deciding the layout of the park and building new structures is always fun; targeting specific dig sites trying to locate choice fossil to extract and breed new species of dinosaurs from is an interesting use of the Jurassic Park concept; trying to strike a balance between pleasing thrill seekers (who hunger for bloody carnivore action), dino nerds (who want realism in their experience), and fun lovers (who just want to have a good time) is a nice challenge that requires lots of experimentation; managing your budget properly is difficult and rewarding; making sure security is up to snuff is nerve-racking (at first); of course breeding and caring for the dinosaurs themselves is fun, but after your park opens and you’ve got everything you need built, your participation in the game drops to a minimum. You’ll find yourself with longer and longer stretches of time of just sitting, with the controller on the ground beside you, watching nothing happen. That’s just unforgivable. It's Jurassic Park for crying aloud! It’s not bad that the park becomes almost completely autonomous after a while, but there should be tons of unpredictable things happening left and right. Even SimCity has its floods and fires and Godzilla attacks! You practically have to cause an accident yourself in order for something terrible to happen in this Jurassic Park (even though its kind of more fun that way).

It’s when the crap hits the fan, though, that the game really gets exciting. You have to jump into the ranger chopper and do all the wrangling, sedating, inoculating, and eliminating yourself, in a mode that feels very reminiscent to the 16-bit Strike series (Desert, Jungle, Urban, etc.). You can also go behind the wheel of a jeep and drive around your park, taking pictures as you go. Both these “mini-games” can be found in the Missions mode, but are well integrated into the main game itself and do a lot to make Operation Genesis feel like more than just a RollerCoaster Tycoon clone.

Although the game does get a bit boring after your park is fully built, I would have still given this game a strong recommendation. It’s fun, it’s a damn good use of a license, it makes a very nice sim, and it’s even pretty educational. The game does have some technical problems that need addressing, particularly slow-down, that knock it down a few points. The frame rate in the Xbox version is highly irregular and goes into “slideshow mode” at random, and although I haven’t played the Playstation 2 version, I can’t imagine it being any better. This gets seriously annoying after a while and definitely cuts into the playability of the game. If you aren’t the kind of person that gets easily bothered by technical glitches, however, and has no problem with starting a new park every time the old one gets boring, you will have a lot of fun with this game. It’s get enough to please sim fans, enough to please dino-lovers, and more than enough to please fans of the franchise.

Highs:

  • Good use of a movie license.
  • Great sim.
  • Educational.
  • Best game of its kind on the consoles right now.
  • Could mark the turn-around of the Jurassic Park franchise.

Lows:

  • Tons of slow-down.
  • Parks can get a bit boring after a while.
  • Not enough major disasters.

Final Verdict: 

Any fan of Tycoon, Sim, or Theme games might want to give this game a try. It is definitely the best you’ll find on a console.

Overall Score: 8.3

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