There's no denying the success of the dinosaur movies based on Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park novels, but none of the games based on the franchise to date have really done justice to the license. Whereas the books and films have featured involving stories and action, most of the games have taken the form of platforming blastfests. Developer Blue Tongue has opted for a different approach with its upcoming game, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, a park-building sim for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. We got hold of a previewable version of the Xbox game and set out to make ourselves a dino park.
You'll find several modes in the game to choose from when you first start out: operation genesis, exercises, missions, site B, and dinopedia. Operation genesis is a simulation mode in the vein of the RollerCoaster Tycoon PC series that has you managing every aspect of your park. The exercises option offers a series of tutorials that are designed to bring you up to speed on how to play the game. The missions mode features a series of levels that are more action-oriented and have you directly interacting with the dinosaurs in your park. Site B lets you play with your own private dinosaur park without the hassles of tourists and their incessant needs. The dinopedia is a primer on the dinosaurs in the game, and it offers some tips on management as well.
The operation genesis mode is the meat of the game. It requires you to build up a randomly generated island from a grass-covered hunk of land into a happening spot for tourists and cloned dinosaurs alike. To make that dream a reality, you'll have to manage every aspect of the park's creation from the creation and care of your star attractions to concession stand and bathroom placement. Finding the right combination of the above will reward you with more patronage and more funds to throw back into the park. To balance everything correctly, you'll have to take into account a variety of factors related to both dinos and tourists in order to please everyone and have the swankiest park. While the task may sound daunting, you'll have the assistance of the heads of the various departments in the park, who offer advice and encouragement when you're doing well and disapproval when things go wrong.
The missions mode in Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis offers a nice change of pace from the hassles and traumas of dealing with managing the park. There are 12 different missions, and they put you in direct control of a vehicle and give you tasks such as subduing rampaging dinosaurs, taking pictures of the animals in the park, or herding the critters back to their pens.
While the gameplay in Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is quite varied, the game's control keeps everything accessible. The bulk of the simulation mode is menu-driven, and the camera can be controlled with the left and right analog sticks to let you move your view around the island as needed. Controlling the vehicles is pretty basic, as you'll just have to worry about steering and shooting in most cases.
Graphically, the game is coming together pretty well. The island features a solid amount of detail that holds up when the camera is zoomed all the way out or all the way in. You'll find a good variety of textures for the flora and fauna, which react to wind and movement. The various buildings you'll erect to serve, or fleece, your park visitors are a mix of functional and kitschy structures that include hut-like bathrooms and concession stands featuring themed signs. The park visitors are a varied lot who all sport enough detail to be easily distinguished from one another. For example, you'll find stereotypical tourists decked out in gaudy matching outfits, as well as more respectable folk. As nice as all the detail is, though, the stars of the game are obviously the dinosaurs, which are well designed and move fluidly. Weather is conveyed by a nice assortment of effects, ranging from clear days to tornados that wreak havoc on anything in their path.
The game's audio features an assortment of sound effects that do a solid job of conveying the atmosphere of a theme park. The dinosaurs are well served by a collection of roars and groans, and the game's soundtrack features the familiar Jurassic Park theme and some incidental tunes that punctuate the onscreen action.
Judging from what we've played so far, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is shaping up to be a promising game. Our preview build had some rough spots in certain places--namely some graphical pop-up, long load times, and audio glitches--that we hope will be addressed before the game ships, but the gameplay was on the right track. If Blue Tongue and Vivendi Universal can tighten things up before the game ships, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis may turn out to be the best use yet of the Jurassic Park license. The game is set to ship this March for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC.