Dinosaur Digs is a great idea for an expansion pack. What better way to make your zoo bigger, more fantastical, and more dramatic than to give it a Jurassic-sized infusion of new life? What could be more exotic than a fern-choked exhibit with a pack of crafty velociraptors behind electrified fences? What could be more disastrous than a tyrannosaurus rex on the loose, chowing down on screaming guests? There are almost two dozen new creatures (including some Ice Age mammals thrown in among the dinosaurs), a new set of buildings, and a few new staff members to handle it all. And while these are all well and good, they unfortunately don't breathe enough new life into Zoo Tycoon to appeal to anyone but die-hard fans.
With so many new additions, Dinosaur Digs' graphics are certainly different, but they aren't any better. Zoo Tycoon still looks atrocious at the closest zoom level. With 2D artwork for only eight directions, the bigger dinosaurs look all the more conspicuous snapping from one direction to another instead of smoothly turning. And unfortunately, Dinosaur Digs barely changes the way Zoo Tycoon is played. In the absence of any sort of hard numbers, building your zoo still calls for a lot of guesswork. You have no way of knowing whether your guests will like the dinosaur cinema better than the pteranodon house. Will they be happier with a lava archway or a triceratops skeleton? This is particularly true with the exhibits, which required a lot of trial and error in the original game in order to figure out how to make your animals happy. But with the expansion's new prehistoric foliage, new kinds of rocks and shelters, and a menagerie of creatures with bewildering Latin names, piecing together the right combinations seems more arbitrary than ever.
One nice change that Dinosaur Digs makes is how dinosaurs are raised rather than merely adopted as fully-grown adults. You buy an egg, which has to be tended by a scientist. The egg hatches into a juvenile dinosaur that eventually grows up. This gives Zoo Tycoon's creatures a sense of being nurtured that you didn't get in the original Zoo Tycoon until your animals started breeding. Instead of zookeepers, dinosaurs are fed and tended by scientists. The dinosaurs themselves are a bit different from regular animals in that many of them require the more-imposing fences included in the expansion pack. The reinforced concrete and especially the electrified iron bars provide a nice visual sense that there's something very powerful on the other side. Some dinosaurs will trample trees and bushes in their exhibits, so you have to arrange foliage behind rocks and water. However, these details are minor. In the end, the dinosaurs don't play differently enough from the conventional animals.
The new content is threaded nicely into the original game. There are six new scenarios and a tutorial specific to Dinosaur Digs. There are new filters to remove guests, foliage, or buildings, making it easier to pick animals and staff members out of a crowd. A new screen on the main zoo status display lets you track the profitability of commercial buildings like restaurants, theaters, and gift shops. Although you can't use any of the dinosaur stuff in the original Zoo Tycoon scenarios, you can load saved free-form zoos and add dinosaurs.
One disappointing aspect of the game is how escapes are handled. Dinosaurs will eat people, but only behind Zoo Tycoon's family-friendly puffs of smoke. You'd also think a dinosaur might accomplish some Godzilla-level damage on buildings and landscaping, but instead they can just smash a few of the smaller decorative items and structures around your zoo (there's a nice nod to Jurassic Park when a dinosaur knocks over a rest room). You can build a dinosaur recovery team that sets out in a helicopter, carrying a sniper with a tranquilizer gun. But these guys seem superfluous considering that you can also just pause the game, fix whatever fence was broken, and then pick up the errant beast and drop him back in his cage. Rather than the catastrophe you'd expect, escaped dinosaurs are more of an inconvenience.
Finally, Dinosaur Digs isn't nearly as visually or audibly rewarding as it could have been. Some of the new decorations, such as dinosaur skeletons, erupting volcanoes, and steam geysers, look great. The sound effects include some suitably menacing snarling, huffing, and roaring. But the dinosaurs themselves aren't that interesting to watch. The spinosaurus, the huge dinosaur from Jurassic Park III with a sail fin on its back, is an imposing fellow, as are the stegosaurus and brontosaurus. The tyrannosaurus is a little anticlimactic since he's so similar to the allosaurus. The problem with these dinosaurs is that they just don't do very much. The caudipteryx, a distant relative of the peacock, makes a nice show when flashing its colorful tail fan and arm feathers, but the expansion doesn't offer anything as charming or lively as the tumbling pandas or rolling tigers from the original Zoo Tycoon. Big lumbering beasts only provide so much visual excitement, which is perhaps why many of the dinosaur exhibits aren't as attractive to the crowds as you might expect, not to mention the gamers who shell out 20 bucks hoping to turn Zoo Tycoon into a lively Jurassic Park sim. Instead, they'll find what essentially amounts to a prehistoric face-lift.